L.C. (pronounced “Elsie”)
Dorsey was born in December 17, 1938 in Tribbett, Mississippi. Her
life has been devoted to building economic independence among the
oppressed black delta communities of Mississippi. She is well known
and respected for her many contributions to the advancement of black
men and women and for her work towards state prison reform. Her
years of work with the prison system in the state led her to write
many articles and editorials about Mississippi’s social conditions
for the Jackson Advocate, and more well-known articles such
as “Freedom Comes to Mississippi” and “Harder
Than These Times,” both in 1977 for the Southern Coalition
Jails and Prisons Reports. Her most widely recognized and only book
was Cold Steel, a 36-page exposé about life in Parchman,
Mississippi’s state penitentiary.
Dorsey was inspired
by her mothers’ readings of black success stories in publications
like The Pittsburgh Courier and The Chicago Defender.
She studied the leaders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
(SCLC) to learn how to organize people around volunteer efforts.
In 1964, she began working as a
Community Development specialist for Operation Head Start. Her purpose
in this role was to “get out in the community, making sure
people got access to social services that existed.” This program
and Dorsey’s leadership led to the future developments of
the Associated Communities of Bolivar and Sunflower Counties, independently
run Community Action Programs (CAP), and the founding of Mississippi’s
Office of Economic Opportunity. In 1966, she was involved in a new
program, Operation Help, which tried to obtain jobs and assistance
for the needy. It was during this time that she organized many boycotts
and demonstrations with the Democratic Freedom Party.
Dorsey received her GED in 1968
through Tufts University’s STAR (Systematic Training and Redevelopment)
Program. Dorsey received her Master’s degree in Social Work
in 1973 from Stony Brook University in New York via an experimental
program initiated by Mr. Sanford Kravitz, Director of Tufts Delta
Health Center, offering graduate degrees to those blacks without
undergraduate degrees. It was this experience that allowed Dorsey
to, in her own words, “learn writing, grammar, and expression.”
In 1973, Dorsey returned to Mississippi
and began work as Director of Social Services for the Mid-Delta
Head Start Program in Greenville. She served as Associate Director
of the Southern Coalition on Jails and Prisons from 1974 until the
doors were closed in 1983 due to lack of funding. As a result of
her work with the prison system, she served on President Jimmy Carter’s
National Council for Economic Opportunity from 1978 to 1979. In
1977, she wrote her most known articles for the Southern Coalition
Reports, “Freedom Came to Mississippi” and “Harder
Than These Times.” In 1983, Dorsey self-published Cold
Steel, a 36 page book about life at Parchman, Mississippi’s
notorious state prison. This same year, she received an American
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) award for her nine years of work towards
From 1988 to 1995, Dorsey served
as the Executive Director for the Delta Health Center in Mound Bayou,
Mississippi, providing complete family medical care and social services
for the widespread poor populations of Bolivar, Coahoma, Sunflower,
and Washington Counties. She then worked as a clinical associate
professor in the Family Medicine Department at the University of
Mississippi Medical Center.
Dorsey currently lives in Jackson,
Mississippi. She is also the mother of six children.
posted October 2002)
Links & Info
- Cold Steel. Jackson, Mississippi: Dorsey’s Inc.,
- “Freedom Comes to Mississippi.” Southern Coalition
on Jails and Prisons Reports. Jackson, Mississippi: 1977.
- “Harder Than These Times.” Southern Coalition on
Jails and Prisons Reports. Jackson, Mississippi: 1977.
- The Delta Oral History Project. Tougaloo College: L. Zenobia
Coleman Library Archives. July 18, 1997, p. 3, 10, 30. Interviewers:
Kim Lacy Rogers, Owen Brooks, Jerry Ward.
- Kanengiser, Andy. “ACLU to honor 2 Mississippians.”
Jackson Daily News (June 1, 1983).
- Bonds, Gracie. “Author of Cold Steel honored at party tomorrow.”
Delta Democrat Times (December 15, 1982).
- Myers, Leslie R. “Cold Steel examines prison life.”
Clarion Ledger/Jackson Daily News (November 1982).
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