Civil Rights Hero Tells Students ‘We Were Your Age’

David Dennis Sr. and David Dennis Jr. lead discussion about their book

Authors David Dennis Sr. (right) and David Dennis Jr. discuss their new book, which gives a firsthand account of critical moments in the civil rights movement, during a presentation Tuesday at The Gertrude C. Ford Ole Miss Student Union. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

OXFORD, Miss. – David Dennis Sr., a civil rights activist and original Freedom Rider, looked out at a crowd of University of Mississippi students and had a realization.

“We were your age,” Dennis Sr. said. “When you look back on these events, you’ll see pictures of people like yourself – not only marching and sitting in; they were in a leadership position.”

Dennis Sr. and his son, David Dennis Jr., spoke on campus Tuesday (Oct. 25) about their book, “The Movement Made Us: A Father, a Son and a Legacy of a Freedom Ride.” The book tells the stories of Dennis Sr., who helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and the challenge to the National Democratic Party in 1964.

Dennis Jr., a senior writer for ESPN, grew up hearing harrowing tales around the dinner table. He used extensive research and conversations to write these stories from Dennis Sr.’s perspective.

“I’ve always wanted to write Dad’s stories,” Dennis Jr. said. “When I was young, my dad was rekindling friendships with a lot of movement folks. I heard their conversations, and while I didn’t understand the history of what I was hearing at the time, I knew one day I was going to write about it.”

Derrick Harriell, interim director of African American studies at the university, moderated the event. He said he was honored to have the pair on campus.

“When the opportunity came for us to figure out how to celebrate the 60th anniversary of James Meredith integrating our campus, our goal was to get really phenomenal speakers to talk about all things related to civil rights,” Harriell said. “This book was one of the first things I thought of. When I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down.

“There’s so much beauty within the harshness described in this book.”

Civil rights icon David Dennis Sr. described speaking at the university as an ’emotional’ experience. Photo by Thomas Graning/Ole Miss Digital Imaging Services

The process of writing the book was admittedly painful for both father and son.

“I didn’t know how to tell the story because it hurt,” Dennis Sr. said. “Years ago, we didn’t know anything about PTSD. We were suffering and didn’t even know we were suffering. At one point I had to just stop. But only one person could have written this book and it was my son.”

Dennis Jr. spoke on the challenges that young Black people have today.

“One of the issues that kids have is that everything feels like too much,” he said. “It feels like impossible sometimes. How do you fight a disease? How do you fight a president? Or a voting structure that seems so corrupt and so much suppression? Or a mass incarceration system?”

All the same, both authors encouraged the crowd to “just do something,” even if that something is small.

“You all are a part of this,” Dennis Sr. said. “The movement is about family. We operated as a people. We brought a thousand students down here just like you in 1964. Who were these kids? Young people who made a change in the world and didn’t stop. They didn’t stop.

“I was with Medgar Evers one hour before he was assassinated. I had no idea I was going to be in that position.”

Terrye Davis, recruiting coordinator for the UM Career Center and a second-year master’s student in higher education, was moved by the discussion.

“I feel the energy in this room,” Davis said. “I’m from the Mississippi Delta, and I know how important it is to do something.”

Davis said she resonated with Dennis Jr.’s discussion about Mississippi’s history and how the state has led the country in formulating and cultivating resistance work.

“I really appreciated when he talked about how the white supremacy of this state has nothing to do with me,” she said. “Because we get that all the time – they ask why do you want to move back to Mississippi?

“I say often as a joke to people that Mississippi raised y’all – as in the world. I really appreciated him putting into perspective how Mississippi created people who are so resilient.”

The significance of speaking at Ole Miss was not lost on Dennis Sr.

“It’s a little emotional sitting here at the moment,” he said. “This book talks about a time when I wouldn’t have been able to even walk on this campus. I’m looking out here now and seeing technicolor.”

For a complete list of future events and other details about the anniversary of integration, visit