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Collection 375 Oral History Interview with Suzanne Griggins

 Collection
Identifier: CN-375
Oral history interview with Suzanne Elizabeth Griggins (T3-T4) in which she describes her work as a lawyer at the Mendenhall Ministries Law Office, including examples of cases. Other topics discussed include: Griggins’ conversion and spiritual growth; political, legal, educational, racial and social conditions in rural Mississippi; voter registration; pastor Artis Fletcher; the Ku Klux Klan; and the church's response to injustice. The collection also includes an orientation session (T1-T2) that Griggins led at the Mendenhall Ministries Law Office covering similar topics as the oral history interview. The time period covered by the audio recordings is 1977-1987.

Suzanne Griggins was interviewed by Paul A. Ericksen in Mendenhall, Mississippi on June 26, 1987.

Dates

  • Created: 1977-1987

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Extent

4.00 audio_tapes

212 minutes other_unmapped

Biographical or Historical Information

Suzanne Elizabeth Griggins was born in 1946 in Waukegan, Illinois, and raised in a Roman Catholic family. She completed her BA degree in mathematics at St. Norberts College in 1968. She then moved to New York City, where she attended Columbia University. Griggins completed her MA in political science in 1972. During the period she was in New York, she also worked in a New York City prison as part of a VISTA program; she also served among community groups and in an adult education program in Harlem. She then attended the University of Wisconsin, from which she graduated with her law degree in 1977.

She first worked as a lawyer for the Legal Services Program, a federal service established in 1974 to provide legal assistance in non-criminal proceedings to those unable to afford them. Rev. Artis Fletcher, pastor of Mendenhall Bible Church, Dolphus Weary, Executive Director of The Mendenhall Ministries (TMM), and other members of Mendenhall's African American community applied to the program for an office to be located in their community. The application was approved and Griggins moved to Mendenhall to administer its opening and operation in 1977. While living in Mendenhall, Griggins reevaluated her religious beliefs as a result of contact with The Mendenhall Ministries leadership and other evangelical Christians in the community, and was converted in April 1981. Later that year, federal funding cutbacks resulted in the closing of the office (December 31, 1981). The Mendenhall Ministries made plans to continue the provision of legal aid in the community, and on January 1, 1982, the office reopened as The Mendenhall Ministries Law Office, under Griggins' supervision.

Although Griggins administered the Law Office, The Mendenhall Ministries planned its direction. The Law Office handled routine civil cases, accepted major impact litigation related to discrimination and civil rights violations, provided technical assistance in community development projects such as establishing a credit union, and operated community education programs. The two community education programs initiated by the Law Office were the People's Law School and the Inter Phaser Program. The Law School, started in 1982, consisted of evening sessions in community churches. It was designed to familiarize community members with the services and resources to which they were legally entitled. Although the program was coordinated by the Law Office, leaders in the participating community churches determined the agenda to be addressed by the School. The Inter Phaser Program began in 1986, and placed trained lay leaders in various communities throughout Mississippi to begin to operate social outreach projects. The Intern Program also started in 1982, and exposed law students to legal needs and issues in a climate of poverty and discrimination.

The Mendenhall Ministries was a successor of Voice of Calvary Ministries, founded and led by John Perkins. The ministry operated on a holistic model of addressing community and personal needs, whether medical, social, legal, spiritual, or economic in nature. Voice of Calvary began a shift from its emphasis on rural to urban ministry, when Perkins moved to Jackson, Mississippi in 1974. A number of programs were established there and in 1978, the Mendenhall division was separated from Voice of Calvary, although it continued with the name Voice of Calvary-Mendenhall. In 1981, the organization was renamed The Mendenhall Ministries. The organization was led and operated almost entirely by African Americans, many from the Mendenhall area. Griggins was one of the few Caucasians working for The Mendenhall Ministries.

Accruals and Additions

The materials in this collection were given to the Billy Graham Center Archives by Suzanne Griggins in June 1987.

Acc 87-84, 87-85

June 22, 1990

Paul A. Ericksen
Title
Collection 375 Oral History Interview with Suzanne Griggins
Description rules
dacs
Language of description
English

Repository Details

Part of the Billy Graham Center Archives Repository

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