because the woman's place is wherever the woman is...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer spent the 1950's training to be an activist and organizer in the all-Black community of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. The State of Mississippi paid her back by sterilizing her in 1961 without her knowledge or consent during a state-wide effort to reduce the number of poor, Black people there. So, when a call went out for African-Americans in Mississippi to register to vote, Hamer was the first in line. She later said, "I guess if I'd had any sense, I'd have been a little scared -- but what was the point...? The only thing they could do was kill me and it kinda seemed like they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember."

Soon, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee organizer Bob Moses heard about "the lady that sings the hymns" and recruited her to begin traveling throughout the South encouraging others to risk their lives for justice. Jailed on false charges in Winona, Mississippi, Hamer was very nearly beaten to death before she was released. Nevertheless, she went on to organize some of the best known and most effective actions of the voter registration campaign, including "Freedom Summer" in 1964, during which many college students -- both Black and White -- descended on Mississippi to support the struggle in various ways.

That same summer, Hamer spoke to the nation on television when her "Freedom Democrats" challenged the all-White and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention as not representing all Mississippians. "Is this America," she asked boldly, "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?"

Older, overworked, frustrated and unwell, Hamer's famous line "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired" appears on her tombstone. But she maintained until the day she died that "Nobody's free until everybody's free." An in-your-face woman has no quit in her.

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