Welcome to the Afrikan Study Group Long Beach (since 1988) Today Presentation: Celebrating Black Women Month Fannie Lou Hamer Supporting truth and bringing righteousness.
(Book Review: This little light of mine by Kay Mills)
Lecture Oct 30 th 1988 by Dr. Maulana Karenga.
To create a new world where humans can live and love freely. Fannie Lou Hamer is such a model because she dares to contribute to that legacy. Bare witness to the truth and set the scale of justice in there proper place for those who have no voice. From this modest of beginnings, Ms. Hamer would go on to challenge the President of the United States, the National Democratic Party, members of Congress and the American people about fulfilling the promised of democracy. She was the first black women ever seated on the floor of the House and the first black Mississippians since 1882. She opposed the war in Vietnam from the beginning. She organized programs to feed poor people, tend to their ills, house them and clothes them, train them for jobs. It’s interesting that one of her quote: She said: We have a job as black women (but I believe her talking to black people in general.) We have a job to do as Black Women to support… whatever is the truth and bring righteousness to justice when there is no justice. She is a Black Women of achievement is a model to all of us.
We must teach this to our children as a reality and not simply as a political reference when it’s convenience. Fannie Lou Hamer is that model of achievement. When we honor Fannie Lou Hamer, we honor all the men and women of achievement and we honor the best in ourselves.
She was born Oct 6 th , 1917. She knows as a great civil rights leader in the movement for Black liberation. She was a guide and she was a light. She was a comforter to all the civil rights workers who came to Mississippi. It was like if you are going down south and you didn’t meet her. It was like not being there at all. To sit in her shadow and/or sit at her feet and learn about life as sharecroppers and get directions on where you suppose to go. She was the leader in the black movement of the 60’s. She was a co-founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party which we’ll go into and refer to later. She was the builder of the Co-op collective of the National Council of Negro Women, She build the Freedom Forum Co-operative. To help black people economically so that they wouldn’t have to depend on the the white man that would terrorize them in all ways possible. She builds support system such as clothing drives and other mutual support around the south. Fannie Lou Hamer was a model to emulate.
Fannie Lou Hamer was born in the Mississippi Delta. This was the place of the Senate seat of this wild eyed rabid racist that American has ever known. Senator Eastland (Senator Jesse Helms was a political midget compared to Eastland). This is the places where Emmitt Till was murder for alleged for whistling at a White girl. Beat beyond recognition. This is the place where Federal registrar didn’t dare shown there face and when they did they would pretend to have business some where else.
This is the place where lynching was a common affair. This is the place where Nina Simone says, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, but Mississippi… Got Damn. So this is the place where white men terrorize black people. Not just men, but women and children too.
What make Fannie Lou so great is that she was born under this context of shear terror and oppression. You need to know this because when you stand up you got to bare the burden of your act.
This is where sharecropping and plantation work was just another form of economic slavery. When she did this interview she was 47 yrs old. The average income for black people up to the 70’s was $200 a year. This is where Fannie Lou stated in 1970 “ white people are always talking about the great depression of ’29 and I have to ask them… what’s this we have now, cause it seems like every year around here we having an depression”. We are talking the weight of the world on Fannie Lou shoulders
She said: I was born on Oct 6 Th 1917 in Montgomery Mississippi and my parents move to Sunflower county when I was 2 yr old to a plantation about 4 ½ miles from here. When she woke in the morning they went to the fields. A plantation, you heard! Not a place where you get up and catch a bus or drive your BMW or SUV. My parents were sharecroppers and they had a big family. Jim and Ella Townsend had twenty children, fourteen boys and six girls. Some of us would complaint to share with two siblings. Fannie Lou was the youngest. Her birth help her families survive one more winter. In those days, plantation owners often paid $50 to a woman who produced a future field hand: that money enabled the family to buy necessities after the crops were in and the normal income was gone. She says: Do you know what the last child gets. What’s leftover from the first? Sometimes I would not have shoes and my mother would wrap my feet in cloth to keep my feet warm. All of us worked in the field she said. We would pick 50 to 60 bales of cotton and would end up with nothing. I was 6 yrs old she said when she first went to field to pick cotton. Plantation owner would tell me that if I picked 30 pounds that he would give me something out of it like crackerjacks and some Daddy Wide Legs gingerbread cookie and Sardines. So he knew that these are the things that I love and never had a chance to have. So I picked 30 pounds a day. By the time that I was 13 yrs old I was picking 200 to 300 pounds of cotton. Were talking object poverty. She setting the context to show how she was able to rise up because of her internal strength and support system. Sharecropping is where you pick cotton and the white man get half and you get half, but you have to pay for the implements and the seeds. Other words, you pay for it all and the white man clears all profits from what you did. Example: Read page 8 One year Jim Townsend did… … All this is no secret in the state of Mississippi The white man was jealous of them and wanted to keep them in bondage. Her mother got up early and went to bed late, trying feed them and send them to school despite not have the money. But still her parents tried to send her to school. School lasted only 4 months out of the year. And most of the time, we didn’t have the clothes to wear there. The year Fannie Lou Townsend reached her third birthday (1920) 13 lynching took place in Mississippi. Read pg 11: But some rebelled….
Then her parents got old and her father had a stroke and then her mother was working in the cornfields from can see to can’t see. As her brothers and sisters left home to seek a better life “up North”, Fannie Lou, the youngest stayed to care for her parents. Read pg 13 I had to drop out of school the cut cornstalks to help the family. I’m not telling a horror story, but to tell you a story of heroic sacrifice and struggle. Example: Read page 17 I used to watch my mother try to keep her family going after we didn’t get enough money from the cotton crop. To feed us during the winter months going from plantation to plantation to ask if she could have cotton that was left. Which was called scrapping cotton. After, the white man had taken all the cotton. When the season was over, we would pick up scraps to try to make another bale to make money. We would walk for miles and miles. We wouldn’t have shoes, so she would tie clothes around our feet because the ground would be frozen real hard. Then she would take the bale of cotton and sell it to give us some food. Sometime we wouldn’t have food what she would do feed us greens and flour gravy. So you would think that a person like that should be bitter. Certainly, deaf to the white man.
Let me tell you some lesson from this woman and tell them to your children and pass them on. She said that some things that are important to her. However, they’re two things that are most important: One is to never to forget where I come from. Second, always remember to praise the bridges that carry us over. She is that bridge that carried us over. She states, that we came from the same place. From a race people who introduce humanity to the world. And now being one of the most dehumanize people of the world. Who now has fell from pyramid buildings to living in projects and plantations. What we don’t have today is that same a sense of sacrifice. We need to raise her up as a model of sacrifice. But all men and women of achievements also have three others things in common: dedication, discipline and sacrifice. That’s how they have achieved. Fannie Lou states: I’m not going to let anyone to turn me around. What we have to teach our children is we got to look at these models hold them up and re-live and expand their legacy. That why we should study the past… for three reasons: Is to learn to lessons. Absorb its spirits Emulate its best achievements (dedication, discipline and sacrifice). Not too simply to be obsessed and all love struck to what we have read and seen.
Let look at her life… to say if she live it. How did she show love for the people. First of all she adopted two more girls. One girl mother was unmarried and could afford to take care of her. Fannie Lou is already poor and living on a plantation and don’t have any money. Another little girl at 5 yr old who had been burned badly when tub of hot water spilled on her. When asked, why did she adopt. In own words, “I’ve always been concerned with the people”. She always had had aid for other people even when she didn’t have it for herself. One woman points out that these are small things about Fannie Lou Hamer. She said, “Fannie Lou brought me my first usher dress for church and does it with a feeling, the woman says,” She done so much… it’s hard to use all these bridges. Even the people knew her… knew she was like this and when she was even sick to work. She still wanted to reach out and help them. And there is never a moment when she was not trying too. This lady, who would take a back seat and push you forward. Neighbors would still come she would have a kettle of green and hot gravy simmer on the stove. They would bring simple gifts like sweet potato pies. Some people would come to discuss their problems. Seek her advice and others just sit and chat awhile. You know they do it in the south people just come over and sit. We don’t have time for that anymore. Television has become our medium. But she never forgot of the people she walked with, got beat with and struggle with even if there were no Television around.
Read pg 21 Fannie Lou Hamer was sterilized in 1961… … Mrs. Hamer had been telling anyone who would listen about such cases for years. The winter of 1962 she received a $9,000 water bill which Ms Hamer protested. How could she own so much when her house had no running water? The white man had beaten her into bad health and even blinded her in one eye. Not only she had love for the people but she had detested for the enemy. She says if you really love the people she states that you have to detest the enemy. And when she detests the enemy she calls him cracker. She talks about handling the cracker the way he comes. She does two things with the enemy. One is draw and clear line between her and the enemy. Second thing that she does is promise him, self defense if he crosses her boundaries.
Listen to what she says at the ’64 Democratic Convention a reporter asks Ms. Hamer if she seeking equality with the white man. This is where she draws the line between her and the enemy. “ No, I’m not seeking equality with the white man, what would I look like fighting for equality with white man, I would be fighting for a low status. She say what we need to do is build a whole new society. A society of freedom and democracy for everyone. Black people must do that, they must restructure this country”. This is the woman that never took a political science course. She said later, that I don’t want equality with the white man and if I did that would make me a thief and a murder. Listen to what she says in her own words again. “ We learn early after the convention, we learn the hard way even though we had all the law and all the righteousness on your side, the white man is not going to give up his power to us, we have to build your own power…” “ The question for black people is not when the white man in going to give us our rights or when we are going to get a good education for our children or when we are going to get the good jobs. That even if the white man is going to give you anything at all. Just remember when he is ready… he will take it right back. We have to take for ourselves and then build a new society”. As when, Malcolm told the white man, “I’ll the man you think you are”. She tells the white man, “I’ll the human that you wish you were”. So here is a black woman, stepping up because of the awful violence that was done to the men. She says that she doing this not to over shadow men, but to play a row that history had put in her hands. Invitation of history she could avoid. She says that the white man tried to scare us. Not only did he beat us up, he shot at us in your houses and lynched some of us to scare us from our mission for freedom. She said, “If I had a little sense I’ll be a little scared, but what was the point of that…being scared. All that they can do is kill me and they been trying to do that a little bit that at the time since I can remember. So what I’d decided that I was going to organizes.
Someone ask her, Ms. Hamer how come they ain’t tried to dynamite your house and try to shoot you. She said: One time they did. They had her on the run and she came back and armed herself. She understood that if she should arm herself or she would harm herself. She said: if you don’t have a piece you won’t have any peace. And that why they haven’t tried anything lately. She said , I’ll tell you why, I keep a shotgun in every corner of my bedroom and the first cracker even look likes he is going to throw some dynamite on my porch… he won’t write home to his momma ever again . I didn’t know all this about Fannie Lou. Fannie Lou was a Christian. When can extract from it you can find a history of struggle. Fannie Lou and all the others who use Christianity like Nat Turner saw visions of blood dripping from the cross and heard a voice that said: Rise up Nat… slay the serpent”. When you read even your own history and it can inspire you like that. One night she said: Someone comes calling us and he says he would be coming by tonight. I told him to come on and I’ll be waiting for you. I guess you know that cracker hasn’t show up yet”. Fannie Lou says these white folks may act like thez crazy. They ain’t they crazy when they know you will kill them.
She says that there are much hypocrisy in America, the home of the free and home of the brave and it’s all on paper. It doesn’t do anything for us. We must destroy this system and bring out into the light that has been under the cover for all these years. Read Constitution 1.2.3, 1.9.1, 4.2.3 Not only that there were constant reprisal that against her and her husband and daughters they could not work. When white man found out who they were they would not be hire or fire them afterwards. All she had to do is…Just give up. Go back to business as usually. They shot at her and she was on the run for months. These hardships were on her but also the ones she loves too. But she sacrifices. She said, yeah I’m sick and tired. But I’m also, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. In ’62 was a tuning point in her life when she met SNCC at a church and they ask the questions who brave enough to go down and register to vote. There was no other organization that had a better and stronger history than SNCC. SNCC went from house to house asking about everyday problems. They took people into town to shop. They helped pick cotton. They cut wood. Hamers couldn’t find regular work. SNCC started paying Ms. Hamer ten dollars weekly. Read pg 26 and pg 45 Ella Baker traveled with her they had a relationship of respect between the two women. Baker an intellectual and longtime activist admired Ms. Hamer courage. The admiration was mutual. Fannie Lou was asked whether she could think of a black leader who had made a real difference, Ms. Hamer said there were many but that of Ella Baker, was “a woman I respect more than I do any other living woman at this time for her role in civil rights”. While Ella Baker was SCLC executive director, she had urged her boss Dr. King and the rest of the leadership to stress this kind of education. She saw the wisdom in developing grass-roots leaders. Finally her message sank in. The training programs brought scholars like Vincent Harding and John Henrik Clark teach the grassroots people like Fannie Lou Because I went to register the white man told me to move. Pg 38 and 39
In ’63 they beat her almost to death. They put her in a cell and brought in two black men and gave them blackjacks and told them that if that don’t beat her they would beat them. When they got tired then the white man would beat her. I started screaming and the highway patrol officer told the first black man to sit on my face. He got upset because I was screaming and then the highway patrol officer beat because I was screaming. Overnight I heard other women screaming. She said that she saw another woman come out and that her face was so swollen that she couldn’t speak and she had a black eye and she could barely see either. But, she heard her whisper as she pass by “Freedom”. That week in June ‘63, Fannie Lou was beaten; That Medger Evers had been murder in front of his home in Jackson. The search for the missing civil rights workers Governor George Wallace was threatening to bar two black students from attending the University of Alabama. If them’z crackers in Winona thought they could scare me from fighting, I guess they found out different. She never recovered from that.
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) pg 105 Fannie Lu Hamer and her allies were tired of waiting for help with voter registration. They were ready to step onto the national stage to challenge President Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic Party to back them in the dangerous and deadly work. Fannie Lou challenges the white Mississippi Democratic Party because they violating the constitution discriminating against black people. So along Fannie Lou started to detail what happen to us and tell them why they needed to disqualified their Mississippi compatriots. President Johnson the cracker that he is. The cracker that he was. Read pg 123-133 He decided that these blacks should not disrupt his parade (convention) and he needed his white brothers in the south. Johnson was a master arm twister. He twisted Hubert Humphrey if he didn’t get out there he would be his Vice President. So he had Mondale to get out and quiet Fannie Lou down, if he going to be great one day. (As if he can bestow greatest on somebody as if he thinks he God) SNCC was at the heart on this and it was SNCC who first saw a treasure in Fannie Lou Hamer. Worked with her, cultivate her and gave her context, but she had much internal strength that she blossom forward. SNCC had hardcore brothers and sisters and they decided to stand with Fannie Lou Hamer. MFDP asked to replace the whites who were not representatives of community. The white say “no”. So the MFDP blacks went to the convention floor and sat down in the seats anyway. So what Johnson did was he had all the seats taken out. So the next day the MFDP blacks went back to where the seats were and stood where the seats were. So Johnson offers a compromise: Two seats at-large not representative of Mississippi just at large. So what you do with this seductive appeal. So Johnson brought out the big guns now (Martin Luther and Bastin Rustin) You can imagine how eloquent Martin was and Rustin been running errors for a long time. Martin said: Fannie Lou you should take what you got and what you can get. “ Our liberal friends are under pressure and this bests you going to get”. Fannie Lou said, we didn’t come here for two seats and all that we work for can’t be reduce to a compromise like that. They look at him and said there is no way in the world and rejected it. What Johnson did cut her speech he call a special news conference so that America was force to turn from her and turn to him and had her taken off the air, because she was command the attention from the nation. That’s how strong she was. Her augment was she wanted a new kind of politics, not the same kind of politics that was conducted in a back room. We understand what the people sent us here for. Years of struggling and suffering and sacrifice and two seats don’t get it. To Fannie and SNCC it was not a loss but a principle stand and it was the process to speak their truths.
I was also surprised when she said the people in Afrika. Read 134 and 135… Harry Belafonte recognized burnout when he saw it….. Being from the south, were never taught about Afrika. In ’64, I’d learned that I surly didn’t have anything to be ashamed of. The way they talked about us that everybody in Afrika was savages. But of what I seen there’s more white savages right her in America. Some people here want to be nothing but white, but we are a afrikan people and these middle class Negroes people never had it as hard as us grassroots people in Mississippi. Sometimes I just want to take my gun for these schoolteachers and chicken eating preachers. The only thing that we have that we can call your own is the church and these preachers are selling us out to white power structure. These white teachers and white niggers can’t teach black children to be proud of them to learn the true history of our race. All I learn about my race in about little black Sambo. One thing I looked at very much was the afrikan women that they were so graceful and poised. What came to mind was my grandmother and how in particular was her character? They were so similar to my own family. It would be very seldom that someone would see me without something tie on my head. Afrikan women would tie their hair too. In America we would do the same thing. Tall women just like my grandmother and it got to me. I cried there. She said also, remember your people, the people here in the US and the people in Afrika. She traveled to a slave market in South Carolina. She said “they robbed us of our heritage, stole our name, strip our men of their dignity and I say again America owe us a great debt. She was also concerned with the people in the movement and the people who were her neighbors and the she was concerned with the people who died and fought against.
In 1944, Fannie Lou Townsend married Perry Hamer a tall strong sharecropper who had gone down into the delta from Kilmichael in Montgomery County. He was thirty two when they were married and she was five years younger. She called him “Pap”; he was a rock she could rest on. Supporter, aide and strong man that could accept a strong and more assertive woman. She gave her husband credit. This is so very important in all this discussion between male and female struggle. We just can’t seem to do right. She said that she and Pap made it through some rough winters she confessed because he had a little juke joint. In the winter “Pap” would shoot rabbits and squirrels so they would have meat. Mary McCloud Bethune’s husband had problems. Harriet Tubman’s husband had problems. But, Fannie Lou’s husband didn’t have problems. It’s not that Mary and Harriet husband’s had problems with their women being assertive, but their husbands they lack courage and vision. This man even shares his woman vision he had a great sharpest about the vision. She at time had to go underground and with the structure of the south. He could have said come back home, baby. This is getting outta hand, what about your duty to me. It was known of the respect and the attention that Pap and his wife had for each other were unmistakable. She’s quoted saying “ I love all 225 pounds of him. I just like to look at him… and do things for him” . Does this sound like the woman that we have been talking about? Temper strength and feminine even in her roughest moments. Quote “6’ and 225 pound man and love all of him. She wasn’t ashamed to declare it. It should be lesson to us men. Our women need to hear it sometimes too The lesson should be that thought-out history that strong black men that can accept strong black women who are more assertive than them can move out front. And that they can share the vision even if their women have created it, point to it first, see it first and come to it first. This is why she rejected anti male feminist talk. She said, quote “were not fighting to liberate ourselves from men, what is this woman liberation talk about. It is another trick to get us to fighting among ourselves. We fighting work together with our black men and then we will have a better chance to be treated as human beings.
Malcolm X and Fannie Lou Hamer appeared on the same platform twice on December 20, 1964. Charles Neblett, one of the freedom Singers who was on the trip remembered that Malcolm “Had tremendous respect for Ms Hamer… He had tremendous respect for what we were doing”. When he finished speaking, Malcolm invited Mrs. Hamer to a rally of the Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem that night, the same ballroom at which Malcolm would be shot to death only two months later. And then she about Malcolm, quote “a truly great leader because he was of and for the masses of our people. She talk about leaders she knew who work and die in the struggle. SNCC lav Featherstone, Medger Evers Martin Luther
When you read her story, she was concern with what she called the strip dignity of the black man. She was concerned about the black man; a strong woman concerned with the black man, a weak woman would stated let the Negro go. Did Fannie Lou learn a new truth of self when she went to meeting with SNCC and she got in the midst of it and had to fight the white man? When she picks up the gun and knew then the white man is a coward by nature. She invited the white man to dinner and you can guess that the cracker didn’t show up. She taught another lesson, Fannie Lou and the movement in the south proved that the people can rule themselves and out of the masses a real genuine leadership can emerge. This is a classical example of emerging out struggle. Temper and tested by the fire of resistance. She also taught us of remembrance and praise. She said, never forgets where you come from and praises the bridges that brought us over. History is our heritage, memory and obligations here. Mary McCloud Bethune tells us “ That we are Aires and custodians of great civilizations and legacies . We are call upon to not only to care for it, but to build on it and expand it. If you lose memory you also lose a fundamental a part of your own humanity. You dishonored the people that constituted our humanity. To forget the dead that and those dedication their lives to the throw and fell of our history is in fact immoral”. If you don’t teach the children that you are not teaching history. Malcolm said it. “Of all our studies history is best qualified to reward all research”. In Malcolm pamphlet on Afro American history he talks about how you can’t be seriously human without your history.
She believes that God was on her side. She said never forget where you come and always praise the bridges that brings you over. What was some of those other bridges? Fannie Lou starts with her parents. You got to honor you parents. How dare anyone to forget that. Some may say, hey they don’t talk black talk. But they don’t have to for what they could for you, they do talk black in a different way, they talk a race talk. Fannie Lou isn’t a nationalist, but knows a cracker when she sees ones.
So why should we study Fannie Lou Hamer? To learn her lessons, lessons of struggle and sacrifice of dedication and discipline that led her to achieve. To absorb the spirit in which she made her walk barefooted toward success and liberation. To fight with all she had to internalize the risk to her family. I’ve not got to that, yet. And to defy the white man who attempted to shoot her and lynch her and running Fannie Lou off. She could never submit to the call of comprise. She said, “That she would walk a mile for any person who is hungry”, you see she said “that’s, I love the people. They are my weakness”. Now ain’t that something. But at the same time they here strength. Now look at her. She presents a sense of humanity in the struggle. The first thing you will need and got to have is the love for the people. The reason that the black middle class has suffer so much, after been bankrupt with class orientated programs and contempt and fear for the ordinary people.. In fact, Fannie Lou broke down a few times and calls them white niggers. She said, I don’t want to do about this, but else can call us these people. Betrayer of their own kind, instead of rising up the masses… they pimp them. She is building on a humanitarian tradition rich in afrikan history. Even the language itself you can build on. Leopold Senghor said when he was campaign to the people. The people said to him, “You need to feel me” (Wolof). Feel me is to understand me in Wolof. In Kiswahili and Zulu, to feel is to see. But, only by feel it… you can see it. Oh you can see it with your mind and you can see it with your heart. The ancient Egyptian never separates the heart from the mind, with heart and mind. The thing that Fannie Lou Hamer says and does is love the people.
2. Afrikan Study Group Long Beach (ASCAC) Thursday 11 March 2010 Continuing Presentation Series From Celebrating the lives and contributions of Black Women in March Fannie Lou Hamer: Supporting Truth and Bringing Righteousness Presented by Kwesi Osafo