Raised on a cotton farm, Betty Pearson grew up with segregation, but the Marine Corps exposed her to people and cultures beyond Jim Crow. She returned committed to ending segregation. In 1955, she and college roommate Florence Mars attended the Emmett Till trial. They were struck by the racial hatred displayed by Whites. In 1959, she agreed to serve on the Mississippi Council on Human Relations, and later accepted an appointment to the Mississippi Advisory Committee to the US Civil Rights Commission.