Civil rights pioneer discusses early years in Hattiesburg

By Karrie Leggett – email | bio

HATTIESBURG,MS (WDAM) -   Raylawni Branch remembers times of struggle all too well, and even though the year of 1965 would change her life for the better the journey to today wasn't an easy one.

"I began school in Mount Carmel, Mississippi. A little three room school house no heat, no running water no inside bathroom. In fact we lived in a house that didn't have any heat, running water or electricity," said Branch.

After high school Branch became a wife and mother. A life she says which didn't have much direction until one night she'll never forget.

"Apolice officer jumped up out of the dark at my grandmothers house, who was babysitting and the police officer just with his back hand hit my husband with the flashlight. He just missed my baby, who was my youngest child. I turned to him and said why don't you pick on somebody that is not holding a baby. What did I say that for? He took a table a small lamp table, and broke it against the wall and came at me with a leg. It was do or die," said Branch.

Branch knew she had to protect her family.

"My arms were out like this and I could feel his gun. So, I took his gun off of him and stuck it right in his belly, and I said if you don't get off of me you will die," said Branch.

Shook from the events of that night Branch went to the only person she thought could help, late Mississippi civil rights activist, Vernon Dahmer.

"He said you need to be doing something to better not only yourself, but better your surrounding your environment the people," said Branch.

That is when Branch joined the NAACP, through its support Branch made the decision to apply to the University of Southern Mississippi. A decision made 46 years ago which would push integration and become a part of civil rights history.

Copyright 2011 WDAM. All rights reserved.