By Alan Bean
I am re-posting this piece in honor of the 50th anniversary of Ms. Hamer’s celebrated speech to the credentials committee of the Democratic Convention in 1964. AGB
“If 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 of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?” Fannie Lou Hamer
The summer of 1964 was a watershed moment for the civil right movement and for America. Never before had black and white Americans worked together with such common purpose. And yet, by the end of August, black civil rights leaders were vowing never to work with white people again. Meanwhile, white civil rights activists realized they didn’t have a home in either of the major political parties.
The voting rights movement had been building momentum in Mississippi since the Freedom Rides of 1961. The work was dangerous, beatings were commonplace and martyrs were plentiful. What better way to win protection and attention than to issue a call to idealistic young white people from across America to come to Mississippi for the summer of 1964? John Kennedy had been assassinated half a year earlier and a still-grieving nation was desperate for healing.
Across the southern states, only 40% of eligible African Americans were registered to vote; in Mississippi it was 6.4%. As we have seen, civic leaders in the Magnolia State were determined to keep Negroes out of the courthouse. For the most part, they were successful. To outsiders this looked like blatant injustice, but the good people of Mississippi felt they were simply preserving a cherished way of life. Throughout the spring and early summer the young people kept coming, just as they had at the high water mark of the Freedom Ride movement. They were young, idealistic, dedicated and often remarkably naive. Fannie Lou Hamer had to take the white girls aside and explain why it was a bad idea to be seen in public with a young black male–no matter how good looking and entertaining he might be. (more…)