Hollis Watkins was attracted to Civil Rights work in the early 1960s, becoming one of the first Mississippians to join the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He worked with SNCC leader Bob Moses organizing communities around the state. When it seemed that the Civil Rights Movement was burning out in Mississippi, Watkins wanted to give people the tools they needed to continue addressing issues that concerned them — like farm subsidies, voting, and public education. He enlisted Leroy Johnson, an activist who had extensive experience developing community education, environmental and cultural programs during his time at Rural Organizing and Cultural Center (ROCC) and Mississippi Action for Community Education and Mike Sayer, an attorney who had directed field services and community projects and trained elected officials for MACE, to help him take the lessons he had learned from the Civil Rights Movement to build a community organizing organization. Johnson, a Holmes County native, suggested that the organization focus its efforts in the Delta — where poverty and racism conspired daily to crush the souls of Black folks. During the past 29 years, Southern Echo has become an organization that empowers the descendants of enslaved African people and is unparalleled in its community organizing ability.
(Pictured from Left to right Leroy Johnson, Hollis Watkins and Mike Sayer )
Southern Echo was founded in 1989 to build the capacity of African American communities to form a network of new, accountable grassroots leaders and community organizations, on an inter-generational model. Southern Echo provided training, technical and legal assistance. The primary goal was to empower the community to impact the formation and implementation of public policy. These are some of the accomplishments: