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Tiffanie Brown is preserving the legacy of Gloria Jordan, the Black union leader and her grandmother

Gloria Jordan, a Black union organizer from the Mississippi Delta, was the protagonist of our first film Resurgence (1981) about the rising movement to organize workers in the South, and the response from the violent white right to shut it down in the early 1980s. Recently Gloria’s granddaughter Tiffanie Brown contacted me asking for a digital copy of the film to show during Black History Month so that she could ensure her grandmother’s legacy in relation to the landmark 1979 Sanderson Farms chicken processing plant strike. Tiffanie is also working on a book about Gloria, who died in 2011. In celebration of Juneteenth, I’d like to share this conversation with Tiffanie. 

This following has been edited for length.

Tiffanie, I’m so glad to hear from you and to get to know you, tell me about yourself.

I’m Gloria’s granddaughter and I have four kids and one adopted baby. I have an adopted sister and an adopted cousin, too because I have a mostly stable home. I’m a nurse’s aide at a home [for the elderly] and I’m in the process of opening my own business. 

So you’re a caretaker in both your professional life and in your personal life? 

I never realized it was a calling, I just felt like it was in my nature to take care of others.  Like I want the same in return for my family or friends, whoever is in need of someone or something. I want the opportunity to help somebody else besides my family members.

What do you remember about your grandmother, Gloria? 

I remember everything about Grandma Gloria. She was my backbone.  Like, everything about me is her. She was my superhero even as a child.  She used to tear down old houses with her bare hands, she didn’t hire nobody to do anything. She did it on her own. She took care of us. She took care of my aunt’s kids too. She had morals and standards, everything that she believed in and stood by, she instilled in each and every one of us.  I knew it from like the top of my brain because to me it’s not a story. It’s my real life. It’s my reality. I remember when my grandma first told me the story about the Civil Rights Movement.

And you began your research and documentation of Gloria’s life then?

I remember it started when I was a student at Jones County Junior College [in Mississippi]. I’d written a story about her for class and my instructor was like, “Hey is this story real?” And I was like, “Yes, it’s most definitely real”. He was just like, “I would like to know more. I never heard this story before.” So I showed him everything that I had researched on my Grandmother.   

She used to tell me, “Hey, I want you to one day write down everything I’m telling you”. 

I’m not gonna lie to you. When I first heard it, I didn’t take it serious. But when I turned 19, my Grandmother bought me that computer and I sat down and began to write my her story.  She started off the story with how she rallied up other females from Sanderson Farms [chicken processing plant] and they went on strike. When she told me how they were treated, I’m not gonna’ lie, I cried.  She told me how they was basically raped by the hands of white men, how they would get they breast felt on and dug up their skirts. And if they didn’t obey, how they would tell them like, “Hey, we’ll get rid of you”. Grandma Gloria was telling me how how dirty and nasty it was. How they basically treated the chickens better than they treated the women in there. They got paid $2.95 an hour. 

Civil Rights Leader Vernon Dahmer was killed by the KKK in nearby Laurel, Mississippi by Sam Bowers, the Imperial Wizard of the KKK who was from Laurel. Bowers was also convicted of the murders of the three freedom riders James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman. Was there Klan activity around the Sanderson Farms strike? 

I heard there were those crosses being burnt in the yard of my Jordan grandparents. It was during the time of the strike. I think they just want to shut Gloria up. Like, hey, we just got to keep her quiet. 

And to this day living in Mississippi, I still think it’s [the KKK] strong. They’re just smarter and more educated and have more influence than back then. Maybe they’re like more sophisticated about systemic racism. But the effect is the same way, right? 

I remember Grandma Gloria telling me how a lot of people didn’t stand with them [on the picket line] because they were threatened with like, “Hey, if you go on strike with these women or I see you out there, you’re not gonna’ have a job tomorrow.” 

Gloria was interviewed by The Washington Post, by The New York Times, she traveled all over the country rallying support for the Sanderson Farm strike and became a national figure. What was the outcome?

They lost the strike at first but they did win in the end. An article I researched expressed how her voice sounded and how she felt. I went to Washington DC with my Grandmother and what a day! She said she felt like her job was done because they won what the women needed. 

And it changed them. 

What about now, has Gloria’s legacy as a union leader been remembered?

Some family members don’t want me to bring it [this story] up because we live in Laurel and there is concern because it’s still racist. But what I’m trying to do is tell this story [because] I don’t feel like there’s enough Black history anywhere in the United States. They’re starting to take it out of schools. Even the little bit of Black history that I did learn in school, wasn’t accurate. That’s what I’m doing now – I’m taking everything that I do know, and I’m trying to teach other people about it. 

My Grandmother Gloria Jordan made Black history. That’s my mission now. Hey, tell her story. Get it written down. 

Pamela Yates

Pamela Yates is an award-winning film director and the co-founder of Skylight, a not-for-profit media organization that for over 35 years has combined cinematic arts with the quest for justice to inspire the defense of human rights. Skylight’s films and programs strengthen social justice movements and catalyze collaborative networks of artists and activists.

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