On September 29, 2021, Betty R. Dickson discussed her new book Leaving Mississippi as part of the History Is Lunch series.
Leaving Mississippi tells the story of husband and wife Jim Brent Durr and Martha Lee Durr. Jim Brent, a Black resident of Simpson County, was convicted in 1951 of murdering a white constable. Martha Lee was also arrested and charged with accessory to murder.
“Martha Lee Durr was eight months pregnant when she was beaten by officers of the law questioning her about her husband,” said Dickson. “She was never tried in court but spent six months in jail before a group of Black farmers was able to post her bail, allowing her to return home to the family’s three children.”
Dickson was twelve years old in 1952 as she watched a portable electric chair being taken into the Simpson County courthouse to execute Jim Brent Durr.
“I felt a lurch in my stomach and suddenly realized a man was going to die that very night in that awful contraption,” said Dickson. “The story of what Martha Lee Durr had to face is one of tragedy, strength and endurance, perseverance, love, fear, pain, and—unbelievably and finally—forgiveness.”
Mendenhall native Betty Dickson began a newspaper career at age twelve as a printer’s devil at the Simpson County News. She graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi with a degree in liberal arts with a journalism major and worked for newspapers in Lucedale and Philadelphia. In 1970 Dickson and her husband Tom became publishers of The Magee Courier. After selling the newspaper in 1984, Betty Dickson became executive director of the Mississippi Nurses Association. She continued as a lobbyist after retirement from the association. Dickson lives in Asheville, North Carolina.
History Is Lunch is sponsored by the John and Lucy Shackelford Charitable Fund of the Community Foundation for Mississippi. The weekly lecture series of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History explores different aspects of the state's past. The hour-long programs are broadcast from the Craig H. Neilsen Auditorium of the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum building.