Billy Graham Center

Interview with Suzanne Elizabeth Griggins - Collection 375

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Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions

Biography of Suzanne Elizabeth Griggins

An Essay on the Contents of the Collection (Scope and Content)

List of Audio Tapes in This Collection (Location Records)

Brief Description.
Audio tapes which include an oral history interview and an orientation session on the Mendenhall Ministries Law Office presented to volunteer workers. In the interview, Griggins describes her work as a lawyer for the Law Office, including examples of cases. Also discussed are her conversion and spiritual growth; African Americans; political, legal, educational, racial and social conditions in rural Mississippi; voter registration; Artis Fletcher; the Ku Klux Klan; and the church's response to injustice. The orientation covers similar topics as the interview.

Collection 375 [May 8, 2000]
Griggins, Suzanne Elizabeth; 1946-
Interview; 1987


There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.


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 InterPhaser 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 InterPhaser 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.

Scope and Content

This collection consists of an orientation session presented to a volunteer group by Griggins on the work of the Mendenhall Ministries Law Office on June 25, 1987 (T1 and T2), and an oral history interview the following day (T3 and T4).

Suzanne Griggins was interviewed by Paul A. Ericksen in Mendenhall, Mississippi on June 26, 1987. The time period covered by the interview is from 1977 to 1987. Time elapsed in minutes and seconds is recorded to the left of the topics discussed in the interview. The index is keyed to the cassette copy and not to the reel-to-reel original. The description of the orientation session conducted by Griggins precedes the interview. The abbreviated summary of the session follows the form used with the interviews.

T1 - side 1
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:15 Introduction of orientation on June 25, 1987.
04:30 Preliminary comments, summary of Law Office history.
07:15 Personal background: religious upbringing and conversion, social activism, law school.
11:30 Federal legal services program, law in lives of Americans, personal motivation to help, The Mendenhall Ministries efforts to locate office in black community, local legal and civil rights climate.
18:00 Being an outsider to both Mendenhall's white and black communities. Artis Fletcher: leadership and example. Examples of ongoing discrimination (public services, education) and segregation, and court ruling against school board.
30:00 Impact of TMM community on her, steps to enter community, being an outsider in Mendenhall's black community, positive role of differences.
36:30 Conversion: interaction with Fletcher, subsequent difficulties.
41:00 Establishment of Law Office, importance of owning buildings, revised ideas of what law practice should be, community determination of strategy.
46:30 End of side 1.

T1 - side 2
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:05 Overlap from side 1.
01:15 Continuation on revised ideas of legal practice, community oversight of strategy, revision of court opinion, litigation as part of the strategy for the community, comparison between white and black community development.
07:15 Discrimination: 1942 election and 1983 county convention, continued presence in white churches, case research, superficial friendliness, affirmative action.
16:15 Law Office: case load, finances, community development, Interphaser Project, accomplishments.
21:45 Ku Klux Klan, contact with KKK marcher, inscrutability of the human heart.
26:15 End of side 2.

T2 - side 1
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:45 Conclusion on KKK, contrasted with Christian love in black community.
01:30 God's work in a case against educational system.
13:15 Momentary break in recording. God's demand for justice and use of circumstances for personal sanctification; personal applications; need for Christian compassion.
23:30 Concluding prayer.
24:15 End of side 1 and session.

T3 - side 1
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:30 Introduction to interview on June 26, 1987.
00:45 Law Office: founding and role within the ministry; philosophy of submission to TMM leaders and members, priority of community needs and agenda; as a resource to the community, maximizing legal options available to the community; program development; Harvard Law School internship program.
10:15 Caseload description: emphasis on retaining in or acquiring resources for the community; comparison with federal legal services program.
14:15 Mistakes: lack of preliminary planning, failure to utilize and develop the potential of the community advisory board, moving faster than the ministry.
18:45 Peoples' law school: curriculum, phases of development, producing resources, philosophy.
26:45 Process of taking a case: interview to assess legal and other needs, role of referrals to other resources, determining legal action, determining fee.
32:15 Formulating fee based on type of case, family size and income; determining payment period.
34:45 Legal climate in Simpson County.
40:30 Voter registration and challenging county districting.
43:45 Weights assigned to certainty of winning a case vs. rightness of case.
44:45 End of side 1.

T3 - side 2
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:05 Overlap from side 1.
01:15 Continuation on basis for accepting cases; examples of housing and segregation sustained by legal interpretation.
03:45 Law Office's role in 1984 presidential election caucus, irregularities, challenging delegate seating, outcome.
11:45 Economic pressures on blacks and whites to conform to the wishes of the white system; difficulty for blacks participating in political process.
17:45 Discrimination in the school system: terminated black teacher, counselor misdirection, private academies.
25:00 End of side 2.

T4 - side 1
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:30 Future cases. Examples of legal manipulation by whites to harass blacks.
06:15 Legal and political action to redress deficiencies in public services to the black community, disappointment with federal assistance, role of persistence in cases settled prior to trial; God's role in the process.
17:00 Working as a white in a black organization, need for cultural sensitivity, exercise of spiritual gifts, feeling of belonging while remaining an outsider.
32:00 Counteracting depression and anger in confronting problems, giving hope to clients.
36:00 Catholic parents' feelings about her work.
37:30 Concluding remarks: Gratitude for Mendenhall Ministries' role in her conversion and spiritual growth; privilege of being a part of God's answer to problems.
42:30 End of interview and side 1.


The tapes in this collection were given to the Center by Suzanne Griggins in June 1987.

Acc.: 87-84, 87-85
June 22, 1990
Paul A. Ericksen

Accession: 87-84, 87-85
Type of Material: Audio Tapes

The following items can be found in the AUDIO TAPE FILE:

T1 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 70 minutes, originally recorded on cassette tape and transferred to reel-to-reel master, one side only. Orientation session presented by Suzanne Griggins to volunteer groups on June 25, 1987. Discussion of Griggins' personal history, including her conversion; Mendenhall Ministries Law Office; the political, legal, educational, racial and social environment of rural Mississippi; Artis Fletcher; the Ku Klux Klan; and God's value of justice.

T2 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 25 minutes, originally recorded on cassette tape and transferred to reel-to-reel master, one side only. Continuation of orientation session (See T1) presented by Suzanne Griggins to volunteer groups on June 25, 1987.

T3 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 70 minutes, originally recorded on cassette tape and transferred to reel-to-reel master, one side only. Interview with Suzanne Griggins by Paul Ericksen recorded on June 26, 1987. Discussion of The Mendenhall Ministries (TMM) Law Office; examples of cases; racial, legal, political, educational, and social conditions from the black community's perspective, voter registration, and Griggin's personal growth as a result of working at TMM.

T4 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 45 minutes, originally recorded on cassette tape and transferred to reel-to-reel master, one side only. Continuation of interview (See T3) with Griggins by Paul Ericksen on June 26, 1987.

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Last Revised: 5/08/00
Expiration: indefinite