Thursday, February 7, 2013

Black History Month No. 6: 12 Things to Know About FANNIE LOU HAMER

"I am sick and tired 
of being sick and tired."  

Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer 1917 ~ 1977 


1.  Fannie Lou, her 14 brothers, and 5 sisters were the children of Jim and Lou Ella Townsend,  They lived in Montgomery Co. Mississippi.

2. They were sharecroppers, meaning they all worked very hard out in the fields, farming land they didn't own in return for part of the crop.  "Life was worse than hard.  It was horrible!  We never did have enough to eat." 

3. Fannie Lou's folks worked and saved enough to own three mules and a pair of cows. A white neighbor poisoned all five animals.  The Townsends lived in a time and place where most white folks were dead set against black folks getting ahead.  

4. Fannie Lou Townsend and Perry "Pap" Hamer in 1944. 

5. Eventually they would adopt four daughters.

6. Throughout what had been the Old South/slave economy, there were loads of obstacles such as an expensive "poll tax" and/or an impossible written test, designed to keep African Americans from voting. You could get in serious trouble for even registering to vote. Nonetheless, in August 1962, Mrs. Hamer went to a church meeting. The topic?  Civil Rights. 

7. As I wrote of Mrs. Hamer in my book Rabble Rousers,   "Fannie Lou had never known she could vote. Now that she did, nothing was going to stop her. Either she'd be killed fast, she figured, or a little at a time, as she had been all her life."    
      Fannie Lou Hamer became part of a valiant generation who were determined to protest and fight to win their legitimate right to vote.

8. So what happened? She and her husband were fired and evicted.  Fannie Lou Hamer was shot at, jailed, and the police nearly beat her to death. 
 Still, she continued to raise her voice in protest.  
Going to meeting after meeting. Organizing Mississippi's Freedom Summer voter registration campaign of 1964

9. Not only was Mrs. Hamer a passionate speaker, she heartened and encouraged her fellow protestors with her singing.  You can hear her HERE. 

10.  Mrs. Hamer lost the election when she ran for the U.S. Congress in 1964.  As a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Mrs. Hamer was asked to speak to her fellow Dems at the 1964 Convention. You can hear her powerful testimony right HERE. 

11. Four years later, she was a part of her state's delegation to the Dems' troubled, raucous national convention of 1968. All along, Fannie Lou Hamer spoke out against the war in Viet Nam. She championed early childhood education.  She was active in Dr. Martin Luther King's Poor People's Campaign. again

12. Fannie Lou Hamer died March 14, 1977.  
Why should you know about Mrs. Hamer?  Because when it would have been so easy to just let things go on as they had been going on, she saw that the old way needed changing and risked EVERYTHING to change them.  

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