Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Inspiration

Saw this over at Marisacat's place, about Fannie Lou Hamer:

Lest We Forget Who Got Us Here

Fannie Lou Hamer (October 6, 1917 - March 14, 1977)

Fannie Lou Hamer was born in Ruleville, Mississippi, the last of 20 children in a sharecropping family. She was workng the fields at 6 and left school after the 6th grade. When she was 12, her parents had saved enough money to rent a farm and buy some mules. A white neighbor poisoned their mules and her family was forced into deeper debt.

( http://tinyurl.com/64foyh )

In 1942 she married. Though Fannie Lou wanted children, unbeknownst to her she had be sterilized without her consent in an effort by the State of Mississippi as part of a program to reduce the population of poor black people in the state. Fannie went on to adopt two chldren.

from wiki:

Hamer attended several annual conferences of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) in the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. The RCNL was led by businessman, Dr. T.R.M. Howard, and was a combination civil rights and self-help organization. The annual RCNL conferences featured entertainers, such as Mahalia Jackson, speakers, such as Thurgood Marshall and Rep. Charles Diggs of Michigan, and panels on voting rights and other civil rights issues. Without her knowledge or consent, she was sterilized in 1961 by a white doctor as a part of the state of Mississippi’s plan to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state.[1]

On August 23, 1962, Rev. James Bevel, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and an associate of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a sermon in Ruleville, Mississippi and followed it with an appeal to those assembled to register to vote. Black people who registered to vote in the South faced serious hardships at that time due to institutionalized racism, including harassment, the loss of their jobs, physical beatings, and lynchings; nonetheless, Hamer was the first volunteer. She later said, “I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been scared - but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they [white people] could do was kill me, and it seemed they’d been trying to do that a little at a time since I could remember.”

On August 31, she traveled on a rented bus with other attendees of Rev. Bevel’s sermon to Indianola, Mississippi to register. In what would become a signature trait of Hamer’s activist career, she began singing Christian hymns, such as “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “This Little Light of Mine,” to the group in order to bolster their resolve. The hymns also reflected Hamer’s belief that the civil rights struggle was a deeply spiritual one. By the next day, she had been harassed by police, fired from her job, lost her dog, and received a death threat from the Ku Klux Klan.

Hamer’s courage and leadership in Indianola came to the attention of SNCC organizer Bob Moses, who dispatched Charles McLaurin from the organization with instructions to find “the lady who sings the hymns”. McLaurin found and recruited Hamer, and though she remained based in Mississippi, she began traveling around the South doing activist work for the organization.

from http://www.beejae.com/hamer.htm

On August 31, 1962, Mrs. Hamer decided she had had enough of sharecropping. Leaving her house in Ruleville, MS she and 17 others took a bus to the courthouse in Indianola, the county seat, to register to vote. On their return home, police stopped their bus. They were told that their bus was the wrong color. Fannie Lou and the others were arrested and jailed.

After being released from jail, the plantation owner paid the Hamers a visit and told Fannie Lou that if she insisted on voting, she would have to get off his land - even though she had been there for eighteen years. She left the plantation that same day. Ten days later, night riders fired 16 bullets into the home of the family with whom she had gone to stay.

from http://www.beejae.com/hamer.htm

On June 3, 1963, Fannie Lou Hamer and other civil rights workers arrived in Winona, MS by bus. They were ordered off the bus and taken to Montgomery County Jail. The story continues “…Then three white men came into my room. One was a state highway policeman (he had the marking on his sleeve)… They said they were going to make me wish I was dead. They made me lay down on my face and they ordered two Negro prisoners to beat me with a blackjack. That was unbearable. The first prisoner beat me until he was exhausted, then the second Negro began to beat me. I had polio when I was about six years old. I was limp. I was holding my hands behind me to protect my weak side. I began to work my feet. My dress pulled up and I tried to smooth it down. One of the policemen walked over and raised my dress as high as he could. They beat me until my body was hard, ’til I couldn’t bend my fingers or get up when they told me to. That’s how I got this blood clot in my eye - the sight’s nearly gone now. My kidney was injured from the blows they gave me on the back.”

Mrs Hamer was left in the cell, bleeding and battered, listening to the screams of Ann Powder, a fellow civil rights worker, who was also undergoing a severe beating in another cell. She overheard white policemen talking about throwing their bodies into the Big Black River where they would never be found.

from wiki

Released on June 12, she needed more than a month to recover. Though the incident had profound physical and psychological effects, Hamer returned to Mississippi to organize voter registration drives, including the “Freedom Ballot Campaign”, a mock election, in 1963, and the “Freedom Summer” initiative in 1964. She was known to the volunteers of Freedom Summer - most of whom were young, white, and from northern states - as a motherly figure who believed that the civil rights effort should be multi-racial in nature.

from wiki

1964 Democratic Convention
n the summer of 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, or “Freedom Democrats” for short, was organized with the purpose of challenging Mississippi’s all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention of that year as not representative of all Mississippians. Hamer was elected Vice-Chair.

The Freedom Democrats’ efforts drew national attention to the plight of African-Americans in Mississippi, and represented a challenge to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for reelection; their success would mean that other Southern delegations, who were already leaning toward Republican challenger Barry Goldwater, would publicly break from the convention’s decision to nominate Johnson — meaning in turn that he would almost certainly lose those states’ electoral votes in the election. Hamer, singing her signature hymns, drew a great deal of attention from the media, enraging Johnson, who referred to her in speaking to his advisors as “that illiterate woman”.

Hamer was invited, along with the rest of the MFDP officers, to address the Convention’s Credentials Committee. She recounted the problems she had encountered in registration, and the ordeal of the jail in Winona, and, near tears, concluded:

“All of this is on account we want to register [sic], to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings - in America?” In Washington, D.C., President Johnson called an emergency press conference in an effort to divert press coverage away from Hamer’s testimony; but many television networks ran the speech unedited on their late news programs. The Credentials Committee received thousands of calls and letters in support of the Freedom Democrats.

Johnson then dispatched several trusted Democratic Party operatives to attempt to negotiate with the Freedom Democrats, including Senator Hubert Humphrey (who was campaigning for the Vice-Presidential nomination), Walter Mondale, Walter Reuther, and J. Edgar Hoover. They suggested a compromise which would give the MFDP two seats in exchange for other concessions, and secured the endorsement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the plan. But when Humphrey outlined the compromise, saying that his position on the ticket was at stake, Hamer, invoking her Christian beliefs, sharply rebuked him:

“Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than four hundred thousand black people’s lives? Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Now if you lose this job of Vice-President because you do what is right, because you help the MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take [the nomination] this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk about. Senator Humphrey, I’m going to pray to Jesus for you.”

Future negotiations were conducted without Hamer, and the compromise was modified such that the Convention would select the two delegates to be seated, for fear the MFDP would appoint Hamer. In the end, the MFDP rejected the compromise,but had changed the debate.

In 1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.

from : http://tinyurl.com/576zyu

From 1968 to 1971, Fannie Lou Hamer was a member of the Democratic National Committee for Mississippi.

from http://www.awomanaweek.com/hamer.htm

In 1968, The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party took on a new name - The Mississippi Loyalist Democratic Party, to reflect its broadened membership which now included sympathetic white members. When Fannie took her seat in Chicago at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, she took it to a standing ovation

from : http://tinyurl.com/576zyu

Her 1970 lawsuit, Hamer v. Sunflower County, demanded school desegregation. She ran unsuccessfully for the Mississippi state Senate in 1971, and successfully for delegate to the Democratic National Convention of 1972.

She also lectured extensively, and was known for a signature line she often used, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She was known as a powerful speaker, and her singing voice lent another power to civil rights meetings.

Fannie Lou Hamer brought a Head Start program to her local community, to form a local Pig Bank cooperative (1968) with the help of the National Council of Negro Women, and later to found the Freedom Farm Cooperative (1969). She helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971, speaking for inclusion of racial issues in the feminist agenda.

In 1972 the Mississippi House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring her national and state activism, passing 116 to 0.

Suffering from breast cancer, diabetes, and heart problems, Fannie Lou Hamer died in Mississippi in 1977.

Her epitaph was her signature quote, :I;m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Writings about her life inclued her autobiography To Praise Our Bridges: An Autobiograpy in 1967. June Jordan published a biography of Fannie Lou Hamer in 1972, and Kay Mills published This Little Light of Mine: the Life of Fannie Lou Hamer in 1993.

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