Category: I have a friend who asked, via Facebook, if anyone wanted to borrow this book. Of course I did.
My thoughts: If I had to use one adjective to describe this book it would be “powerful.” The strength—emotional and otherwise—of this woman is an amazing thing to think about. The main speech of Fannie Lou Hamer’s that I knew about prior to reading this book is the one she gave before the Credentials Committee at the Democratic National Convention in 1964. I heard that LBJ was so scared by the potential effect of her speech that he pre-empted it. I like the fact that the words of a sharecropper from Ruleville, Mississippi, could make the President of the United States shake in his boots.
However, this fierce woman, thankfully, gave several more speeches over the years. In some of them, she detailed the incredibly vicious beating that she suffered in Winona, Mississippi in June 1963—just a few days before Medgar Evers was killed. Her descriptions of her beating were really hard to read. She was arrested at night while on her way back to Ruleville from a voter registration workshop in South Carolina. She and other folks with her were detained in Winona, and while in jail the town sheriff told her, “We’re going to make you wish you were dead.” He then proceeded to force two black prisoners to beat her with a blackjack. How she survived that, I have no idea. There is a section of the book in which she gives testimony to the Justice Department about her assault. Spoiler alert: no one was ever convicted for what was basically her attempted murder. Dear reader, have things changed since that awful night in 1963?
The day after I borrowed this book, I went to Sunflower County, Mississippi (where my stepfather is from), which is composed of Indianola, Moorhead, and Ruleville. There’s a sign, as seen above, dedicated to Fannie Lou Hamer in Ruleville. Parchman Prison is also in Sunflower County, but that’s another story for another day. While in Sunflower County, I thought about the Great Migration, written about so wonderfully by Isabel Wilkerson. A lot of folks from that area of Mississippi left for Chicago or Detroit during the Great Migration. Reading this book, you can really sense the kind of brutal racial oppression that existed that make people want to leave. So it’s remarkable that folks like Fannie Lou Hamer had the courage to do what they did in such an environment. Personally, I think of people like her, who truly gave blood, sweat, and tears, every time I exercise my right to vote. And every time, I am thankful that people like her had the courage to fight.
Great passage: “Some of the white people will tell us, ‘Well I just don’t believe in integration.’ But he been integrating at night a long time! If he hadn’t been, it wouldn’t be as many light-skinned Negroes as it is in here. The seventeenth chapter of Acts and the twenty-sixth verse said: ‘Has made of one blood all nations.’ So whether you black as a skillet or white as a sheet, we are made from the same blood and we are on our way” (from a speech delivered at a mass meeting in Indianola, MS in September 1964)