After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Bond was elected a congressman in Georgia’s state legislature. His fellow state congressmen voted 184-12 not to seat him because of his opposition to the Vietnam War, and he was only allowed to serve after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered it.
He also served as chairman of the NAACP for 10 years, between 1998-2008. And he was an early and outspoken advocate of LGBT+ rights, including same sex marriage. (He boycotted the funeral of Coretta Scott King because it was held at a church that opposed marriage equality.)
You may not hear Julian Bond’s name much in the coming days, but you should.
In 1965, Bond was one of eleven African Americans elected to the Georgia House of Representatives after passage of the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act of 1965. On January 10, 1966, Georgia state representatives voted 184–12 not to seat him because he had publicly endorsed SNCC’s policy regarding opposition to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. However, In 1966, the United States Supreme Court ruled 9–0 in the case of Bond v. Floyd (385 U.S. 116) that the Georgia House of Representatives had denied Bond his freedom of speech and was required to seat him.
Photo credit: Julian Bond / University of Virginia
The unsteady shelf life of a social justice symbol: Transgender rights trailblazer CeCe McDonald grapples about her legacy October 27, 2014
When one looks back at historic social movements, there are certain names that stand out—Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Rosa Parks. But there are also those whose faces history has forgotten. Consider Ella Baker and Bob Moses, former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) leaders who furthered civil rights for black Americans, or Mario Savio of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement. Their names might be footnoted in history books, but what happened to them after the sweep of their movements dispensed?
There are people so impassioned by a cause that they come to symbolize it, at least for a time. Yet their fame is brief, sometimes by design, sometimes by default of a rapid news cycle. Sometimes their radical conviction fades or stops all together. Sometimes their tragic circumstances morph from galvanizing to depressing, a reminder of a movement’s failure instead of its success. Other times they achieve their goals, and their work is finished.
Consider CeCe McDonald. The black trans woman and once-fashion student has come to represent the plight of transgender equality. In June 2011, while walking to the store in her Minneapolis neighborhood, McDonald defended herself outside a tavern from slur-shouting, drunk bikers who smashed a glass across her face and pursued her when she fled. Her final attacker—an enraged man high on meth and cocaine—died in the scuffle due to a stab wound inflicted by McDonald. Though McDonald and witnesses at the scene maintain she acted purely in self-defense, she was the only person arrested.
McDonald, in solitary confinement (for her own protection, the jail said), became the defendant in a trial that seemed stacked to transgender activists: mention of her attacker’s swastika tattoo was ruled inadmissible (McDonald never saw it); expert testimony about the lives and threats to transgender women was blocked; and her attacker’s prior assault convictions were deemed inadmissible. Looking at the mostly white jury, McDonald pled guilty to second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 41 months in a men’s prison.
The attack, arrest, and trial prompted the Free CeCe campaign. Laverne Cox, the Orange is the New Black actress and transgender activist, is currently working on a documentaryabout McDonald’s plight, which has come to embody the dark realities of life as a transgender person—frequent assaults, police harassment, and an attempted suicide rate topping 41 percent.
After serving 19 months (and 275 days awaiting trial), as Rolling Stone recently reported, McDonald was released in January 2014 with a sentence reduced for good behavior. However, she is now unemployed, with a felony on her record, living on food stamps, and crashing with a supporter. Though she is out of jail, her current circumstances still seem unfair for a figure who became a galvanizing force for trans justice. At the same time, McDonald’s difficulties only underscore the daily indignities suffered by transgender people.
But McDonald never asked to be the face of a movement. She was simply trying to buy a few groceries on the night she was attacked. When I asked McDonald what it feels like to be so closely identified with a movement, she said, “I kind of feel like it was something that was meant to happen.” She doesn’t mean this situation exactly, but rather working for this cause, albeit in a particularly intense way.
But 30 years from now, how many will remember McDonald? When I asked her if this is something she cared about, she laughed gently and offered a long list of people who should be included in the history books long before her: transgender rights activists Miss Major (Griffin-Gracy), Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rae Rivera; Black Panthers Assata Shakur and Mumia Abu-Jamal; and feminist and civil rights activist Angela Davis.
If McDonald’s accidental star fades, she’ll be in good company. At least half of the Chicago Eight never sought the spotlight, taking a backseat to Abbie Hoffman’s anticsand Jerry Rubin’s yuppie wealth. Many of us celebrate Earth Day annually now, but how many of us remember Denis Hayes, its founder? He’s still around, working to create the most sustainable office building in the world. Picture Berkeley in the 1960s and you may have a fuzzy mental image of student leaders rallying for free speech. A few might remember Mario Savio’s “Bodies upon the gears” call to arms, but how many know how he spent his later life, a professor quietly teaching mathematics and philosophy?
Why do we lose so many movement makers—powerful forces for change—who eventually drop away into obscurity?
I raised this question with American University history and communications professor Leonard Steinhorn, who promptly set me straight.
“Movements are made of countless people who get involved, and some emerge as visible leaders because of a moment in time, or a twist of historical fate, or because they themselves have been able to … move some mountains, or build some bridge, or organize people in ways they hadn’t been before,” said Steinhorn. He added that the leaders we do remember, of course, “stand on the shoulders of others.“
“People can aspire to different kinds of leadership,” said Patrick Coy, professor and director of applied conflict management at Kent State University. Coy pointed to the story of James Lawson, who moved from Ohio to Nashville in 1959 to work with nonviolent protests against racism in the upper South. Lawson was an able trainer and strong strategist who went on to perform an important leadership function within the Civil Rights movement. Lawson led, but isn’t among the most recognizable names of the movement because he “didn’t aspire to lead an organization,” said Coy. Instead, he aspired to improve the movement and popularize nonviolent action as a whole.
As a student at the University of Chicago, Bernie Sanders was active in both
the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1962, he was arrested
for protesting segregation in public schools in Chicago; the police
came to call him an outside agitator, as he went around putting up
flyers around the city detailing police brutality against African-americans.
On this date, June 17, in 1966, Stokely Carmichael (who later was known as Kwame Ture), then chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), gave his famous Black Power speech.
Thank you very much. It’s a privilege and an honor to be in the white intellectual ghetto of the West. We wanted to do a couple of things before we started. The first is that, based on the fact that SNCC, through the articulation of its program by its chairman, has been able to win elections in Georgia, Alabama, Maryland, and by our appearance here will win an election in California, in 1968 I’m going to run for President of the United States. I just can’t make it, ‘cause I wasn’t born in the United States. That’s the only thing holding me back.
We wanted to say that this is a student conference, as it should be, held on a campus, and that we’re not ever to be caught up in the intellectual masturbation of the question of Black Power. That’s a function of people who are advertisers that call themselves reporters. Oh, for my members and friends of the press, my self-appointed white critics, I was reading Mr. Bernard Shaw two days ago, and I came across a very important quote which I think is most apropos for you. He says, “All criticism is a[n] autobiography.” Dig yourself. Okay. [Hear audio from the Black Power speech and read full transcript.]
John Lewis: Civil Rights Movement Discriminated Against Women Members
“They did all of the work, they did the heavy
lifting,” Lewis said at an event in Washington on Wednesday night. “They
were kept back.”
posted on Sept. 21, 2016, at 8:12 p.m.
WASHINGTON — Rep. John Lewis said he believes women were
discriminated against in the civil rights movement of the mid-20th
On Wednesday night, Lewis, who was the young chairman
of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was asked a
question about whether the current civil rights movement — which
emphasizes fighting police brutality and racial discrimination, and is
often led by women — needs central leadership. Lewis said the civil
rights movement of the last century was “dominated” by men, preachers
who “treated the movement like it was their own church.”
the leaders of the movement were ministers,” Lewis said. “There were
some women like Ella Baker, Diane Nash, a student in Nashville, one of
leaders, the leader of the Little Rock Nine effort — and others, you had
Gloria Richardson. But I truly think and believe women were
Lewis took the question at an event with Politico,
where he addressed the state of the election, his own history as a
civil rights leader, and his belief that “Hillary Clinton is going to
But his comments on the movement reflected a long observed but rarely addressed part of the movement’s treatment of women.
“They did all of the work, they did the heavy lifting,” Lewis said. “They were kept back.”
King and others, he said, had credit bestowed on them for the
successful Montgomery Bus Boycott. “But it was a woman, a teacher at
Alabama State College, Jo Ann Robinson that said we should boycott the
buses. [She said] you should organize your students. So we made leaflets
and people spread them all over the city of Montgomery. Then people
started staying off the buses.”
On the current movement, Lewis
SNCC had adopted a group leadership model that is a touchstone of the
diffuse and decentralized Black Lives Matter movement. Lewis, however,
said he believed in symbols, and that one leader should “emerge as a
symbol of the struggle.”
While it would be a mistake to reduce the Black Lives Matter movement to a mere facsimile of the Black Power movement that grew out of the Civil Rights Era, there are similarities between the movements that are difficult to ignore. Moreover, BLM did not emerge from a historical void or somehow as a response to an unprecedented set of circumstances; rather it is a continuation of the work started by organizations such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panther Party (BPP). By explicitly calling for an end to patterns of racist police brutality, BLM is also continuing the unfinished work of generations of activists like Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Stokely Carmichael, and Huey P. Newton–Men and Women of Color who have bravely spoke truth to power by calling out the racist actions (and strategic inactions) of U.S. law enforcement officials.
For instance, this news documentary, directed by Stanley Nelson, revisits the history of the Black Panther Party, which was founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby G. Seale in October 1966. As Newton articulates in the clip, the BPP formed as a direct response to the problem of police brutality in Oakland, California, and the panther was chosen as a symbol of the organization because “The panther is a fierce animal, but he will not attack until he is backed into a corner; then he will strike out.” Much like the BLM movement of the current era, soon after its formation the BPP found itself at the vanguard of a larger struggle, which sought to redress a wide array of racial injustices. In only a few short years, local BPP chapters opened all over the country.
Just as the killing of Trayvon Martin, Rekia Boyd, Michael Brown, and countless other young Black men and women has served as a catalyst for the BLM movement, the 1965 Watts Rebellion was cited by Newton and Seale as a catalyst for founding the BPP. For BLM, handheld cameras have proven to be a pivotal tool for igniting a public discussion about racism and racist violence, but people forget that the idea of surveilling the police in order to keep them honest actually grew out of the Watts Rebellion. Following the unrest, the Community Alert Patrol formed and began conducting patrols of police in Black communities. Inspired by this tactic, the BPP organized legally armed groups of Black Panthers to patrol police officers in the performance of their duty. With their firearms in hand, Panthers would stand at a distance and observe the officers during traffic stops in Black neighborhoods.
The story of the BPP cannot be written without reference to the efforts of the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover’s leadership. Hoover successfully portrayed the BPP as a bona fide threat to U.S. national security, which was a gratuitous plank of the FBI’s propaganda platform, particularly given the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Given this history, it is perhaps unsurprising that the BLM movement also finds itself maligned by U.S. law enforcement officials, but as with Hoover’s allegations against the BPP, the evidence that BLM members want anything more than justice is sorely lacking.
For more information and resources, check out our Pinterest boards related to the BPP and the BLM movements.
while bernie was mayor of Burlington, he rode snow plows himself to make sure streets were cleared after snowstorms
as mayor he also hired the first female police officer in the country in the 1980s
in the 60′s, sanders was a coordinator for the student nonviolent coordinating committee (SNCC), a college student civil rights group that often worked w/ Martin Luther King, Jr
throughout his career, sanders has passionately defended women’s rights to contraceptives/abortion
sanders wrote a letter to obama calling for complete marriage equality back in 2011 and has extensively supported acts to eliminate job discrimination based on sexual orientation
on the Human Rights Campaign’s Congressional Equality Index, Sanders has a perfect score of 100%; the HRC is the largest LGBT rights/equality groups in the USA
sanders vocally protested going into iraq
the first bill Sanders ever introduced to congress regarded financial compensation for income lost by veterans who had been deployed in the Persian Gulf War
without congress, bernie wrote a letter to obama asking POTUS to close loopholes that corporations/the wealthy use to evade taxpaying
sanders isn’t just a vocal defender of the middle-class, but a member of it; with among the most modest salaries in the senate, he’s the only current candidate who isn’t too wealthy/privileged to be out of touch w/ the needs of the american middle class
some quotes by sanders about college education/tuition: “If we were to reduce the President’s proposed increase in military spending by less than half, and instead invest that money in educational opportunities for today’s college students, we could cut tuition by 55%” , “We must end the practice of the government making billions in profits from student loans taken out by low and moderate income families”
young civil rights workers arrived in Ruleville in the Mississippi
Delta in 1962, they were looking for local black people who could
help convince their neighbors to register to vote. They found
forty-four-year-old Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamer was attracted to the
young people, especially those in the Student Nonviolent
Coordinating Committee (SNCC). “They treated us like
we were special and we loved ‘em,” she said. “We trusted
‘em.” For the rest of her life, Hamer would work in the Civil
Rights Movement on both the state and national stage. She felt
rights was her calling, her mission.
After the meeting at
Williams Chapel Church in Ruleville, seventeen people went with Hamer to
the Sunflower County seat of Indianola to try to register on August 31,
1962. The prospective voters felt threatened by men with rifles in the
back of their pickup trucks who circled the courthouse ominously. At
that time, Mississippi required people registering to vote to interpret a
randomly selected section of the state constitution, a complicated
document. Prospective black voters inevitably failed the test, whether
they were well-educated or not. Even after several years of effort in
Sunflower County, by the spring of 1965 only 155 black people — 1.1
percent of those eligible to vote — were registered, while more than
7,000 whites were registered, or 80 percent of those eligible to vote.
No one was registered that August day. Hamer, who had a booming voice,
sang to try to calm people’s fears on the bus taking them home.
Years later, Harry Belafonte, who often appeared with Hamer at movement
events, said her songs “from the heart would bring another dimension”
to the action when people got down to whatever business was at hand. Before
or after her speeches, Hamer would inspire her listeners by singing a
song that soon became associated with her, “This Little Light of
The day of the registration attempt in Indianola, Hamer lost her job
on the W. D. Marlow plantation where she had worked as a timekeeper for
eighteen years, and where her husband, Perry Hamer, worked as a tractor
driver. The owner objected to her attempt to register to vote. Later that
fall Hamer attended a SNCC leadership training conference at Fisk University.
She then returned to the Indianola courthouse until officials finally
allowed her to register to vote that December.
Hamer, born Fannie Lou Townsend on October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County,
Mississippi, was the youngest of twenty children. Her parents, Ella and
James Lee Townsend, were sharecroppers, which meant that at harvest time,
they turned their crops over to the landowner and were paid a small amount
for their share. They moved to Sunflower County to work on the E. W. Brandon
plantation when Hamer was two years old. By age six, she was weeding the
cotton field, then helping to pick the cotton. Hamer went to school through
the eighth grade, which was more schooling than many black children had
at the time.
In 1944, Fannie Lou Townsend married Perry Hamer, whom everyone called
“Pap,” and they lived on the Marlow plantation outside Ruleville.
When Marlow learned that Mrs. Hamer could read and write, he made her
the record keeper for the plantation. The Hamers had no children of their
own, but they raised two girls from impoverished homes, and later adopted
the two daughters of one of them who died. Hamer was respected in both
the white and black communities as someone who could help settle disputes
and always had a moment to hear a neighbor’s problem. She had deep
religious beliefs; she had been brought up in the church and relied on
In the fall of 1962, Robert Moses of SNCC invited
Hamer to a convention at Fisk University, thus launching her career as a
leader of the civil rights movement. In 1963, she again tried to
register to vote, this time succeeding. In June of the same year, Hamer
and several other black women were arrested for sitting in a
“whites-only” bus station restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina.
That night, the group was brutally beaten at the jailhouse. Hamer
suffered a blood clot in her eye, kidney damage, and permanent injury
to her leg. After three days in jail she was released, immediately
resuming her work as an activist with renewed commitment to the
For the next several years, Fannie Lou Hamer
worked to secure the social, economic, and political rights of the
community. Hamer became a SNCC field secretary in early 1963. A few
she attended a citizenship training school sponsored by the
Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Charleston, South Carolina, to
to teach her neighbors about the benefits of citizenship. On the
home in June, the bus made a rest stop in Winona, Mississippi.
Ponder of SCLC, who was traveling with the group, said that
three or four
of the people went in to the café to be served. They sat at the
counter but the waitress refused to serve them. A highway
from the rear of the café and tapped some of the group on the
with his billy club, saying, “Y’all get out — get out.”
Ponder reminded him it was against the law to refuse them
he said, “Ain’t no damn law, you just get out of here!”
On the way back to the bus, Ponder wrote down the license number of the
patrol car and at that, the patrolman and police chief came out of the
restaurant and put the cafe group under arrest. As that was occurring,
Hamer got off the bus to see whether the rest of the group should go on
to Greenwood. The police chief arrested her as well. Later the police
had two other black prisoners beat Hamer and 15-year-old June Johnson,
who would not say “sir” to the men. In a trial later that
year, an all-white jury acquitted the law officers. Hamer recalled, “After
I got out of jail, half dead, I found that Medgar Evers had been shot
down in his own yard.”
In Freedom Summer 1964, more young people, white and black, came to Mississippi
to join the voting rights effort. Civil rights workers decided to dramatize
the discrimination blacks faced in Mississippi by challenging
the all-white delegation that would be selected to represent the state
at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Black people from around the state tried to participate in selecting delegates
who would nominate the party’s presidential candidate, but were
In 1964, she co-founded the Mississippi
Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and spoke at the Democratic National
Convention at which
she called for mandatory integrated state delegations.They held their
own meetings and selected sixty-eight people
to represent them at the convention. Aaron Henry, a druggist
and longtime NAACP activist, headed the delegation, and Hamer
delegation’s vice chair.
At a national convention, the party’s credentials committee considers
any challenges and decides who will be seated to vote on the nominees.
The MFDP lined up its witnesses, including the Reverend Martin Luther
King Jr., the national Civil Rights Movement leader. Hamer gave the most
dramatic presentation. Telling about being jailed and beaten, she concluded,
“All of this is on account we want to register, to become first-class
citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question
At the zenith of the Civil Rights
Movement, Hamer pioneered numerous political and humanitarian efforts.
In 1964, she announced her
candidacy for the Mississippi House of Representatives but was barred
from the ballot. In response, the MFDP introduced Freedom Ballots that
included all candidates, black and white. Though it was unofficial,
Hamer won the Freedom Ballot.
U.S. Senator Hubert Humphrey, who would become the party’s candidate
for vice president, sought a compromise at the request of President Lyndon
Johnson that would give the MFDP two seats and the promise of reform for
the 1968 convention. That made Hamer angry. “We didn’t come
here for no seats ‘cause all of us is tired,” she said. The
MFDP delegates rejected the compromise, but the convention delegates did
not know that when they voted to accept it, and almost all the white Mississippians
After the fall election, Hamer and two other women, Victoria Gray Adams
of Hattiesburg and Annie Devine of Canton, challenged the seating of the
five-member Mississippi Congressional delegation, Thomas G. Abernethy,
William Colmer, Prentiss Walker, Jamie L. Whitten, and John Bell Williams.
They charged that because blacks were kept from registering, the election
was unfair. Hundreds of their supporters went to Washington when the Congressional
session opened in January 1965, and Hamer, Adams, and Devine were given
guest seats in the House chamber that day. Yet later, on September 17,
1965, the House of Representatives rejected their challenge, 228-143.
Hamer did not relent in her activities. In 1966, she walked with Dr.
King and Andrew Young as they resumed the march against fear that James
Meredith had launched across the state. Meredith, who had been the first
black student at the University of Mississippi, had to halt his march
when he was shot from ambush. Hamer also raised money to support election
activities in two Delta towns. She lost a bid to become a board member
for the Sunflower County anti-poverty agency in 1967 because she questioned
their authority and the true value of the agency’s programs to poor
people. Local whites had united behind her opponent, a black man.
In 1968 the Democratic Party, which by then required its state parties
to integrate, seated Hamer as a delegate at its presidential nominating
convention in Chicago. Anti-Vietnam War violence in the streets overshadowed
the seating of the integrated Mississippi delegation, but Hamer spoke
from the podium on behalf of a challenge to the Alabama party. In 1968, Hamer
became a member of Mississippi’s first integrated delegation.
That year she started what she called a Pig Bank with the help
National Council of Negro Women to help people in her community
their diets. Hamer bought thirty-five gilts (females) and five
and the pregnant gilts were loaned to local families. They could
the piglets that were produced and return mama pig to the bank.
hundred families benefited from this program. The following year
established Freedom Farm with a similar goal of providing food
economic independence to local people. She remained active in
efforts such as Head Start because she saw the link between
jobs, and political influence. She also founded “Head Start in
the Delta” and acquired federal funding for housing projects.
1970 Hamer filed a lawsuit charging that Sunflower County schools
were not properly desegregating. The following year, she joined
activists in founding the National Women’s Political Caucus.
She helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971, speaking
for inclusion of racial issues in the feminist agenda.
said that women of all different colors should join to form a powerful
voting majority in the country. “A white mother is no different
from a black mother. The only thing is they haven’t had as many
problems. But we cry the same tears.”
Hamer ran for the Mississippi Senate in 1971 against the incumbent, Robert
Crook. She campaigned with Carver Randle, an NAACP leader in Indianola
who was running for the state House of Representatives. The pair ran on
a platform urging that state and local governments hire more minorities
for jobs previously held by whites, and to appoint more minorities to
government positions. Randle said, “I was impressed with her openness
and frankness no matter who was in attendance.” He said Hamer also
felt that educated people in the black community “were much better
equipped to do what she was doing, yet they didn’t have the fortitude
to do it.” Hamer lost the election, 11,770 votes to 7,201.
Ill health filled Hamer’s last years. She had had polio as a child
and had been sterilized without her knowledge while hospitalized in 1961.
After a lengthy hospitalization for nervous exhaustion in January 1972,
she managed to travel that summer to the Democratic National Convention
in Miami where she seconded the nomination of Texas Lieutenant Governor
Frances “Sissy” Farenthold for vice president. She was hospitalized
again in January 1974 for a nervous breakdown, but a few weeks later reported
that she felt better than ever. That June a group from Madison, Wisconsin,
that had worked with her on Freedom Farm came to Ruleville and found her
“in the worst health ever, heavily medicated for pain and dependent
on Pap and a neighbor” to keep the household going. In the spring
of 1976 she had breast cancer surgery.
These ailments took their toll and she died March 14, 1977, of heart
failure brought on by cancer, diabetes, and hypertension. Hundreds of
people attended her funeral six days later in Ruleville where Andrew Young,
then the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, gave her eulogy, saying,
“None of us would be where we are now had she not been there then.”
Hamer felt forgotten near the end of her life, which came during an ebb
in national interest in the Civil Rights Movement. Years later, however,
at least two universities — Jackson State University in Mississippi
and California State University, Northridge — named academic institutes
in her honor, and in 1993 she was inducted into the National Women’s
Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. The Ruleville post office carries
her name today, as do a community center, a memorial park, a youth activities
center, and the street on which she lived. Fannie Lou Hamer is remembered.
on her headstone in her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, are her
famous words: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
As a student at Southern University in Louisiana, Hubert Gerold Brown, known as H. Rap Brown (b. 1943), joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became its national chairman. Brown is shown standing in front of New York’s SNCC headquarters. In 1968 he left the SNCC to join the Black Panther Party and became its justice minister. Imprisoned in Attica (1971–1976) for a shootout in a New York bar, he converted to Islam. He took the name Jamil Abdullah al-Amin and became a spiritual leader and community activist in Atlanta. He is currently serving a life sentence after being convicted of killing a policeman. [source]
Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi sharecropper, changed this nation’s perspective on democracy. She worked for political, social and economic equality for herself and all African Americans. She fought to integrate the national Democratic Party, and became one of the first black delegates to a presidential convention.
Fannie Lou Townsend was born in Montgomery County, Mississippi, in 1917, the youngest of 20 children. By the age of six she was working in the cotton fields. She became known in the civil rights movement as a captivating preacher and singer, inspiring others with her moral and physical courage.
In 1962, the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee (SNCC) came to Hamer’s town and encouraged blacks to register as voters. Hamer volunteered, even though she had not previously known that it was a Constitutional Right for blacks to vote. After registering herself and working with SNCC, she lost her job, received death threats, and was severely beaten by the police in an effort to intimidate her. Hamer helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in 1964 because blacks were not allowed in the all-white regular party delegation. Although Lyndon Johnson refused to seat the MFDP, the Democrats agreed that in the future no delegation would be seated from a state where anyone was illegally denied the right to vote.
Hamer also worked towards achieving financial independence for blacks. In 1969, she helped to start Freedom Farms Corporation, which lent land to blacks until they had enough money to buy it. She worked with the National Council of Negro Women, organized food co-operatives, and helped convene the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1970.
Though Hamer wanted children, a white doctor had sterilized her without permission, so she adopted daughters instead. In her last years, she received many honors and awards. Engraved on her headstone in her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, are her famous words: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Fannie Lou Hamer was an American voting rights activist, civil rights leader, and philanthropist. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi’s Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and served as vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Hamer was born in 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi. Two years later, her family moved to Sunflower County, Mississippi to work as sharecroppers and Hamer picked cotton with her family from the age of 6. Hamer was educated in a one-room schoolhouse on the plantation, until she had to drop out at the age of 12 to work full time. By the age of 13, she could pick 200-300 pounds of cotton daily. In 1944, the plantation owner discovered that Hamer was literate and gave her the responsibility of becoming the time and record keeper. A year later, she married Perry “Pap” Hamer and together they worked as sharecroppers in Ruleville, Mississippi for the next 18 years. The couple adopted children, as Hamer had been given a hysterectomy without her consent while having surgery to remove a tumour. The procedure was so common it was known as a “Mississippi appendectomy.” This incident was the first of many that would ignite a passion for civil rights in Hamer.
During the 1950’s, Hamer attended a few annual conferences of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) in the all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi. The RCNL was led by Dr. T. R. M. Howard, a civil rights leader and wealthy black entrepreneur and the annual RCNL conferences featured entertainers such as Mahalia Jackson, speakers such as Thurgood Marshall and Rep. Charles Diggs of Michigan, and panels on voting rights and other civil rights issues. It wasn’t until 1962 that Hamer became truly involved in the fight for civil rights. She attended a voting rights meeting organised by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Hamer was one of the few who decided to register to vote, and she and 17 others went to the county courthouse in Indianola to register. The group encountered opposition from local, and state law enforcement along the way and all by Hamer and one man were allowed to fill out the application and literacy test. Both failed. On the drive home, their bus was stopped and the driver arrested. The passengers were held on the bus, and Hamer began to sing songs like “This Little Light of Mine” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” an act which became one of the defining features of her activism. After the passengers were able to pay the driver’s fine, the bus returned to Ruleville. W.D Marlow, the plantation owner Hamer worked for had heard of her application to vote, and demanded she withdraw her application. She refused, stating “I didn’t go down there to register for you. I went down to register for myself.” She was ordered off his land, and said that “"They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people.“
Hamer was forced to relocate temporarily to Tallahatchie County in the wake of her attempt to register to vote. Her actions drew the attention of local organisers, and the SNCC field secretary Bob Moses marked her out as a potential leader. In 1962, Hamer attended a SNCC conference at Fisk University in Nashville and became a community organiser for the SNCC. The Hamer family’s possessions and car were taken from them by Marlow and they were forced to survive on Hamer’s $10 a week from SNCC. In 1963, Hamer was travelling home from Charleston, South Carolina with other activists who had attended a literacy workshop. When the group stopped in Winona, Mississippi, they sat at the bus station’s whites-only lunch counter in an act of protest. The group were swiftly arrested on false charges and jailed. Hamer and her fellow activists were beaten by the police, and it took more than a month for her to recover after her release and she suffered permanent damage to her eyes, legs, and kidneys as a result. Undeterred, Hamer continued to organise voter registration drives, including the “Freedom Ballot Campaign” in 1963, and the “Freedom Summer” initiative a year later. She also became involved in relief work, distributing donated food and clothes to the poorest Delta residents.
In 1964, Hamer was elected Vice-Chair of the newly founded Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which was created as an alternative to the Mississippi Democratic Party who held segregationist views. The MFDP drew attention to the plight of African Americans in Mississippi, and Hamer, singing her signature hymns brought a lot of media attention to their cause. She ran for Congress at the MFDP candidate that year, challenging veteran ongressman Jamie Whitten in the Democratic primary. Although unsuccessful, Hamer’s run set a precedent by challenging the established Mississippi congressional delegation, and set the stage for the MFDP to have a national presence. Hamer and the rest of the MFDP officers were invited to speak at the televised Convention’s Credentials Committee that year. Her tearful speech calling for the MFDP to be seated as Mississippi representatives drew on her experiences in attempting to register to vote. She stated that “All of this is on account we want to register [sic], 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?” President Lyndon B. Johnson, fearful of the effect that Hamer’s speech would have on the nation called an emergency press conference to divert attention from Hamer, who he had earlier referred to as “that illiterate woman”. Hamer’s speech ran unedited in a later broadcast. The MFDP were offered two non-voting seats, on the condition that Hamer was not to take one of them. They refused.
Hamer became an in demand public speaker, and continued to work on voting rights throughout the 1960’s. After the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, Hamer led lawsuits that led to the first elections in which large numbers of black residents of Sunflower County were registered and eligible to vote in 1967. She also worked on the grassroots-level Head Start programs, the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Sunflower County, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign and organised plaintiffs for a school desegregation lawsuit. In 1971, she helped to establish the National Women’s Political Caucus. In her later life, Hamer was limited by her poor health brought on by a lifetime living in poverty, the beating she sustained in 1963 and a 1976 cancer diagnosis. She died in 1977 and hundreds attended her funeral, including most of the leaders of the civil rights movement like Ella Baker and Dorothy Height. Hamer is an inductee of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, a recipient of the National Sojourner Truth Meritorious Service Award and the Paul Robeson Award from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. Her contribution to civil rights is celebrated with the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden in Ruleville, Mississippi.
Julian Bond was born on January 14, 1940. He played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement by leading nonviolent protests to help integrate public spaces in Atlanta. He was also a founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Bond went on to serve the state legislature for 20 years.
He’s pictured here being interview by press in 1966.
“It must be offered that white people who desire change in this country should go where that problem (racism) is most manifest. The problem is not in the black community. The white people should go into white communities where the whites have created power for the express purpose of denying blacks human dignity and self-determination. Whites who come into the black community with ideas of changeseem to want to absolve the power structure of its responsibility for what it is doing, and saying that change can only come through black unity, which is the worst kind of paternalism. This is not to say that whites have not had an important role in the movement. In the case of Mississippi, their role was very key in that they helped give blacks the right to organize, but that role is now over, and it should be.”
The U.S. Government has NEVER Favored Independent Black Political Thought
FBI discusses moves “to increase the friction between SNCC and BPP.” (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Black Panther Party)
FBI considers “various counterintelligence techniques” including a suggestion to “convey the impression that Carmichael is a CIA agent.” (Stokely Carmichael)
Authorization for a publicly-operated telephone wiretap to spy on the phone calls of Bayard Rustin.
A copy of a speech that Coretta Scott King was to deliver is forwarded to the FBI BEFORE HER SPEAKING ENGAGEMENT even occurs because the informant was “of the opinion that it would be an attempt to tie the anti-vietnam war movement to the civil rights movement.”
Report of a disturbance by a group called “Five Percenters” who reportedly “had two policemen pinned up in Hotel Theresa, One Hundred Twentyfifth St. and Seventh Ave, NYC, and were threatening them.”
Notice the diversity of Black political leaders under surveillance (Stokely Carmichael; Bayard Rustin; Coretta Scott King)
Notice the varying Black political ideologies considered a “threat” (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; the Black Panther Party; the NAACP; the Nation of Gods and Earths)
Notice that none of the actions cited in the files were illegal (with perhaps the exception of #5)
56 years ago today, four college students sat down at the Woolworth’s
lunch counter in Greensboro, N.C. in protest to segregation.
Ezell A. Blair, Jr. (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond
inspired student civil rights activists around the country. Sit-ins
continued in many cities and towns and, by April 1960, the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was established and would soon
become one of the leading organizations of the Civil Rights Movement.
More on Activism in the US in our digital exhibit, curated by the University of Georgia Libraries.
Image from the collection of Georgia State University Libraries Special Collections via Digital Library of Georgia.
‘Black Liberation’, James Forman, Students for a Democratic Society, United States, 1968. Text of a speech given at the Western Regional Youth Conference in Los Angeles, 1967. James Forman was a leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the height of the Southern Civil Rights Movement, and later the Black Workers Congress in the early 1970s.