Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Mary L. Dudziak
In light of Steve’s post, it’s helpful to reflect that in spite of various sorts of whining accompanying this year’s Democratic National Convention, it is an historic moment in more than one way. It was not so long ago that an African American woman, Fannie Lou Hamer, captured the nation’s attention not with a convention floor speech but with testimony before the 1964 Credentials Committee of the DNC. Hamer was a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation, which challenged the seating of Mississippi’s all-white Democratic delegation. Hamer attempted to register to vote for the first time in 1962 at the age of forty-four, and as a result lost her position as a sharecropper on a plantation near Ruleville, Mississippi. She then became a field organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, encouraging voter registration, and in the course of this work was detained and beaten by police in Winona, Mississippi, resulting in permanent kidney damage. Hamer told this story to the Credentials Committee to make the point that African Americans were brutally treated and disenfranchised, so the political process that resulted in selection of the state’s delegation was illegitimate. How could the national party seat them and ignore the representatives of disenfranchised African Americans? Her speech was so riveting that President Lyndon Baines Johnson called an impromptu press conference in an effort to draw media attention away from the MFDP. Parts of Hamer’s speech were nevertheless broadcast on the networks that evening. The second Negro began to beat and I began to work my feet, and the State Highway Patrolman ordered the first Negro who had beat me to sit on my feet - to keep me from working my feet. I began to scream and one white man got up and began to beat me in my head and tell me to hush. One white man - my dress had worked up high - he walked over and pulled my dress - I pulled my dress down and he pulled my dress back up. I was in jail when Medgar Evers was murdered.
The second Negro began to beat and I began to work my feet, and the State Highway Patrolman ordered the first Negro who had beat me to sit on my feet - to keep me from working my feet. I began to scream and one white man got up and began to beat me in my head and tell me to hush.
One white man - my dress had worked up high - he walked over and pulled my dress - I pulled my dress down and he pulled my dress back up.
I was in jail when Medgar Evers was murdered.All of this is on account of we want to register, 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?
Posted 11:18 AM by Mary L. Dudziak [link]
That was beautiful. Thanks.
Although there is a nice biography of Hamer available, young readers not familiar with her life and work might want to read Charles Payne's I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle, 1995.
Thanks for suggesting Payne. The first full-scale biography of Hamer was Kay Mills,
This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer.
A more recent work is Chana Kai Lee,
For Freedom's Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer.
Hamer also gets substantial mention if Pillar of Fire, the second volume of Taylor Branch's wonderful trilogy.
Worth remembering at a time when the Rethuglicans want von Spakovsky on the FEC, when they are passing laws trying to prevent voters (as best they can) from voting once again, and are keeping nuns that have been voting for nigh on half a century from voting any more.
Only tyrants fear the franchise.
Fannie Lou Hamer...from Ruleville, in Sunflower County.
I went to school one year in Ruleville - I was one of about 20 whites out of a total of 480 students...and I saw FAR less racism of any type than I'd seen the year before in the all-white Indianola Academy about 12 miles away.
And that was the year "Roots" came out.
In 1984, I came home on leave from the Navy, and I went to Shaw - about fifteen miles from Ruleville - which is where I had graduated four years before. There was only one doctor in town, whose office was on the main drag (can't remember the street name). His office had two entrances, one labeled 'white', and the other 'colored'. Sure, the signs were painted a dark green...but paint doesn't hide letters chiseled an inch deep in marble too well. This was twenty years after the Civil Rights Act...and people still obeyed the signs.
I love the Delta - the weather, the birds, the big sky from horizon to horizon...but I'll never live there again. There's too much racism there - sadly, much of it by those of my own race.
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