January 5, 1936 –
Raised in Winston Salem, North Carolina
Margaret Lauren first learned about SNCC while sorting through fan-mail for Drew Pearson during the early sixties. She was working as a secretary and assistant to the famed newspaper columnist in Washington, D.C. “We kept getting press releases from civil rights organizations about people trying to register voters in the Deep South,” she remembered, “and about how they were being beaten and killed.”
In the summer of 1964, Lauren accompanied Pearson to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. “If you think I should write about these people and the demonstration right in front of the convention,” Pearson told her, “then you go and interview some people and I will put it in the column.” She did just that, speaking with different members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer was inspirational, and Lauren decided “that I wanted my life and my energy to be spent with her and people like her.” Lauren called back home and asked her babysitter to remove all the LBJ and other Democratic Party candidate’s bumper stickers from her car. Then she called her ex-husband and arranged for him to take care of their two sons because she was moving to Mississippi.
By December 1964, Lauren was helping SNCC and COFO with the MFDP congressional challenge. She worked with Lawrence Guyot to collect thousands of affidavits from local people who had been harassed, intimidated, beaten, and jailed for trying to register to vote. There was talk that Mississippi state officials might raid the Jackson office before the MFDP could launch their challenge when Congress reconvened in January. At the request of Guyot and Jack Minnis, Lauren drove a U-Haul trailer packed with all the MFDP’s records–the affidavits, meeting minutes, address lists–straight to attorney Len Holt’s home in D.C.
After the congressional challenge, Lauren worked with Betty Garman in the northern support office at SNCC headquarters in Atlanta. Utilizing her experiences and contacts from working for Pearson, she called press in the North and helped mobilize various Friends of SNCC groups to help garner financial support for the Movement.
Lauren, a white woman born in Kentucky and raised in North Carolina, “kinda had a Southern accent,” which gave Minnis and Jim Forman reason to ask her to go undercover in 1965. Her task was to find out what the white power structure had planned in response to the upcoming march from Selma to Montgomery. Pretending to be a freelance writer for Parade Magazine, she scheduled meetings with Selma’s mayor, chief of police, sheriff, and the judge before reporting back to SNCC leadership.
As the organization embraced Black Power in 1966, Lauren answered the call to organize among white communities and went to work for the Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF). She moved to Pike County, Kentucky, where the coal industry was known for exploiting poor workers and polluting the environment by strip-mining. The white power structure did not welcome her presence, and in August of that same year, her home was raided by 17 armed men. Local officials were particularly enraged by SNCC literature and pictures on her wall of Black and white people together. Lauren and her husband were arrested and jailed for sedition against Pike County, the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the United States of America. After years of legal battles, Lauren used the money won from the federal court case in 1982 to pay for a college education at American University.
Margaret Herring, “A Simple Question,” Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC, edited by Faith S. Holsaert, et al. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 399 – 402.
Margaret Herring Narrative, November 2004, Civil Rights Movement Veterans Website, Tougaloo College.
Skip Maloney, “Meet Margaret Herring,” Coastal Review, June 7, 2012.