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P. D. East Collection

Identifier: M324

Scope and Contents

This collection consists of materials pertaining to P. D. East's career as editor and publisher of The Petal Paper, as well as his activities as a spokesman for equal rights for all citizens.


  • 1921 - 1992

Conditions Governing Access

Noncirulating; available for research

Biographical / Historical

Percy Dale (P.D.) East, editor and publisher of The Petal Paper, Petal Mississippi, represented the small, and generally cautious, segment of white southern society that recognized, and tried to change, the racial injustice that defined the South in the first half of the twentieth century. East established the newspaper in 1953, and used it as a forum to promote his belief that African-Americans should, and must, receive fair treatment and legal equality. However, by 1959, his caustic editorials and liberal racial views had resulted in the loss of all his local subscribers and advertisers. The Petal Paper survived, with sporadic publication, until 1971, through donations and subscriptions from liberal supporters in other areas of the country.

Percy Dale East was born on November 21, 1921, in Columbia, Mississippi. When he was five days old, his biological mother, Laura Battle Hopkins, gave him up for adoption to James and Bertie East. He grew up in various lumber camps in South Mississippi, where his adoptive father worked in a variety of low-paying jobs. Bertie East supplemented the family's income by running a boarding house in each of the lumber camps. As a child, East was often confronted with the stigma of being a "sawmill kid, "and developed a combative spirit that characterized his personality throughout his life. As a teenager, he worked in a general store where he encountered first-hand the economic exploitation of African-American patrons.

East attended Pearl River Junior College for one semester in 1939, then moved to Hattiesburg, where he secured employment in the baggage department of the Greyhound Bus Lines. In 1942, he accepted a position as ticket clerk with the Southern Railway System, also in Hattiesburg, and in March of that year, he married Katherine McNeese, the first of four wives. A son, Byron, was born of the union.

In December 1942, East entered the United States Army, but was discharged a year later on the ground that he was "temperamentally unsuited for the rigid discipline of the Army." He returned to the Southern Railway System, and in 1947, began studying journalism and writing at Mississippi Southern College (now The University of Southern Mississippi). In 1951, he resigned his position with the Southern Railroad, and became the editor of two Hattiesburg labor union newspapers, The Union Review and The Local Advocate.

East was divorced from his wife, Katherine, in February 1952, and married his second wife, Billie Porter, a week later. A daughter, Karen, was born of that union.

In June 1961, East was divorced for the second time, and on October 6, 1961, he married his third wife "Elizabeth" (fictitious name assigned to protect her privacy). The marriage was troubled almost from the beginning, and it, too, ended in divorce in 1963.

Due to persistent threats and harassment relating to his civil rights activities and opinions, East left Mississippi in 1963, and relocated to Fairhope, Alabama. On December 27, 1965, he married Mary Cameron (Cammie) Plummer who was only half his age, but shared his views on racial equality and his concern for the rights of all people.

For the remainder of his life, East continued to monitor civil rights activities in Hattiesburg, as well as the nation, lending his voice and support where possible. P. D. East died in Alabama of severe liver failure and other complications on December 31, 1971. He was survived by his wife, Cammie, and his children, Byron and Karen.


.75 Cubic Feet

Language of Materials



This collection contains materials related to the life and activities of P.D. East. Materials include personal papers, photographs, issues of East's The Petal Paper, a speech, and letters. This collection should be of interest to anyone researching the civil rights movement in Mississippi.


Box 1, Folders 1-11 consist primarily of materials acquired from the Hilda East (daughter of P.D. East) estate sale. It includes photographs of P.D. East and others, as well as documents pertaining to P.D. East, such as birth, adoption, school, and military service records. Also included are various magazines and paper items related to Hilda East.

Box 1, Folder 12 contains correspondence in which East discusses damage to his reputation and fear of reprisal in relation to his political views (October 21 - November 26, 1962).

Box 1, Folder 13 holds a copy of an eighteen-page address delivered by East at Vassar College in December 1962.

Box 1, Folder 14 contains a booklet of editorial reprints from The Petal Paper (copyright 1957).

Box 1, Folder 15 is comprised of photocopies of The Petal Paper (January 16, 1958 - July 1963).

Box 1, Folder 16 holds a "George Wallace for President" license plate (ca. 1968), two Ku Klux Klan souvenir coins (1971; undated), one Ku Klux Klan ball point pen (Metairie, Louisiana, undated), and one Sterling silver charm in the shape of the Mississippi flag (undated).

Box 2, Folder 1 consists of original issues of The Petal Paper (January 11, 1962 - July 1963)

Box 2, Folder 2 contains the September 7, 1962, issue of The Texas Observer, an independent liberal weekly newspaper which features an article about P. D. East titled "Somber Satirist: Mississippi's East."

Existence and Location of Copies

For Digitized Materials from this collection, see: External Documents link at bottom of page.

Related Materials

M341 Will D. Campbell Papers ["The Petal Paper" (1956-1962)]

P.D. East Collection
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Historical Manuscripts and Photographs Repository

118 College Drive - 5148
Hattiesburg MS 39406-0001