Dr. Roy DeBerry: Mississippi Voting Rights Activist



Roy DeBerry speaking at Brandeis University. Photo by Ashley McCabe

Roy DeBerry, a native of Holly Springs, Mississippi, is the executive director and one of the founders of the Hill Country Project. DeBerry was active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, first as a Freedom School student and then as an organizerwith the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). DeBerry recalled some of his memories in the book Freedom’s Children: Young Civil Rights Activists Tell Their Own Stories.

I understood very early that one way to make change was by getting people registered to vote. So in 1963, when I was in high school, I spent time canvassing in Holly Springs.

I think that I was afraid a lot of times. What’s amazing is that when you are afraid, you can deal with your fear if you don’t allow it to cripple you. You deal with it by keeping doing things. Once you commit yourself to something, even as a child, and you think it’s right, then it’s much easier to deal with the fear.


DeBerry at a “Freedom School” in Holly Springs, Miss. Photo by Michael Clurman

In 1965, DeBerry was arrested during a march for voting rights in Jackson, Miss. and spent the next two weeks in jail.

We stayed in a facility reserved for hogs. It was horrible, but you know what? It was also invigorating. Because we believed in the constitution and the correctness of our cause.

When DeBerry enrolled at Brandeis the next year, he brought his commitment to social justice with him. DeBerry was deeply involved in activism on campus during his undergraduate years at Brandeis, including the student occupation of Ford Hall in 1969.

DeBerry earned his bachelor’s degree in Sociology at Brandeis University in 1973. Continuing his education at Brandeis, he went on to earn a Masters and later a Doctorate in Political Science. He has also pursued additional studies at Jackson State University, Duke University, Carnegie-Mellon University, the University of Michigan and Harvard.

Active in many community, civic and professional organizations, DeBerry has received numerous awards and has been cited for outstanding achievements and contributions including the Alumni Achievement Award from Brandeis University which recognizes alumni who have made distinguished contributions to their professions or chosen fields of endeavor. [From hillcountryproject.org]