1964 August 22

Fannie Lou Hamer Testifies at Democratic Party Convention


Fannie Lou Hamer was an African-American Mississippi sharecropper who became a noted civil rights activist. She and other members of her group were savagely beaten in the Winona, Mississippi, jail on June 9, 1963, after returning from a literacy workshop in South Carolina. On this day, she testified at the 1964 Democratic Party Convention, arguing that the racially integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) delegation should be seated rather than the “regular” all-white and pro-segregationist delegation. Covered on national television, her testimony catapulted her to national fame. The MFP challenge did not succeed, as its delegates rejected unacceptable compromises that were offered.

When the television networks covered Hamer’s speech live, President Lyndon Johnson called a sudden press conference, on a completely insignificant issue, in an effort to deflect attention from her. Nonetheless, her speech became one of the iconic moments in the history of the civil rights movement.

At the 1968 Democratic Party Convention, after another round of intense politicking of the MFDP, Fannie Lou Hamer took her seat as a delegate from Mississippi.

Fannie Lou Hamer died in March 1977. A statue in her honor was erected in Ruleville, Mississippi, on October 5, 2012.

Fannie Lou Hamer: “They left my cell and it wasn’t too long before they came back. He said, ‘You are from Ruleville all right,’ and he used a curse word. And he said, ‘We are going to make you wish you was dead.’

“I was carried out of that cell into another cell where they had two Negro prisoners. The State Highway Patrolmen ordered the first Negro to take the blackjack. The first Negro prisoner ordered me, by orders from the State Highway Patrolman, for me to lay down on a bunk bed on my face. I laid on my face and the first Negro began to beat. I was beat by the first Negro until he was exhausted. I was holding my hands behind me at that time on my left side, because I suffered from polio when I was six years old.

“All of this is on account of we want to register, to become first-class citizens. And 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 the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?” 

Read Hamer’s complete testimony: http://www.crmvet.org/docs/flh_ac.htm

Read about Fannie Lou Hamer: Kay Mills, This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (1993)

Visit the Fannie Lou Hamer Statue in Ruleville, Mississippi: http://www.fannielouhamer.info/hamer_statue.html

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