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L. C. Dorsey

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 prison reform.

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.

(Article first posted October 2002)

Karen Rutherford

Related Links & Info




  • Cold Steel. Jackson, Mississippi: Dorsey’s Inc., 1983.


  • “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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