Doris Derby

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Doris Derby
Known forActivist, Photographer

Doris Derby is an activist, documentary photographer and retired adjunct associate professor of anthropology at Georgia State University. She was active in the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, and her work discusses the themes of race and African American identity. 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 were published 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.[1] Derby lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband, actor Bob Banks.[2] They are active leaders in their community and members of local and national organizations.

Early life and education[edit]

Dr. Doris Derby’s association with the Civil Rights Movement began when she joined the NAACP Youth Chapter in her hometown of New York City at the age of sixteen. She continued her association with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) while attending Hunter College in New York.[3] As a student activist, she was on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement. Derby worked primarily with SNCC in New York, Albany, GA, and throughout the state of Mississippi.[3]

In 1963, before the March on Washington, Dr. Derby, then an elementary school teacher, was recruited to work in an adult literacy program SNCC initiated at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi to help develop literacy materials programmed to prepare black people to pass the required discriminatory literacy test for voter eligibility in Mississippi [4][5] and as a S.N.C.C. organizer in Jackson, Mississippi. She felt compelled to work in the South because:

A war on the home front had been started. It was a wakeup call. It was a call for all hands on deck, whether from the east or west coast, north or south, whether black or white, old or young, grassroots or professional. People from different [ethnic] groups and abroad participated in and were committed to the movement, but mostly black people because it was us who were most directly impacted by the evil goings-on in the South.[4]

From 1963 to 1972 Derby served as a SNCC Field Secretary in various capacities in Jackson, Mississippi in the Council of Federal Organizations (COFO), the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), the Poor Peoples’ Corporation (PPC), and the Child Development Group of Mississippi (CDGM) Head start Program. During this period she worked on preparations for the Freedom Summer, taught in various educational enrichment programs, and promoted local arts and culture.[3]

While in Mississippi she co-founded the Free Southern Theater (F.S.T.). Along with John O'Neal and Gilbert Moses, she saw the need for

the creation of a cultural artistic tool that could be used to involve, inspire, enlighten, and galvanize black people to critically think and create for themselves, within the context of the Civil Rights Movement in the segregated and closed society of violent Mississippi, and to work for and create social change, social justice, equal opportunity and citizenship regardless of race. [4]

She felt that a repertory theater company that could:

travel throughout the state and incorporate all of the arts might be able to develop a cultural format as it interacts with the people in the movement and the grassroots people who have suffered the most. It would be a vehicle that could be used to inform and perhaps reveal new creative strategies to deal with the institution of segregation. We needed to look into ourselves in order to empower ourselves and reclaim the freedom we did not have in Mississippi and other southern states.[4]

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.[6] Derby was also involved in the marketing, public relations, and training of these groups. In 1967 she joined Southern Media, Inc., a documentary, photography, an filmmaking group in Jackson, Mississippi that traveled throughout the state documenting the lives, struggles, initiatives and gains of people in and around the movement.[3] She lectured and exhibited at Jackson State College on African art and culture.

Further education and achievements[edit]

Derby left Mississippi in 1972 and focused on African and African-American Studies, for which she earned an M.A., as well as a Ph.D. in Social Anthropology from the University of Illinois.[2] 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's achievements included the retention and graduation of a vast number of African-American students, as well as the enhancement of cultural and 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 in 2008.[4] At the end of 2012, Derby retired from Georgia State University after 22 years of service.[3]


Derby has exhibited her photographs both locally and nationally. Her photographs have been shown at the Smithsonian Institution, the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, the Bronx Museum of the Arts in New York,[3] and the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles,[7] California. Derby's photographs have also been exhibited in Atlanta, Georgia, at the High Museum,[7] the Hammonds House Museum, Spelman College, the Fulton County Southwest Arts Center, and the Auburn Avenue Research Library.[3] As well, her photographs have been exhibited at the Art, Design and Architecture Museum, UC Santa Barbara, the Jackson State University and Margaret Walker Alexander Center Art Galleries and the George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art in New Orleans. Other exhibits displayed in Atlanta were at Georgia State University, in the Gallery Lounge and The Ernest G. Welch Gallery.[3] In 2009, her work was part of an exhibit, "Road to Freedom," at the High Museum in Atlanta, which explored the role of photography in the Civil Rights Movement.[8]

Derby’s work can be found in the following: Polly Greenberg’s The Devil Has Slippery Shoes, 1990; Clarissa Myrick-Harris’s Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearer, 1941-1965, 1993;[7] Deborah Willis' Reflections in Black - A History of Black Photographers, 2000;[7] 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 1963 March on Washington, Derby was interviewed for a perspective documentary film about past and current March on Washington participants, along with 16 others who participated, for Time magazine's five-part documentary "March Special - One Man, One March, One Dream."[9] She was also interviewed on W.S.B.-TV, Channel 2 Atlanta, for a segment shown on the anniversary, as well as a commemorative special program that was aired the day before. In addition, Derby was featured in a documentary film about 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 interns. In April 2010, Derby and other SNCC members gathered to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of SNCC. Derby is one of the 52 contributors to the book Hands on the Freedom Plow - Personal Accounts of 52 Women in SNCC. On October 6, 2011 Derby received the 26th Governor’s Award in the Humanities in Atlanta for documenting and preserving images and stories enabling current and future generations to learn about the Civil Rights Movement and social change in the Deep South.[10]

Further reading[edit]

  1. Civil Rights History Project, U.S, Joseph Mosnier, and Doris Adelaide Derby. "Doris Adelaide Derby oral history interview conducted by Joseph Mosnier in Atlanta, Georgia, None , 4, 2011." Video. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, (Accessed February 26, 2016.)
  2. Doris Adelaide Derby Papers, 1960–1992. Emory University, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University, Atlanta, GA, 30322,

External links[edit]

  • SNCC Digital Gateway: Doris Derby, Documentary website created by the SNCC Legacy Project and Duke University, telling the story of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee & grassroots organizing from the inside-out


  1. ^ Holsaert, Faith S., Martha Prescod Norman Noonan, Judy Richardson, Betty Garman Robinson, Jean Smith Young, and Dorothy M. Zellner (2010). Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC (1st ed.). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press. pp. 271, 436. ISBN 9780252035579.
  2. ^ a b "Doris Adelaide Derby Oral History". Library of Congress. LOC. Retrieved 5 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "African American Studies". African American Studies. Mississippi State University. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Talkin Revolution with Dr. Doris Derby". Alternate Roots. Retrieved 6 June 2015.
  5. ^ Adelaide., Derby, Doris (2008-06-09). "Doris Adelaide Derby papers, 1960-1992". Retrieved 2018-10-23.
  6. ^ "Doris Derby - SNCC Digital Gateway". SNCC Digital Gateway. Retrieved 2018-10-23.
  7. ^ a b c d "Doris Derby: Bibliography & Exhibitions". aavad. Retrieved 7 June 2015.
  8. ^ "We Shall Overcome," American History. Jun2008, Vol. 43 Issue 2, p52-59.
  9. ^ "One Dream – Memories from the March on Washington". Retrieved 2018-10-23.
  10. ^ "Doris Derby People on the Move". American City Business Journals. Retrieved 5 June 2015.