The University of Southern Mississippi -- McCain Library and Archives
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Collection Title: Branch (Raylawni) Collection
Collection Number: M335
Dates: ca. 1960s, 1995
Volume: 3 items
Raylawni Branch was born in 1941 in the Mobile Street area of Hattiesburg, Mississippi. The oldest of ten children, she was reared in Hattiesburg, Prentiss, and the Mount Carmel areas of Mississippi, and lived in Chicago, Illinois from age 6 to 14. By the time of her eighth grade graduation, she and her family had moved eleven times and she had attended eight different schools. She and her siblings returned to Hattiesburg after the death of her father, and Raylawni graduated from Rowan High School in 1959. After high school, she married and had three children.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Raylawni participated in several activities, including the March on Washington in 1963. She was involved in the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She integrated the Greyhound and Trailways bus stations in Hattiesburg, and was the first African American ever hired at the Big Yank clothing factory. She also became the first African American ever hired as a switchboard operator at the local telephone company.
In 1965, at age twenty-four, Raylawni was Secretary of the Forrest County, Mississippi NAACP when the organization offered to pay her tuition to the University of Southern Mississippi (USM). On September 6, 1965, she and eighteen-year-old Hattiesburg native Elaine Armstrong became the first African American students at USM. Raylawni majored in Pre-Medicine and had a work-study job on campus in the biology department. Unfortunately, financial strain and personal problems caused her to leave USM after one year.
After separating from her husband in 1966, Raylawni left Mississippi for New York, where she received her nursing degree from St. John's Episcopal School of Nursing. While in New York, she was actively involved in the Vietnam War Movement and was among the protestors that stormed the Pentagon. She received her bachelor's degree in Nursing from the University of Miami in 1969, and joined the Air Force Reserves in 1975, where she has achieved the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
Raylawni returned to Hattiesburg in 1987, and enrolled in a Master's program at USM in 1988. She received her Master's Degree in Community Health Nursing, with a minor in Education in 1993. She is presently working as an Instructor of Associate Degree Nursing at Pearl River Community College in Mississippi, and has been married to Alf Branch for 32 years.
This collection contains materials collected by Mrs. Raylawni Branch, civil rights activist and one of the first two African American students at the University of Southern Mississippi. Included in the materials are her family photos and various items pertaining to the Civil Rights Movement in Hattiesburg and other parts of Mississippi.
Most of the materials in the collection relate in some way to John Fawcett, a close friend of Raylawni's and a volunteer in Mississippi during 1965. Fawcett worked as an assistant to Reverand Bob Beech of the Delta Ministry Project in Hattiesburg, and helped the organization implement several programs.
Folder one contains Raylawni's family photographs, and includes a photograph that appeared in the University of Southern Mississippi yearbook in 1965.
Folder two consists of two publications. The first publication is the Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. XC, No. 4 (December 1994) with an inscription to Raylawni by John Fawcett, who authored an article in the issue. The second publication is The Struggle of Struggles, by Vera Pigee (1979) in which a photograph of Raylawni appears on page 86.
Folder three holds two items: a letter from John Fawcett to Raylawni Branch (June 19, 1995), and a typed copy of Fawcett's "Mississippi Essay," which is written in the form of a letter to a World War II comrade. In the essay, Fawcett gives a personal account of his role in the Civil Rights Movement in 1965 and his experiences in and around Hattiesburg. It is also dated 1995.
Folder four is comprised of photocopies of three articles that appeared in the Hattiesburg American during 1965, which relate to civil rights issues. These were given to Raylawni by John Fawcett and include his personal notes on the pages themselves.
Folder five contains two civil rights posters and a flyer, also given to Raylawni by John Fawcett. The CORE poster is cut in half, and the Police poster has Fawcett's notes on the back. Also included are three photocopies of the posters.
Folder six holds color photocopies of three scrapbook pages of photographs taken by John Fawcett during 1965. The photographs show various sites in Mississippi, including Hattiesburg.
This collection should be of value to researchers interested in the life of one of USM's first two African American students, as well as those researching the Civil Rights Movement in Hattiesburg.
Mrs. Raylawni Branch Oral History Interview, vol. 682. A print copy of the transcript is available in the McCain Library, call number F341.5 .M57.