|Fannie Lou Hamer|
Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights activist from Mississippi
The circus performers never stop jabbing at each; boorishly insulting each other for fear of becoming irrelevant during their bid for the presidency. To make the Donkey and Elephant theatrics more interesting and emotionally stimulating a couple of present day candidates have thrown in heaping spoonsful of racism and finger pointing at minorities to elevate the blood pressure of their avid supporters. This kind of spoon-fed race baiting is ideal for White folks who relish blaming “others” for their financial and personal problems. Prior to blaming Mexican immigrants for their troubles, such as snatching employment opportunities away from them---African Americans were the culprits. I never realized that White folks competed with Mexican laborers.
Although White folks in America have always had affirmative action to strengthen and boost their bootstraps, they do not feel that Black folks should have access to affirmative action bootstraps. They would prefer that Blacks be happy campers with no rights of any kind. And up pops the civil rights movement, coming full force with demands to be strands of thread in that huge quilt called politics. Demanding the right to vote pushed White folks over the edge, especially in the Deep South. For several years White politicians have schemed to keep Black Democrats out of the process, making it difficult for them to register and vote the same day. Republicans wish the Democratic Party would go away.
Here we are 52 years later, listening to the same old words from new and old mouths. Here we are in 2016 observing the 1964 presidential election being replayed, and breathtakingly written about by the media as if it were brand new. The only thing different is the cast of characters pandering for votes, applause, mindless adoration and public approval. The deaths of racism and bigotry have been greatly exaggerated. Neither of them died with the election Barack Obama as president of the United States.
In 1964 President Lyndon Baines Johnson, a Jekyll and Hyde, who had public and private personalities, was running for re-election. He would fit in comfortably with today’s GOP candidates, and what they are telling voters. White Southerners believe they are losing “their” America to Black folks. With the election of Barack Obama, White folks are told by White politicians that they, a majority people of the highest order, have been marginalized and forgotten about in favor of African Americans.
Just what scared White people you might be asking. The fear started in 1964 when Black civil rights activists and leaders from Mississippi and other southern states wanted to register to vote. They also wanted to be seated as delegates at the Democrats National Convention. This did not make Johnson happy. His mouth espoused one thing, the legislation he signed into law said something else. He was the manifestation of Jekyll and Hyde contradicting each other, as seen in today’s GOP crop of presidential candidates.
“LBJ had shifted from worrying about the response of liberal Northerners to the seating of segregationists to worrying about the backlash among Whites everywhere if angry Blacks and their White supporters dominated the convention coverage.
“I think the Negroes are going back to Reconstruction period, they're going to set themselves back a hundred years . . . and I'm just trying to get a vice president for them . . . and here these folks go get everybody upset. . . . Hell, the Northerners are more upset . . . they wire me to tell me the Negroes are taking over the country, they're running the White House, they're running the Democratic Party . . . it's not Mississippi and Alabama anymore . . . you're catching hell from Michigan, Ohio, Philadelphia, New York, that nearly every White man in this country would be frightened if he thought the Negroes were going to take him over. . . . We can't ever buy spots that'll equal this. . . . We've got five million budgeted but we can't undo what they've done these past few days”.
When Donald Trump announced his bid for the presidency last year the media and GOP did not take him seriously. He was supposed to be a flash in the pan. The pan stayed on the stove, and the flash is a huge headache. Republicans do not know to shit or go blind. The adage is apropos for what is happening to the GOP. Republicans can thank Trump and his evil twin Ted Cruz for the shit or go blind analogy.
In addition to trying to bully, threaten, and offend his way into the White House, Trump is challenging GOP bigwigs. He wants them to flush down the toilet, all prior rules for nominating a candidate. He wants it done before the upcoming National Convention in Ohio in July. Trump said earlier that he and his supporters will not stand by and let the GOP take the nomination away from him. Trump does care about the delegates count. He is demanding that they nominate him regardless, come hell or high water.
Like Trump, Lyndon Johnson was determined not going to let activists or rivals block his nomination at the Democratic convention, even if it meant favoring White delegates over the 64 Black and four White Mississippians.
Trump expects to arrive at the informal ball with the largest number of delegates, not the 1,237 required for the nomination. He is already making his case to voters in advance. Ted Cruz, a Texas senator, and John Kasich, governor of Ohio, are saying to Trump: “Hold on there, buster! This circus has more action clowns than you!” The duo is hoping for a contested convention to elevate their chances of getting the treasured nomination.
At least the 2016 delegates will be assigned seats and voting privileges at the GOP convention. That was not always the case for Black citizens living in Deep South states, where Whites could not relinquish their old ways of discrimination and control. Years after slavery Blacks were not allowed to vote or participate in Whites only primaries. Just organizing to get Blacks registered often ended in deaths for a mixture of young and older activists, Black and White.
|Fannie Hamer and Ella Baker, 1964|
Denial of delegate seats to the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) at the National Democratic Convention caused Fannie Lou Hamer, the daughter of a Mississippi sharecropper, armed only with a sixth grade education, to question America after Johnson’s scheme to stop them from testifying before the Credentials Committee. They were invited to testify about political discrimination, the obstacles that slapped them in the face whenever they attempted to register to vote, having to pick an amendment in the Constitution and explain it. MFDP’s objective was to convince the Committee to seat them as delegates representing Mississippi. The convention was being held in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
“While the student volunteers knocked on door and taught classes, Hamer was busy with the MFDP. The party held its own conventions at the precinct, county and state levels to select a group to send to Atlantic City in August, where they would challenge the seating of the all-White Mississippi delegates at the Democratic National Convention. Hamer was elected vice chair of the integrated delegation, which consisted of 64 Black members and four White members”. (PBS)
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was formed April 26, 1964 with the help of Hamer. It was part of the Mississippi Summer Project that attracted college students who traveled to Mississippi to work with local civil rights activists. The majority of the students were White and from the North.
Texas governor, John Connally, admonished Johnson that if he seated “those Black buggers the whole South will walk out” of the convention. Being a native Texan aware of Southern politicians and their racially charged dialect, I guarantee you the governor did not call the Black Mississippians buggers.
“Nonetheless, under pressure from Johnson and Hubert Humphrey, members of the Credentials Committee dropped their support for the MFDP. As a conciliatory gesture, Democratic officials offered two-at-large seats to MFDP representatives, though Humphrey made it clear Johnson would not stand for one of the seat going to Hamer. The President has said he will not let that illiterate woman speak on the floor of the Democratic convention”. (PBS)
Johnson said, according to American Legacy, “If we mess with this group of Negroes . . . we will lose 15 states without even campaigning”. Johnson pushed a compromise.
The so-called “compromise” made it clear that the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party had to agree to accept the two guest seats on the convention floor. However, they could not vote; they had no voice or power. All they could do was sit and observe White delegates participate in the process. Another condition for sitting in the worthless seats was that they had to sign an oath of loyalty to the Democratic ticket. The MFDP roundly rejected the compromise.
Not all civil rights leaders concurred with the MDFP. “One after another, the big names of the civil rights movement appeared before the Mississippians, telling them they didn’t know a victory when they saw one and urging them not to damage the electoral chances of Johnson and other Democratic leaders”. (American Legacy, 2001)
Humphrey threw in his two cents worth of advice. Humphrey appealed to the MFDP leaders to accept the proposal. He supported their cause, he told them. Johnson made it clear to Humphrey that he did not want a floor fight at the convention. Fannie Lou Hamer shook her head in disappointment.
Hamer said to Humphrey, “Senator Humphrey, I been praying about you, and I been thinking about you, and you’re a good man, and you know what’s right. The trouble is, you’re afraid to do what you know is right. You just want the job. . . . Mr. Humphrey, if you take this job, you won’t be worth anything”.
“I’m not going to stoop to no two votes at large,” Hamer said of the new offer. The majority of the delegation agreed. “Once again, Whites were telling Blacks what to do. In this case it was White liberals, who had supported an end to discrimination and segregation, but on their own terms and timetable."
The MFDP was so furious that it marched that night into the convention hall singing the now famous civil rights song, We Shall Overcome. “With credentials given them by sympathetic delegates, Hamer, Victoria Gray, and 20 other Mississippi insurgents slipped in an sat in seats vacated by the regular Mississippi delegation, most of whom declined to take the loyalty oath mandated by the compromise and had left for home”’.
The determined activists refused to relinquish the seats when the sergeants-at-arms asked them to leave. “Surrounded by swarms of television correspondents and cameraman, they denounced the hypocrisy of a President and party that professed their commitment to civil rights, but refused to acknowledge an integrated group of delegates fully supported of Democratic Party principles and policies”. (American Legacy, 2001)
The MFDP returned to Mississippi to continue their purpose of registering Black Mississippians to vote. Hamer’s testimony lifted her profile, and she was soon in demand as a speaker.
|President Lyndon Johnson|
What the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party did not know is that behind the scenes Johnson had gone into full ruin and vanquish mode. With all the power of the U.S. government on his side, Johnson was cognizant that the Black activists from Mississippi were climbing up a greased hill. American Legacy reported, “He was determined that nothing would mar his party’s coronation of him as its 1964 standard bearer---or his chances for victory in November. Despite his approval rating of nearly 70 percent in the polls, he was convinced that a floor fight over seating the MFDP would cost him the South and the election”.
Johnson was concerned that the Freedom Democratic Party would wield enough influence at the convention to persuade Southern states to break their allegiance to him. He was scared that Mississippi Democrats would vote for Republican Barry Goldwater, a staunch conservative from Arizona.
Lyndon Johnson did not understand why Black folks were not satisfied with all he had done for them. They were just downright ungrateful! He had secured passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He did not understand why Blacks did not kiss his Texas boots for all he had done for them, but Johnson did understand the fine art underhandedness.
President Johnson had the FBI tap MFDP headquarter phones. He wanted to get an upper hand on the organization, Dr. Martin Luther King, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) before they knew he had the goods on them. Agents impersonating reporters fished for, and compiled information on civil rights leaders and activists. Their catch was delivered to Johnson. Members of the Credentials Committee were threatened with the loss of their government jobs if they did not deny the MFDP seats on the convention floor.
Johnson was pissed about this hole in his bucket. He had to thwart the MFDP’s testimonies. While Hamer was testifying he called a hasty press conference at the White House to distract the media’s attention, taking it away from Hamer. Johnson’s plan worked but it later boomeranged. Hamer made history with her testimony. So touching and condemning was her August 22 testimony that all of the evening news programs played her testimony in full, unedited. Hamer destroyed the picture of perfect harmony among Democrats. Disarray is not what President Johnson wanted portrayed on TV.
The media said of Hamer: “Her testimony was compelling enough for many evening news
|Fannie Hamer testifies|
After no less than 10 minutes she concluded: “The Freedom Democratic Party is not seated, now I question America. Is this America, 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 in America”. (PBS)
Lyndon Johnson won re-relection in a landslide.
Fannie married Perry “Pap” Hamer in 1944. He was a tractor driver on the same plantation. The couple did not have children of their own. At some point Hamer entered the North Sunflower County Hospital to have an appendectomy operation. She emerged from the hospital a sterile woman.
In the 1960s poor women living in the South went to hospitals for minor surgery and ended up getting hysterectomies without their consent or knowledge. Some women’s tube were tied. Eugenics was a government secret and poor women and men were targeted because they were considered undesirables, and the government did not want them to procreate.
Hamer and Perry adopted two girls whose family could not provide for them.
Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer made her bones in politics in 1962 when she hooked up with civil rights activists in Mississippi. The group that she worked with called themselves the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). When the plantation owner learned that Hamer had registered to vote, he ordered her to leave the plantation.
He ordered Hamer to withdraw her voter registration. She refused, telling him: “I didn’t go down there to register for you. I went down there to register for myself”. Down there was a bus ride to the county seat of Indianola with 17 neighbors and activists.
|Fannie Hamer speaks to c outside the Capital in Washington, Sept. 17, 1965|
Hamer talked about jail house beating when she testified in front of the Credentials Committee. She recalled the brutal beating at the hands of two Black prisoners: “ . . . I was carried out of that cell into another cell where they had two Negro prisoners. The State Highway Patrolmen ordered the first Negro to take the blackjack.
“The first Negro prisoner ordered me, by orders from the State Highway Patrolman, for me to lay down on a bunk bed on my face. I laid on my face and the first Negro began to beat. I was beat by the first Negro until he was exhausted. I was holding my hands behind me at that time on my left side, because I suffered from polio when I was six years old”.
Hamer ran for State Senator in 1971, District 11, Bolivar and Sunflower Counties. She lost to the race but not her zest to fight for what was right, stepping in where she saw civil rights being violated and denied to Black Mississippians.
Hamer, who was threatened with death many times was diagnosed to have breast cancer in 1976. She continued her purpose until she was hospitalized. She died March 17, 1977 at age 59. U.S. delegate to the United Nations, Andrew Young, Jr., delivered Hamer’s eulogy at her funeral. Ella Baker (above photo) of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and several noted civil rights leaders spoke at Hamer's funeral in celebration of the life she lived.