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In ‘The Movement Made Us,’ a father and son trace the lasting impact of civil rights activism

For nearly 50 years, civil rights activist David Dennis Sr. rarely spoke about his work in the 1960s as a member of Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE.

Dennis Sr. was instrumental in helping to desegregate parts of the South during the height of the movement. But it wasn’t until his son, journalist David Dennis Jr., started asking questions, that the extraordinary stories of resilience and brutality were revealed.

Through the process of writing their new book, “The Movement Made Us,” Dennis Sr. also came to understand how the trauma he endured as an activist impacted his son.

“I think the most painful thing is to begin to realize the kind of pain that I brought into my home, my family,” Dennis Sr. says. “[My son] writing this book and raising a lot of questions and things and beginning to help cause me to have to address things and see things that I had totally wiped out of my head.”

One of the memories that came back to Dennis Sr. involved making a decision of life and death. When he was 22 years old, Dennis Sr. sent two of his CORE workers from Jackson to Natchez, Mississippi, to get affidavits that would help in their challenge to the Justice Department for the crimes inflicted upon people trying to register to vote. But their car was shot up — and they never got the affidavits.

When they got back to Jackson, Dennis Sr. remembers meeting the visibly shaken workers in a café.

“And I told them, as soon as you get finished eating, you need to go back and get those affidavits and I walked away,” he says. “Now they are my age, right? I mean, that was as cold as you could be. But you got to that point where you were making those particular calls.”

Dennis Jr. grew up hearing these episodic tales about his father, but he says he wasn’t fully aware of what his father went through until writing this book. He says these stories were often told with humor.

“They were just sort of told in this sort of this comedic sort of hint to it of like these men and women who had survived and were telling these survival tales with laughter,” Dennis Jr. says. “And it wasn’t until I talked to dad … that I learned that these were really sometimes gruesome, always dangerous stories that involved a lot of damage.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Civil rights activist David Dennis Sr. and his son, journalist David Dennis Jr. (Courtesy)
Civil rights activist David Dennis Sr. and his son, journalist David Dennis Jr. (Courtesy)