The Valuable Contributions of Fannie Lou Hamer to Our Struggle Against Injustice
By Kilaika Anayejali kwa Baruti
History is a series of events that can never be erased. Even if history is not documented or recorded, it cannot be erased. It does not matter if it is known or unknown to any human being who was not a part of that particular experience, it still exists. Regardless of who is knowledgeable of any said history, it always will be what it is. However, because it is an account of circumstances and events, we as humans often refer to it to get a better understanding of our current conditions, so it is quite often documented and recorded than not. In regard to Fannie Lou Hamer, her plight was known throughout the Civil Rights Movement era. I am to say with great humility, as much as I know of our people’s history and Fannie Lou Hamer’s role in it, I never really knew her until I had the privilege of writing this article. Through research I found very valuable information that not only showed me facts, but I was able to feel her spirit through the stories. I could feel the weight of it as I listened to video recordings of her speech. I must tell you this woman’s heart was under attack, her soul was crying for burden to be lifted, her mind never rested, and her body screamed in agony. This pain that she bared and carried was all a direct result of the injustices against African people. She lived it everyday, before and after she decided to act. I got goose bumps and chills listening to her tell her story and I could feel her pain. Yet, as much as I see it and picture it in my mind, I can never ever truly know the horrors. What I do know is this however, because of this woman’s suffering I have a continued obligation to carry on her work against injustice. I cannot turn my back on the contributions she has made. This is what makes her life of endurance a valuable contribution. Nothing else sets precedence to her actions and determination, it inspires us to continue the fight against injustice. If she were alive today she would be 102 years old. With the type of spirit she had, I’m sure she would be telling us…my body can no longer carry the burden it is you who must the work. Aren’t you also tired of being sick and tired, sweet baby. This is what our history does for us; with the proper analytical tools, we can analyze where we come from, where we have been, where we are at, and where we are going. It is my duty to share a perspective with you on the life of Fannie Lou Hamer. It is not only a perspective, but it is a series of actual events that I hope will paint a picture to you, the reader, of what it means to fight wholeheartedly against injustice. If you should ever need an example, she, Fannie Lou Hamer was just that. She was indeed a warrior woman, a woman of endurance and of value to the African masses.
Our dear sister was born with the surname Townsend on October 6, 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi. Fannie Lou Hamer was an activist for voters’ rights and a Civil Rights leader. She was known as the lady who song the hymns when they would be on their journeys traveling to and fro. She would be the voice to keep everyone and herself at ease as much as she could with her sweet voice. She was a very hand on organizer for the Mississippi Freedom Riders and also with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. Traveling from a literary workshop in June of 1963, Fannie Lou Hamer and others were arrested on false charges and beaten very severely. The bus driver was stopped and charged along with everyone on the bus for the bus being the wrong color. Having to stay in jail for three days she was finally released. She continued to organize despite her condition, which throughout the remainder of her life caused her great complications with her health. She also had polio, which she got at a very early age, which made it even worse. How do you justify beaten a woman almost to death who has Polio, you don’t they just could with no disciplinary action being taken. She speaks of the encounter, “I’d guess if I had any sense I’d be a little scared. The only thing they could do was kill me, and it seems like they been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember. Hamer was a woman who was a granddaughter to slaves and belonged to a family of sharecroppers. Fannie was even a sharecropper herself. She was the youngest of 19 brothers and sisters. She knew hardship; she was born into it actually. She was the first to raise her hand when asked who will help with the task of seeking Voter’s registration rights. She wanted a life different than what she had. She wanted a better quality of life, and voting, she as many assumed, would give her a voice to help change the conditions around her. The plantation owner, where Fannie and her husband Perry Pap Hamer, whom she married in 1944, sharecropped, found out that she went forward to try and register. He kicked her off the land and fired her. She then sought refuge with a family she knew and ten days after being there, sixteen shots of fire hailed on their house to kill Fannie Lou Hamer for her actions. Even in a very systematical and organized effort in the state of Mississippi in a plan to reduce the number of poor blacks, Fannie Lou Hamer fell victim to sterilization. A white doctor sterilized her without knowing his plan or giving her approval to go forward. This was another horror that not only Fannie endured but other sisters and brothers as well from daily racism and oppression. Fannie was elected vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Party in 1964, but this was a woman that the then President Lyndon B. Johnson publicly called illiterate. He despised her efforts, for she was an agitator. As much as he tried to silence her by continuously thumbing her down he could not ignore her address to the Credential Committee in front of millions of peoples, televised. Shortly after, he signed the Voters Rights Act. Fannie ran for Congress in 1964 and 1965, but was not successful in this mission. She was in 1968 seated as a member of Mississippi’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention. Fannie was also very vocal regarding being against the Vietnam War. In her later years, she worked very heavy in more grassroots organizing. This is what her life had become, yet again she did not waiver. Despite all the death threats she received Fannie Lou continued to organize as Field Secretary for the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee She helped to create head start programs, helped form the Freedom Farm Cooperative, which organized and managed 640 acres of land, and aided the Poor People’s Campaign, which was an initiative started by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Fannie Lou Hamer died on March 14, 1997 in Mound Bayou County from a struggle with breast cancer. Let her struggle not be in vain by carrying out unfinished business, as she would call it. Our struggle continues!