Well, here we are … the big day has finally arrived after months of divisive rhetoric, dirty tricks to keep voters from the polls, and demoralizing speech by certain corrupt elements in our government. This has been the ugliest, nastiest election season I have seen in my 67 years. Today is the day those who haven’t already voted will head to the polls. Well, most will. Some will. Others, it seems, have a thousand and one excuses for not voting, the top one seeming to be “my vote doesn’t really matter”, followed by “I don’t have time”. Think it’s not important that you vote? Let’s look at somebody who thought it was …
She felt violated, she felt abused, not by a single perpetrator but by the government that was supposed to protect her.Her name was Fannie Lou Hamer. She was born on October 6, 1917. Her parents were sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta area. As a child, she often went hungry and without shoes. In the winter, she tied rags on her feet to keep her feet warm. She began working the fields when she was only 6 years old.
Later she realized she was not considered “a first class citizen” because she was poor, because she was black, because she was a woman.
In 1961, she went to a hospital to remove a tumor. She would be given a hysterectomy without her consent by a white doctor who was following the state plan to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state. Fannie Lou Hamer became another victim of the involuntary or uninformed sterilization of black women, common in the South in the 1960s. They were commonly called “Mississippi appendectomies” because women would be told they needed to get their appendix out, but instead they would be sterilized.”
“In the North Sunflower County Hospital,” Hamer would say, “I would say about six out of the 10 Negro women that go to the hospital are sterilized with the tubes tied.”
The government-funded program started in the 1930s targeting people in “institutions for mental illness” then slowly targeting “the blind, the deaf, the disabled, alcoholics, those with epilepsy, and ultimately the rural poor on welfare.”
This was the turning point in Fannie Lou Hamer’s life.
She would say, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
She decided at that point that she would fight for human rights, human dignity, and she would never give in, to anyone.
She soon realized that the only way to improve her life and the life of other poor blacks was to register to vote. If she was prevented to register or saw others who were prevented to vote, she would speak out and protest, if necessary.
She became relentless. She would be fired from her job, driven from the plantation she had called home for nearly two decades, she would be threatened, arrested, beaten, and shot at, leading to one arrest where she would be beaten nearly to death, suffering permanent kidney damage.
When she was stopped by police, she would start singing “This Little Light of Mine” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.”
She would say, “I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scared — but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”
Fannie Lou Hamer would become a tireless champion for racial equality, working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), fighting racial segregation and injustice in the South. She also helped to found the National Women’s Political Caucus. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi’s Freedom Summer for the SNCC, and she later became the vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
At the Democratic National Convention, Hamer would be seen making her way through a group of old, white men to tell the world her story. At times, she fought back tears, such as recounting the time she was beaten in a Mississippi jail. She would add, “I was in jail when Medgar Evers was murdered.”
She would ask, “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?”
At the convention, rumors circulated that one of the toughest men in America, President Lyndon B. Johnson, was terrified of Hamer, her courage, and her voice.
Hamer would say, “We got to fight in America . . . for ALL the people.”
Still think it isn’t important, that your vote doesn’t count, or that you just can’t find time? Do us all a favour and … think again.
**Note: The header photo is John Lewis, Civil Rights leader and member of the U.S. House of Representatives serving Georgia’s 5th district, during the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965 in the struggle for voting rights.