Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Fannie Lou Hamer, a Black History Story Voter Suppression and State-sanctioned Violence.

https://portside.org/sites/default/files/styles/large/public/field/image/fannielou82716_copy.jpgThe theme for 2020 Black History Month is African Americans and the Vote. None more than civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer bore witness to the violence of Jim Crow and demanded inclusion of black delegates in the Democratic Party. Mrs. Hamer endured much violence in her pursuit of getting African Americans registered to vote. On August 22, 2020, it will be 52 years since Mrs. Hamer delivered her “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” speech. She described the scare tactics and African Americans lack of access to the Democratic Party.

She had traveled from Mississippi to Atlanta, GA to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. This organization challenged the all-white Mississippi delegation to the DNC. Millions of viewers heard her speech which was about voter suppression and violence in Mississippi against those who were registering African Americans to vote.

Mrs. Hamer was a woman of courage and determination. She joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as an activist. She registered to vote in Indianola, MS in 1962 after which she was evicted from her home which was on a plantation where she worked as a sharecropper. The plantation owner wanted her to withdraw her registration to vote or leave. She left.

Ms. Hamer told stories of how gun shots were fired at the homes of those who supported voting. She talked about the Jim Crow South and how African Americans were treated less than citizens. She told of the beating she received in Winona after returning from a trip in Charleston, South Carolina. When stopped at a restaurant, the police arrested her and friends and started kicking her. Later she was beaten by police and prisoners. It was brutal. She later explained, “They beat me till my body was hard, till I couldn’t bend my fingers or get up when they told me to. That’s how I got this blood clot in my left eye—the sight’s nearly gone now. And my kidney was injured from the blows they gave me in the back.” She told this story to shed light on the challenges black men and women in Mississippi faced in their struggles for citizenship rights. President Lyndon Johnson intentionally interrupted Mrs. Hamer’s speech to give an impromptu press conference.

It is unbelievable that 52 years later, African Americans continue to face many of the same challenges that Mrs. Hamer described. The Civil Rights Movement bought about many changes with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Right Act but problems with racism and discrimination still persists in all aspects of American society. North Carolina passed laws earlier in efforts to discriminate against African Americans by limiting their right to vote. These laws were recently struck down.

According to Keisha N. Blain, Ph.D, assistant professor of History at the University of Iowa and co-editor of Charleston syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence, 2016, today, African Americans die at the hands of police at a rate that is almost equivalent to the number of documented lynchings during the early 20th century.

In her speech, Mrs. Hamer reflected on her own painful experiences and the experiences of other African Americans. She questioned 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?” These crucial words shook the nation to its core.

Mrs. Hamer died March 14, 1977, at 60 years old, in Mound Bayou as one of the most powerful voices in the civil and voting rights movements. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.