October 6 - Happy Birthday, Fannie Lou Hamer

Posted October 6, 2018

Sometimes I go onto college campuses, or door-to-door, or other public places, and I encourage people to register to vote and to actually EXERCISE the right to vote.

In other words, it's frustrating when people who can, won't or don't.

So many people have worked so hard to earn the right to vote, and for most of us it's the easiest and most fundamental power we have to shape our government and future.

Today's famous birthday, Fannie Lou Hamer, was supposed to have the right to vote where she lived, in Mississippi. Black men had been granted the right to vote waaaaaay back in 1850, and women had been granted the right to vote in 1920, just a few years after Hamer was born (on this date in 1917).

But you may have heard that Jim Crow laws in the South did a ton to maintain racial segregation and also to make it really hard for black people to actually vote. 

How hard? Hamer was threatened and harassed, extorted and assaulted and even shot at when she tried to register to vote or to actually cast a vote!

And it wasn't some just some crazed fanatics abusing Hamer when she was trying to exercise her right to vote. It was police officers and supposedly upright citizens. Cops and citizens who were thoroughly racist, of course. White supremacists. But white supremacists who held all the power in Mississippi.

Hamer got involved with civil rights activism. She ended up helping lots of African-American people register to vote and to improve their lives. She ran for the Mississippi State Senate and also to be the Mississippi Senator at the national level - and she lost those races, but the effort of trying to run must have made a very visible difference to other black people. She was a co-founder of an organization to recruit and train women of all races who want to run for elected office. 

Hamer and other activists won a huge victory when Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Those laws should have ended segregation in the South and removed all the barriers to voting erected in the South. But, as you probably already know, just because there's a law, that doesn't mean people follow the law. So of course racial problems remained. Hamer was one of the leaders who sued to achieve integration and to make white people follow the law.

It's always interesting to read about the background of the strong black women I focus on. In Hamer's case, she was the youngest of 20 children of sharecroppers, she started picking cotton at age 6, and she had polio that left her with a disfigured leg. She learned to read and was able to attend a one-room school located on the cotton plantation, between picking seasons, but she had to quit school at age 12 to take care of her parents.

It all sounds REALLY difficult, but Fannie Lou Hamer didn't let all the bad stuff stop her. She pushed back, pushed forward, and pushed society - and we should all be grateful for her push!

Also on this date:

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