TALK TO THE DADDY

Hello. Come on in. The daddy writes about current events, literature, music and, once in a while, drops something on you from back in the day to make you pause and ponder, stop and stare, and begin to wonder. Who knows? You may start to pace the floor, shake your head from side to side, then fall down on bended knees in a praying position and cry, "Lawd, have mercy! What is this world coming to?" Check yourself! But this blog is NOT about the daddy. It's about you: your boos, your fam, your hood, your country...our hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. So let's make a pact: the daddy will put it on the track if you'll chase it down and hit him back. Together, we can definitely take it to another level. Shall we?"

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Hype of Change and Fannie Lou Hamer

"We didn't come all the way up here to compromise for no more than we’d gotten here. We didn't come all this way for no two seats, 'cause all of us is tired…I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
--Fannie Lou Hamer

"We have to make it work. Ain't nothing going to be handed to you on a silver platter, nothing. That's not just black people, that's people in general, masses. See, I'm with the masses.... You've got to fight. Every step of the way, you've got to fight."
--Fannie Lou Hamer on the question can the system work ?

The daddy is proud of Barack Obama for the brilliant presidential campaign he is running, for his intellect, for his temperament and the great convention speech he just delivered, a speech signaling not only his focus on average Americans and our brave soldiers, but his commitment to go after that warmonger John McCain. But after the democratic national convention, after the crazy hats, after the long-winded speeches, after the stage upon which Obama spoke has been removed to make way for a college football game, the daddy is thinking about the tremendous sacrifice that so many Americans, white and black, of the previous generation made to lay the foundation and set the real “stage” for “change we can believe in.”

The daddy is thinking about another time, 1964, another democratic convention. He is thinking about Fannie Lou Hamer and her appearance before the Credential Committee of that convention, because her mere presence there represented not only the resilience of a civil rights movement that could not be turned around. It represented the personal sacrifices that so many ground-level workers made to end apartheid in southern party of the United States and move this country closer to the just society that it proclaimed and promoted in its precious documents but denied in real life to a large portion of its citizenry.

The daddy is thinking of Fannie Lou Hamer, her composure in telling the Credentials Committee how she and other civil rights workers were beaten for trying to register blacks to vote, and her courage in standing up to power, to Lyndon Johnson and Hubert Humphrey for daring to suggest that they cease their fight for increased black participation in the so-called democratic process, something we now take for granted.

Background

For those who don’t know, or who may have forgotten, Fannie Lou Hamer was born the youngest in a family of 20 children, in 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi, to Ella and Jim Townsend. They were sharecroppers. She and her husband, Perry Hamer, a tractor driver, worked for eighteen years on a cotton plantation owned by W. D. Marlow. She initially got involved with the civil rights movement and organizing black to vote as a result of meeting Rev. James Bevel, Field Secretary of SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee). Now, during this time, if you were black, registering to vote could get you beaten or jailed. Or it could get your farm burned… or it could get you lynched. It was not for the faint of heart. But Fannie was the first to volunteer to register.

Though she lacked an extensive formal education (she left school at the age of 12), Fannie proved to be an effective and popular activist. She got many blacks to register and, when the other volunteers were feeling low, she lifted their spirits by singing gospel songs and getting them to join in. And her popularity and success at getting blacks to register to vote brought attention from racist whites, including racist white policemen. It was just a matter of time before she would be arrested or worse.
She was harassed constantly. Whites poisoned two of her mules “to teach her a lesson.” She was told by the plantation owner that, because of her work in registering blacks to vote, she had to leave the farm. She left that same night and went to stay with friends. But whites shot into her friend’s home because she was there. She received threatening phone calls constantly; and she was arrested and beaten in jail.

In 1964, blacks organized The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Hamer was elected Vice-Chair. The purpose of the group was to expose the all-white, anti-civil rights Mississippi delegation. The argument the MFDP made before the Credentials Committee was that the all-white delegation was invalid and should not be seated in its present form, because it did not represent all the people of Mississippi.

Now, of all the MFDP members, Hamer received the most attention. Perhaps this was due to the fact that, to the national press, she seemed so unique. She wore a printed dress, she spoke with a heavy southern accent, using an even heavier dose of ebonics, and she sang those classic gospel songs (whether the cameras were on or not, because she was deeply religious).

And the national press brought her full story in America's living room of how she and other civil rights workers were beaten in jail for registering black folks to do something that they took for granted in Northern cities—vote. First, said Hamer, they took another black woman and civil rights worker (June Johnson) out of her room and beat her. Then they took another --Annelle Ponder—out of her room and beat her.

Hamer said she could hear the beatings and the screaming, but she could also hear Annelle pray for the men who beat her. When Annelle came back, her eyes were covered in blood and her face was swollen. Then they came for her.

"...Then three white men came into my room. One was a state highway policeman (he had the marking on his sleeve)... They said they were going to make me wish I was dead. They made me lay down on my face and they ordered two Negro prisoners to beat me with a blackjack. That was unbearable. The first prisoner beat me until he was exhausted, then the second Negro began to beat me. I had polio when I was about six years old. I was limp. I was holding my hands behind me to protect my weak side. I began to work my feet. My dress pulled up and I tried to smooth it down. One of the policemen walked over and raised my dress as high as he could. They beat me until my body was hard, 'til I couldn't bend my fingers or get up when they told me to. That's how I got this blood clot in my eye - the sight's nearly gone now. My kidney was injured from the blows they gave me on the back."

Three long, painful days after the beating, Hamer was taken to a doctor. Then she stayed with friends for a month, but she never quite recovered. The beating had done permanent damage to her kidneys and eyes, and she could no longer walk without crutches or a cane. But soon, she resumed her work as Field Secretary of the SNCC.

“That illiterate woman”

President Lyndon Johnson clearly saw Hamer's presentation before the Credentials Committee and accompanying publicity as a threat to him taking Mississippi over Goldwater; and he demonstrated his irritation by calling her “that illiterate woman.” So he dispensed Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Walter Reuther to try to talk the MFDP our of their protest or to settle on a compromise. And when Hubert Humphrey told the MFDP that he was going to run for Vice-president on the Lyndon Johnson ticket and that further protests by them could hurt his chances, Hamer chastised him as only she could:

"Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than four hundred thousand black people's lives? Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Now if you lose this job of Vice-President because you do what is right, because you help the MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take [the nomination] this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk about. Senator Humphrey, I'm going to pray to Jesus for you."

In the end, the MFDP rejected the compromise, and Hamer went back to organizing, even becoming a delegate from Mississippi in 1968, using that position to speak out against the Vietnam war. But the MFDP's efforts to get seated and their arguments proved to be very important. It gave the entire nation a lesson on how racism within institutions “up North” (in this case within the national democratic party) as well as “down South” helped to maintain segregation. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way:

"Their testimony educated a nation and brought the political powers to their knees in repentance, for the convention voted never again to seat a delegation that was racially segregated.”

Dear Barack Obama:

When you become president of the United States, in your acceptance speech, please inform some and remind others of the great sacrifices that some brave Americans made so you could get there. Tell them about the long road that so many good Americans had to walk before you could put your hand on a bible and pledge to protect us from harm. Tell them that some never finished that walk, so you're finishing it for them, for all of us.

Tell them about Fannie Lou Hamer, the youngest in a family of 20 children, the woman who became "sick and tired of being sick and tired," the woman who was beaten almost unconscious but who got off her back and continued the fight, continued to speak wisdom to power.

Tell them to thank God for bringing us a woman in a printed dress and okra smile to fight among us, to make America live up to its ideals of a democratic and just society.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

a painful and powerful post. besides Obama, should be required reading for all voters. thank you

Anonymous said...

daddy, this is why I come to your blog-music, poetry and history.

Nun in the Hood said...

Dear MacDaddy, Your recounting of the life and struggles of Fannnie Lou Hamer makes me weep....weep especially for the cruelty of MY PEOPLE.....I agree with 'annonymous' that this history needs to be read and absorbed by the electorate at large....We stand on the shoulders of great, great people!
I do believe that Obama knows his history and that he realizes that many have paved the way for him....I also believe that he has WON already....CHANGE is soooo slow, but steps must be taken....Thank you, Senator Obama, and all of those who came before you....Thank you, MacDaddy for sharing this important and moving history with us.....We are the richer for it.....And may God forgive us White Folk for the indignities we have forced on Brothers and Sisters....Oh, yes, racism is alive and well...All for more reason to get this history out to the public.....

Who's That Gurl? said...

Hey MacDaddy! What better time to reflect on the struggles and sacrafices our men and women have made. Had it not been for Ms. Hamer and countless, nameless others Sen. Obama's nomination would still be a dream. Thanks for not letting us forget.

rainywalker said...

We need more Fannie Lou Hamer's in this country, who speak for everyone.

blackwomenblowthetrumpet.blogspot.com said...

Hey there!!

Powerful words....

AMEN
and
AMEN

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!
Lisa

Independent Progressive said...

Love your blog, daddyB. Check out my latest entry at Global Ghetto.

Torrance Stephens - All-Mi-T said...

she reminds me of Ida B
u know what i mean?

Somebodies Friend said...

Thank God for all those before us that have sacrificed everything so that we can achieve our goals today!

Without those before us, there would not be a nomination or a run for the White House, it would be more of the same.

Thank You Daddy!

SagaciousHillbilly said...

MacD, What a great post.
My children know of all this but they weren't born then so it seems unreal or almost impossible to them in light of their experience. I heard about it when it was happening, but it too seemed unreal because it was happening so far away from my world.

We need to be reminded. As long as one person continues to be judged by the color of their skin, we need to be reminded.

Rev. Al was good on TV the other night. He said that Barack was a mainstream politician, not a civil rights leader. . . that he was the result that all the civil rights leaders fought and some died for. . . and others were beaten to near death for.

Thanks for the education Mac.

patti t said...

Thank you...how I long for the day when every school's history books/curriculum will tell the stories of the richness and gifts of those who passed before us and struggled or were beaten down (and kept rising) in ways that most children and adults in this country can't even fathom. We owe a great thanks to Fannie Lou Hammer for the life she led and the leadership she displayed. This country has such a great opportunity to take leaps forward this November. I hope that the wisdom, the courage, and the pride will be there to do just that.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Daddy for reminding us all of Fannie Lou Hamer's brave and necessary contribution to "the old struggle", which has become "the new struggle". We have different challenges today, but it's the same old stuff, wouldn't you agree? The top 2 percent that earn all the money run this country, while the bulk of "Americans" suffer under a terrible strain, trying to keep up "with the Joneses".

Black people must regress to Hamer's example; going back to "chuch", singing the songs of the righteous and actually DOING SOMETHING to help the collective.

Thank you for being on watch, daddy!!!

James Williams

sdg1844 said...

Thank you for connecting the past and the present. It is all a continuum and nothing exists in a vacuum.

Anonymous said...

Great post, MD. It's probably easy in a media dominated culture to overlook the contributions of overweight women in print dresses with okra smiles. That's why I love your blog. You give voice to the women and men who might otherwise be overlooked. Those who wield power in our world would do well to open their eyes and see and celebrate present-day Fannie Lou Hammers.
Thank you MD!!
v

Vigilante said...

Thanks for reminding me of the strong, broad, proud shoulders we are all standing on, MacDaddy.