Dr. Doris Derby is an activist, documentary photographer and retired adjunct associate professor of anthropology at the Georgia State University. She was active in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, and her work is on the themes of race and identity of African Americans. She was a working member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (S.N.C.C.),as well as co-founder of the Free Southern Theater, and the Founding Director of the Office of African American Student Services and Programs (O.A.A.S.S.P.). Her photography has been exhibited throughout the United States. Two of her photographs are in Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC, to which she also contributed an essay about her experiences in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement. Derby lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, actor Bob Banks. They are active leaders in their community and members of local and national organizations.
Early life and Education
Derby’s contact with S.N.C.C. members started in 1961 when she and her fellow uptown Hunter College New York students met with student activists in the Raleigh/Greensboro/Durham, North Carolina area, to gather first hand information about Civil Rights issues in the segregated South. One year later, Derby graduated from Hunter College in the fields of Elementary School Education and Cultural Anthropology and taught elementary school while volunteering with New York friends of S.N.C.C..
Derby worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Albany, Georgia and in New York. In 1963, before the March on Washington, she was recruited to work in exploratory Adult Literacy Project S.N.C.C. initiated at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi and as a S.N.C.C. organizer in Jackson, Mississippi. There she co-founded the Free Southern Theater(F.S.T.). From 1963 to 1972 she promoted the arts, and worked with S.N.C.C. projects, including the Council of Federated Organizations (C.O.F.O.), and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (M.F.D.P.). Dr. Derby was a teacher and teacher trainer in the first Head Start Program in the country, the Child Development Group of Mississippi (C.D.G.M.), in 1965.
From 1965 to 1972, Derby worked for the Poor Peoples Corporation (P.P.C.), and helped incorporate Liberty House Cooperative Marketing, an arm of the P.P.C. Derby was also involved in the marketing, public relations, and training of these groups. In 1967, she joined Southern Media, Inc., a documentary photography/film production group in Jackson, Mississippi. She lectured and exhibited at Jackson State College on African Art and Culture.
Further Education and Achievements
Derby left Mississippi in 1972 and focused on African and African American Studies, for which she earned an M.A. as well as a PhD. in Social Anthropology from the University of Illinois. She also worked in the University System of Wisconsin for ten years. In 1990, she joined the University System of Georgia at Georgia State University (G.S.U.) as an Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology and the Founding Director of the Office of African American Student Services and Programs (O.A.A.S.S.P.). Her department achievements included the retention and graduation of a vast number of African American students, and the enhancement of cultural/educational ties between African, Caribbean, Latin and African American students and the community at large. She also co-founded the Performing and Visual Arts Council (P.V.A.C.) at Georgia State University. At the end of 2012, Derby retired from Georgia State University after 22 years of service.
Life as a photographer
Derby has exhibited her photographs locally and nationally. Her photographs have been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution, the Field Museum of Natural History, in Chicago, Illinois the Bronx Museum of the Arts, in New York, and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, California. Derby's exhibits have also been displayed in Atlanta, Georgia at the High Museum, the Hammonds House Museum, Spelman College, the Fulton County Southwest Arts Center, and the Auburn Avenue Research Library. Other exhibits displayed in Atlanta were at Georgia State University in the Gallery Lounge and The Ernest G. Welch Gallery.
Derby’s work can be found in Polly Greenberg’s, The Devil Wears Slippery Shoes, 1990; Clarissa Myrick-Harris’s, “Behind the Scenes”, in Trailblazers and Torchbearer,1993; Deborah Willis’, Reflections in Black; A History of Black Photographers, 2000; The Nation’s Longest Struggle - Looking Back on the Modern Civil Rights Movement, D.C. Everest Oral History Project, 2013.
For the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, Derby was recorded in Time magazine's 5 part documentary "March Special - One Man, One March, One Dream"(Time.com/time/One Dream) from Time Life's film making unit and digital platform. This interview included 16 other persons who played a role in the 1963 March on Washington. Derby was also interviewed on W.S.B.-TV, Channel 2 Atlanta, for the anniversary to be held March in Washington and for a Commemorative Special Program, which was produced and aired the day before the anniversary date. In addition, Derby featured in a documentary film on the past and current March on Washington participants. This film was sponsored by the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, with the interview being conducted by Atlanta-based film making interns. In April 2010, Derby and other S.N.C.C. members gathered to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of S.N.C.C.. Derby is one of 52 contributors of the recently published book Hands on the Freedom Plow - Personal Accounts of 52 Women in S.N.C.C.
Ed. Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, and Barbara Woods. Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers 1941-1965. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993. 71-83.