Dorie Ladner, Unheralded Civil Rights Heroine, Dies at 81

Dorie Ann Ladner, a largely unsung heroine on the front lines of the 1960s civil rights movement in the South, a crusade that shamed the nation into abolishing some of the last vestiges of legal segregation, died on Monday in Washington. She was 81.

She died in a hospital from complications of Covid-19, bronchial obstruction and colitis, said her older sister and fellow civil rights activist Joyce Ladner, who called her a lifelong defender of “the underdog and the dispossessed.”

Born and raised in racially segregated Mississippi by a mother who taught her to take no guff, Ms. Ladner joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee as a teenager; left college three times to organize voter-registration campaigns and promote integration; packed a gun on occasion, as some of her prominent colleagues were shot or blown up; befriended the movement’s most celebrated figures; and participated in virtually every major civil rights march of the decade.

Ms. Ladner carried an American flag when she attended the funeral of the four girls killed in a church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963.Credit…Danny Lyon/Magnum Photos

“The movement was something I wanted to do,” she told The Southern Quarterly in 2014. “It was pulling at me, pulling at me, so I followed my conscience.”

“The line was drawn in the sand for Blacks and for whites,” she said in an interview for the PBS documentary series “American Experience” the same year. “And was I going to stay on the other side of the line forever? No. I decided to cross that line. I jumped over that line and started fighting.”

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