By Alan Bean
A statue has been erected in the Ruleville, Mississippi home of civil rights legend Fannie Lou Hamer. I have read several stories related to this event, and thus far not one of them mentions the ugly fact that Ms. Hamer, along with several companions, were beaten half to death in the Montgomery County Jail in June of 1963.
It is inspiring to learn that Fannie Lou Hamer’s gospel singing inspired a beleaguered handful of black sharecroppers to enter a courthouse in Indianola. But the shameful side of the story is often passed over without comment. It is shameful that courthouse personnel refused to allow Hamer and friends to register, as is the fact that she was summarily fired when she returned to her Sunflower County plantation, as is the fact that, later that night, someone fired a shotgun at the home in which Fannie Lou took refuge.
It is inspiring to imagine an intrepid Fannie Lou Hamer telling Hubert Humphrey that the Freedom Democrats of Mississippi didn’t come all the way to the Atlantic City Democratic Convention in 1964 “for no two votes”. It is shameful that Lyndon Johnson, the civil rights president, called a press conference for the sole purpose of deflecting media attention away from Ms. Hamer’s testimony before the credentials committee.
But Fannie Lou got the best of the world’s most powerful man, a man who dismissed her as “that ignorant woman”. Johnson feared, with good reason, that if the Mississippi Freedom Democrats were accepted as delegates in good standing, he would lose the support of Dixiecrat Senator James Eastland and white votes across the South. Hamer’s testimony was so gripping that all three major networks featured her entire presentation on the evening news. America was treated to a blow-by-blow account of the indignities Fannie Lou Hamer and her friends experienced at the courthouse in Indianola and the horrors she encountered in Montgomery County, Mississippi. She left nothing to the imagination.
America was never the same.
I was pleased to see that the daughter of slain civil rights leader Medgar Evers was present for unveiling of Fannie Lou’s statue. The article failed to mention that Evers was assassinated while Hamer and her companions were being assaulted in Montgomery County. Fannie Lou Hamer was an untutored woman with a courageous heart, a powerful singing voice, and a genius for grassroots organizing. The price for changing America was steep, but Fannie Lou paid it in full. God rest her soul.
Please click on the video and listen to the words that changed America.