Mama Dolly Raines
When SNCC began expanding into the “rurals” of Southwest Georgia in the spring of 1962, “Mama Dolly” Raines–as the young field workers affectionately called her–housed, fed, and protected them on her small farm in Lee County. She was “a gray-haired old lady of seventy,” who as Charles Sherrod described her, could “pick more cotton, slop more pigs, plow more ground, chop more wood, and do a hundred things better than the best farmer in the area.” She could also wield a gun. Many nights, Mama Dolly sat guard with her twelve-gauge shotgun, protecting the young people sleeping inside. Her courage and strength sustained the SNCC workers.
Raines’ property was tucked well into the backwoods of Lee County, and geese, turkeys, brood sows, pigs, a milk cow, and chickens ranged her small farm. In the mornings, she would serve up one of the chickens (and sometimes a squirrel) as breakfast for her troop of SNCC houseguests.
Mama Dolly’s house also functioned as SNCC’s base of operation in Lee County, and for that, she received an endless stream of death threats. Not long after SNCC arrived, the nearby Shady Grove Baptist Church burned to the ground for sponsoring voter registration activity. But Raines had spent most of her life working as a midwife in Lee County, and she had delivered many of the area’s residents, both Black and white. One night, sitting guard with her shotgun, she told Charles Sherrod, “Baby, I brought a lot of these white folks into this world, and I’ll take ‘em out of this world if I have to.”
Sherrod called people, like Mama Dolly and Carolyn Daniels in neighboring Terrell County, the mamas of the community: “a militant woman […] outspoken, understanding and willing to catch hell, having already caught her share.”
Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1981).
Charles Cobb, This Nonviolent Stuff’ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible (New York: Basic Books, 2014).
Shirley Sherrod, The Courage to Hope: How I Stood Up to the Politics of Fear (New York: Atria Books, 2012).