Dave Dennis ’68: Activist

Dave Dennis - Dillard University Alumni
Dave Dennis ’68, a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement, embodied the spirit of activism and social change.

Dave Dennis ’68, a prominent figure in the Civil Rights Movement, embodied the spirit of activism and social change. As a student at Dillard University, Dennis embarked on a journey to contribute to the advancement of civil rights in America. Departing from Dillard University, he immersed himself in the Civil Rights Movement, working alongside esteemed icons such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis. Despite his involvement in the movement, Dennis eventually returned to Dillard University to complete his education.

Dennis played a crucial role as one of the organizers of the historic Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964, collaborating closely with esteemed figures like Bob Moses, Medgar Evers, and members of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee).

Dennis’s entry into the Civil Rights Movement began with a Woolworth sit-in organized by CORE, eventually leading him to participate in the groundbreaking Freedom Rides of 1961. His dedication to the cause saw him make significant contributions, including establishing a CORE presence in Mississippi and spearheading initiatives such as the Delta Project and the Jackson boycott. Dennis also focused on empowering local communities, setting up a Home Industry Cooperative in Ruleville and advocating for voter registration drives in places like Madison County.

In 1964, Dave Dennis, together with Bob Moses, brought the vision of Freedom Summer to fruition. This initiative aimed to draw national attention to the civil rights struggle by involving both Black and white activists in the movement. Tragically, the summer saw the loss of three volunteers to violence at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan, a devastating event that deeply impacted Dennis. His profound emotions were evident in the powerful eulogy he delivered at James Chaney’s funeral, where he passionately addressed the injustices faced by activists in Mississippi and beyond. In 2022, Dennis penned a book, The Movement Made Us: A Father, a Son, and the Legacy of a Freedom Ride, with his son, Dave Dennis, Jr. 

During his time back at Dillard, Dennis played a pivotal role in founding the Afro-American Students for Progress organization. This group was dedicated to promoting awareness within the Dillard community and New Orleans about the significant contributions and achievements of Black individuals. Leveraging the connections and experiences he garnered while participating in the Civil Rights Movement, Dennis collaborated with the Afro-American Students for Progress to establish the Afro-American Arts Festival.

The Afro-American Arts Festival, a groundbreaking cultural event, showcased the talent and creativity of Black artists and performers. This festival attracted notable figures such as Cannonball Adderly, Danny Baker, and Amiri Baraka, enriching the cultural landscape of Dillard University and the wider New Orleans community. Through his leadership and vision, Dave Dennis and the AASP successfully celebrated the rich heritage and artistic excellence of Black people, leaving a lasting impact on the cultural scene of the era.