In this historic election year it is easy to forget that extraordinary ordinary people have been making political history for years. But this political junkie is reminded of the past as I consider the history about to be made when either a woman or a man of color accept the Democratic nomination for President of the United States.
We must never forget that it took the courage of thousands for us to arrive here. So, today a bitch is remembering Fannie Lou Hamer and how her courage and dedication helped keep our eyes on the prize and our feet marching.
Fannie Lou Hamer was the granddaughter of slaves and the daughter of Mississippi sharecroppers. She dropped out of school at the age of twelve to work full time and help support her family. Hamer later married and continued to work on a plantation.
In 1962 Fannie Lou Hamer stood up and volunteered to attempt to register to vote in Indianola Mississippi. In what would later become her trademark, Hamer sang spirituals on the bus ride. The next day Hamer was fired from her job and received death threats from the klan.
It took courage to get on that bus and try to register to vote…many had died for simply speaking about doing just that…but an activist had been born. Fannie Lou Hamer joined SNCC…combined literacy work with voter registration efforts…and got back on a bus to tour the South in support of these campaigns.
In June of 1963 Fannie Lou Hamer was falsely arrested in Winona Mississippi. Between June 9 and June 12 of that year, Hamer and her fellow activists were viciously beaten nearly to death. It took a month for her to recover then she got back up and organized the Freedom Ballot Campaign in 1963 then the Freedom Summer initiative in 1964.
If Hamer’s efforts had ended there she would still be viewed as a key figure in the Civil Rights movement, but Hamer then took the cause to the 1964 Democratic National Convention and forced that party and President Lyndon Johnson to address the denial of voting rights and the lack of true political representation.
Contrary to recently revised history (wink), LBJ was reluctant to address the plight of black voters in the South. Southern delegations were threatening to break from supporting Johnson on the voting rights issue. LBJ, ever the politician, weighed the rights of thousands against his political future. Had Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democrats not gone to the convention there is little doubt that the issue of black voting rights would have been silently and efficiently tabled.
But attend they did. The MFDP addressed the Convention Credentials Committee and spoke into history the struggle blacks faced in trying to register to vote…the hypocrisy of seating delegations that failed to truly represent black voters…and why their delegation should be seated to right the wrong that was the 1964 Democratic primary election in Mississippi.
Despite several compromise proposals and a lot of political two stepping, the MFDP was not seated in 1964. But through their activism and the work of thousands of people, LBJ signed the Voting Rights Act in 1965 and the Democratic Convention adopted a clause that required equality of representation from state delegations in 1968.
Fannie Lou Hamer went on to speak out against the Vietnam War, be seated as a member of Mississippi’s legitimate delegation in 1968, join MLK’s Poor People’s Campaign…and work on literacy programs in Mississippi.
Fannie Lou Hamer died in 1977 of breast cancer at the age of 59.
May all y’all Super Tuesday voters embrace the amazing power of the vote and remember how that right was won. Know that change happens from the masses up when folks who are sick and tired of being sick and tired rise up and do something about it.
When I vote in this historic primary it will be because of history already made.
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