Today in Black History

“We have a job as Black women to support whatever is right and to bring in justice where we’ve had so much injustice.” – Fannie Lou Hamer

HERStory Matters: Civil and voting rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer was born on October 6, 1917.

Born Fannie Lou Townsend in rural Montgomery County, MS, she was the youngest of 20 children born to Jim and Ella Townsend, poor sharecroppers, who found it hard to provide proper food and clothing for their children. When she was six years old she joined her family in the fields picking cotton and dropped out of school by the time she was in the third grade.

When she was 16, she caught polio which made it hard for her to work in the fields. When Marlow (her boss) found out that Fannie Lou could read and write, he made her the time and record keeper for the plantation in addition to cooking and cleaning his house.

In 1945, at the age of 27, Fannie Lou married Perry “Pap” Hamer who was a tractor driver on the Marlow farm. They had no children of their own. Fannie Lou went to the hospital to find out why she could not conceive and was told she had a tumor. She wasn’t told that they performed a hysterectomy on her that day but was later told by the doctor that it was done out of kindness. Fannie Lou was outraged. As a result, the Hamers adopted 4 children, 2 girls and 2 boys who were all from very poor families.

On one fateful day, while walking by the Ruleville, Mississippi town center, Fannie Lou saw a sign posted by the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and decided to investigate. She was 37 years old at the time and was ripe for expressing her outrage over the conditions she and other blacks were subjected to in this rural community. She joined the SNCC and worked as a field worker on the voter registration committee. The committee worked on preparing blacks to read and write so they could register to vote.

Seventeen people tried to register and were turned back one day. When Marlow was informed of the drive to register, he threatened Fannie Lou and her family with expulsion from the plantation on which they worked. She left that night and stayed with friends but it wasn’t long before her location was discovered and she and her friends were shot at that night by the KKK.

She strongly believed that blacks could change their conditions, both political and economic, if they could vote for the candidates who would best serve them. Fannie Lou studied with the Southern Free School along with other potential voters and passed the voter registration test on her third try.

In 1963, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was formed because no help from the Federal Government regarding the right to vote was apparently coming. The party registered
60,000 new black voters across the state of Mississippi. Delegates from the party were sent to the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey where they challenged the seating of the Mississippi delegation.

Fannie Lou took the opportunity to describe to the convention, and to the world, the horrific way she was treated after they left the voter registration workshop in Charleston, South Carolina in June 1963. She said that on the way home, they were hungry and wanted to stop at a Trailways bus terminal in Winona, Mississippi for food. Fannie Lou decided to stay on the bus while the others went into the terminal. They were not served but were arrested. She was also arrested. She was taken out of her jail cell and taken to another cell and there, under the orders of a State Highway Patrol officer, was battered by two Negro prisoners with a police blackjack. The first prisoner beat her until he was exhausted. The law enforcement officer then ordered the second prisoner to beat her. It was three days before members of SNCC were allowed to take her to the hospital.

Fannie Lou told the convention that as a result of this beating, she suffered permanent kidney damage, a blood clot in the artery of her left eye, and a limp when she walked. Her riveting testimony to the convention, which was interrupted by a hastily called speech by President Johnson, informed the country about the treatment blacks were receiving at the hands of whites in the state of Mississippi and the rest of the south.

Fannie Lou’s involvement widened as she ran for Congress in the Mississippi state Democratic primary in 1964. She was unsuccessful in that run but she went on to appear at rallies and visit colleges and universities around the country to speak to students. She led the cotton pickers resistance movement in 1965 and was instrumental in helping to bring a Head Start program to her hometown of Ruleville, MS. Mrs. Hamer was also famous for her rich singing voice which she used often to soothe tensions and to fortify herself spiritually. She sang “This Little Light of Mine” and other spirituals to calm others during marches and critical events.

Fannie Lou was a Democratic National Committee Representative from 1968-1971. She ran for the Mississippi State Senate in 1971 and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1972.

In 1972, a unanimous resolution praising Fannie Lou’s statewide and national contribution to civil rights was passed by the Mississippi House of Representatives. Other awards came her way as the courageous work she undertook was recognized. She received honorary PhDs from several universities including Howard University.

Fannie Lou Hamer died in the hospital at Mound Bayou, Mississippi on March 14, 1977, of heart problems, hypertension, and breast cancer.

Learn more about Fannie Lou Hamer through several books and recordings, available athttp://amzn.to/2dPfWWE. Watch a trailer for an upcoming documentary about her life, “Fannie Lou Hamer’s America,” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4SzxJuCs_nU.

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“The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within: strength, courage, dignity.”

On the 95th anniversary of her birth, here is the heroic, heart-soaring American artist and activist Ruby Dee.

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FBI Targets ‘Black Identity Extremists’

“Black Identity Extremists”. That’s the label an internal report by the FBI’s counter-terrorism division is giving to black activists around the country. The report says they pose a growing threat of premeditated violence against law enforcement in response to police brutality.   Former government officials and legal experts say no such movement exists and this is an attempt by the FBI and the Trump administration to find an equivalent threat to white supremacists and silence black activists.

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February 11th 1990: Mandela released

On this day in 1990, the South African activist and politician Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Mandela had spent twenty-seven years in prison for his role as an anti-apartheid activist at the head of Umkhonto we Sizwe, which translates as Spear of the Nation. The controversial organisation served as the militant armed wing of the African National Congress political party, born out of a frustration among anti-apartheid activists that their non-violence was met with brutality by white authorities against black citizens. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison, during which time he was largely condemned as a terrorist by Western nations. He served most of his twenty-seven years on Robben Island, then Victor Verster Prison near Cape Town, and during his imprisonment his reputation grew as a significant black leader both in South Africa and internationally. Mandela was finally freed after the ban on the ANC was lifted by the apartheid government. Upon his release, Mandela led the ANC in the successful negotiations with President F.W. de Klerk to end apartheid, and was overwhelmingly elected President of South Africa in the first multi-racial elections in 1994, serving until 1999. In 2013, Nelson Mandela died aged 95 and has been mourned around the world as a hero who fought for freedom in South Africa, and as a symbol of resistance for oppressed peoples everywhere.

“Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way.”

Today in Black History for February 7th
  1. 1974 - Grenada achieves independence from Great Britain

  2. 1967 - Chris Rock Born
    Comedian, author, recording artist, actor, and talk show host Chris Rock was born in South Carolina. He will become a critically comedian, hosting his self titled show on HBO. He will also bring to the forefront a boycott of the flag of his birthplace. He will star in and make a few movies of his own.

  3. 1946 - Filibuster in U.S. Senate killed FEPC bill

  4. 1945 - Irwin Molison appointed to Customs Court

  5. 1926 - Black History Week
    Carter G. Woodson creates Negro History Week. In 1976 it became Black History Month.

  6. 1926 - Negro History week originated by Carter G.Woodson is observed for the first time.

  7. 1883 - Eubie Blake born
    Eubie Blake, pianist, born.

  8. 1872 - Alcorn A&M College opened.
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March 21st 1960: Sharpeville massacre

On this day in 1960, police opened fire on peaceful anti-apartheid protestors in the South African township of Sharpeville, killing 69. The over 5,000 strong crowd gathered at Sharpeville police station to protest the discriminatory pass laws, which they claimed were designed to limit their movement in designated white only areas. The laws required all black men and women to carry reference books with their name, tax code and employer details; those found without their book could be arrested and detained. The protest encouraged black South Africans to deliberately leave their pass books at home and present themselves at police stations for arrest, which would crowd prisons and lead to a labour shortage. Despite the protestors’ peaceful and non-violent intentions, police opened fire on the crowd. By the day’s end, 69 people were dead and 180 were wounded. A further 77 were arrested and questioned, though no police officer involved in the massacre was ever convicted as the government relieved all officials of any responsibility. The apartheid government responded to the massacre by banning public meetings, outlawing the African National Congress (ANC) and declaring a state of emergency. The incident convinced anti-apartheid leader and ANC member Nelson Mandela to abandon non-violence and organise paramilitary groups to fight the racist system of apartheid. In 1996, 36 years later, then President Mandela chose Sharpeville as the site at which he signed into law the country’s new post-apartheid constitution.

“People were running in all directions, some couldn’t believe that people had been shot, they thought they had heard firecrackers. Only when they saw the blood and dead people, did they see that the police meant business”
- Tom Petrus, eyewitness to the Sharpeville massacre

Today In History

Malcolm X, Muslim and founder of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), was born in Omaha, NE, on this date in 1925.
“When I am dead, I want you to just watch and see if I’m not right in what I say: that the white man, in his press, is going to identify me with “hate.” He will make use of me dead, as he has made use of me alive, as a convenient symbol of “hatred” – and that will help him to escape facing the truth that all I have been doing is holding up a mirror to reflect, to show, the history of unspeakable crimes that his race has committed against my race.

You watch. I will be labeled as, at best, an “irresponsible” black man. I have always felt about this accusation that the black “leader” whom white men consider to be “responsible” is invariably the black “leader” who never gets any results. You only get action as a black man if you are regarded by the white man as “irresponsible.” In fact, this much I had learned when I was just a little boy. And since I have been some kind of a “leader” of black people here in the racist society of America, I have been more reassured each time the white man resisted me, or attacked me harder – because each time made me more certain that I was on the right track in the American black man’s best interests. The racist white man’s opposition automatically made me know that I did offer the black man something worthwhile.“ - MalcolmX

(photo: Malcolm X)

- CARTER Magazine

Today in Black History for February 21st
  1. 1992 - Eva Jessye choral director for the first Broadway production of Porgy and Bess died in Ann Arbor, Michigan Feb. 21, 1992.

  2. 1987 - Black Rebellion in Tampa, Florida
    African Americans in Tampa, Florida rebelled after an African American man was killed by a white police officer while in custody.

  3. 1965 - Malcolm X (39) assassinated in Audubon Ballroom at a rally of his organization. Three Blacks were later convicted of the crime and sentenced to life imprisonment.

  4. 1961 - Otis Boykin patents the Electrical Resistor
    Otis Boykin, Inventor, patented the Electrical Resistor. U.S. 2,972,726 He is responsible for inventing the electrical device used in all guided missiles and IBM computers, plus 26 other electronic devices including a control unit for an artificial heart stimulator (pacemaker). He began his career as a laboratory assistant testing automatic controls for aircraft. One of Boykin’s first achievements was a type of resistor used in computers, radios, television sets, and a variety of electronic devices. Some of his other inventions included a variable resistor used in guided missiles, small component thick-film resistors for computers. The innovations in resistor design reduced the cost of producing electronic controls for radio and television, for both military and commercial applications. Other inventions by Otis Boykin also included a burglarproof cash register and chemical air filter.

  5. 1940 - John Lewis, founder and chairman of SNCC, born

  6. 1936 - Barbara Jordan born
    2/21/1936: On this day Barbara Jordan, who will be the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives, is born

  7. 1933 - Nina Simone born
    Nina Simone (Eunice Waymon), 66, singer (“I Love You Porgy,” “Trouble in Mind”) born Tryon, NC, Feb 21, 1933.

  8. 1917 - Thelonious Monk, jazz great born
    Thelonious Sphere Monk (1917–82) Jazz musician; born in Rocky Mount, N.C. He was raised in New York

  9. 1895 - North Carolina Legislature adjourns
    North Carolina Legislature, dominated by Black Republicans and white Populists, adjourned for the day to mark the death of Frederick Douglass.