The Protest Vantage Point of a Civil Rights Veteran


NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA– Quietly, a woman has looked through her window over seven days to at the protesting happening on the street below her apartment. Doratha “Dodie” Smith-Simmons is now stranger to chanting and fiery causes. She is 76 years-young and has been a member of several civil rights organizations including C.O.R.E., NAACP and others.

“How do you change the world…I think you have to look at what’s going on now. My first time being arrested was here at the police station, protesting what they are protesting today, police brutality,” Simmons reflects.

Ms. Simmons was born in Mississippi. Her family moved to Louisiana and she grew up in New Orleans. She was 16 years-old when she joined the NAACP. During this time, the NAACP was known for going through the court system as a method to change the country. They had aided in years past, filing lawsuits to help integrate the city and it’s schools. The Congress of Racial Equality was formed in 1942 by James Farmer. Over the years, chapters of C.O.R.E. would establish themselves across the deep south. At Southern University in Baton Rouge, the first C.O.R.E. chapter in Louisiana would grow. Eventually a chapter was established in New Orleans. C.O.R.E. was different in that they wanted to directly influence faster action than the court system process would allow. They would take to the streets in protest, have sit-ins and train freedom riders in an effort to seize equality.

Many member of the NAACP would also join C.O.R.E. Doratha Simmons joined C.O.R.E when she was 17 years-old. She sees quite a bit of similarity in the Black Lives Matter movement with the struggles of the 60’s saying that the same message of “enough is enough is enough” is still ever relevant, however, she notes that “we can’t do it by ourselves.”

As many pick sides during the protesting, some site the protests as being too violent in some cities and too destructive, often citing Martin Luther King Jr. as a notable reference for the peaceful protestor that changed the world. However, for Doratha, the protests of the 1960’s were a far cry from peaceful. She remembers being part of the process of training freedom riders in Texas, Alabama and Mississippi, saying “all hell broke out. These white guys, four or five them started beating up Jerome Smith and one of them had brass knuckles. That was the first time that I became afraid.” Martin Luther King himself, changed his stance on civil rights later in his efforts, explaining that “certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear?”

As the marchers show up in the hundreds over seven days, below Ms. Simmons’ window, she views their testimony the same as her own and is proud of the peaceful protestors of New Orleans who want a better tomorrow. They protest the killing of George Floyd, the Minneapolis, Minnesota resident who was knelt on for nine minutes while handcuffed. Weeks ago, a different group of protestors were against the COVID-19 lockdown with many saying they could not breathe through the protective masks. While the Black Lives Matter protest subject matter is different, the message of “I can’t breathe” is familiar.

“After the civil rights movement of the 60’s died down, I kept waiting for the young people to do something and it didn’t happen. I guess the killing of George Floyd pissed them off. He is the catalyst for all of this and I want to be out there. Everyday I stand and raise my hand and say, No Justice, No Peace!,” Doratha Smith-Simmons.


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