Fannie Lou Hamer

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Fannie Lou Hamer was born in Mississippi in 1917, one of twenty children of a sharecropper family. She began to pick cotton at the age of six and worked in the fields as a plantation timekeeper until 1962, when she lost her job after registering to vote. Hamer, who was the mother of two children, was jailed in 1963 and severely beaten for attempting to integrate a restaurant. She was under constant attack for her civil rights leadership and narrowly escaped being shot. Her home was bombed in 1971.

Hamer worked to organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and was one of three Black candidates running for Congress from her state and garnered 33,009 votes.

She also lectured extensively, and was known for a signature line she often used: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” She was a powerful speaker, and her singing voice lent another power to civil rights meetings.

Hamer helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971, speaking for inclusion of racial issues in the feminist agenda.

Fannie Lou Hamer died in Mississippi in 1977. She had published To Praise Our Bridges: An Autobiography in 1967. June Jordan published a biography, Fannie Lou Hamer, in 1972, and Kay Mills published This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer in 1993.

The special plight and the role of black women is not something that just happened three years ago. We’ve had a special plight for 350 years. My grandmother had it. My grandmother was a slave. She died in 1960. She was 136 years old. She died in Mount Bayou, Mississippi.

It’s been a special plight for the black woman. I remember my uncles and some of my aunts–and that’s why it really tickled me when you talked about integration. Because I’m very black, but I remember some of my uncles and some of my aunts was as white as anybody in here, and blue-eyed, and some kind of green-eyed–and my grandfather didn’t do it, you know. So what the folks is fighting at this point is what they started. They started unloading the slave ships of Africa, that’s when they started. And right now, sometimes, you know I work for the liberation of all people, because when I liberate myself, I’m liberating other people. But you know, sometimes I really feel more sorrier for the white woman than I feel for ourselves because she been caught up in this thing, caught up feeling very special, and folks, I’m going to put it on the line, because my job is not to make people feel comfortable–(drowned out by applause). You’ve been caught up in this thing because, you know, you worked my grandmother, and after that you worked my mother, and then finally you got hold of me. And you really thought, people–you might try and cool it now, but I been watching you, baby. You thought that you was more because you was a woman, and especially a white woman, you had this kind of angel feeling that you were untouchable. You know what? There’s nothing under the sun that made you believe that you was just like me, that under this white pigment of skin is red blood, just like under this black skin of mine. So we was used as black women over and over and over. You know I remember a time when I was working around white people’s house, and one thing that would make me mad as hell, after I would be done slaved all day long, this white woman would get on the phone, calling some of her friends, and said, “You know, I’m tired, because we have been working,” and I said, “That’s a damn lie.” You’re not used to that kind of language, honey, but I’m gone tell you where it’s at. So all of these things was happening because you had more. You had been put on a pedestal, and then got only put on a pedestal, but you had been put in something like a ivory castle. So what happened to you, we have busted the castle open and whacking like hell for the pedestal. And when you hit the ground, you’re gone have to fight like hell, like we’ve been fighting all this time.

Excerpted from “The Special Plight and the Role of Black Woman,” Speech given by Fannie Lou Hamer at NAACP Legal Defense Fund Institute, New York City, May 7, 1971.

Source: Black Women in White America: A Documentary History, ed. by Gerda Lerner, pp. 609-610. Random House: 1972.

Fannie Lou Hamer, by Jane Johnson Lewis.

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