The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer

The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer: To Tell It Like It Is

Maegan Parker Brooks
Davis W. Houck
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  • Book Info
    The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer
    Book Description:

    Most people who have heard of Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) are aware of the impassioned testimony that this Mississippi sharecropper and civil rights activist delivered at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Far fewer people are familiar with the speeches Hamer delivered at the 1968 and 1972 conventions, to say nothing of addresses she gave closer to home, or with Malcolm X in Harlem, or even at the founding of the National Women's Political Caucus. Until now, dozens of Hamer's speeches have been buried in archival collections and in the basements of movement veterans. After years of combing library archives, government documents, and private collections across the country, Maegan Parker Brooks and Davis W. Houck have selected twenty-one of Hamer's most important speeches and testimonies.As the first volume to exclusively showcase Hamer's talents as an orator, this book includes speeches from the better part of her fifteen-year activist career delivered in response to occasions as distinct as a Vietnam War Moratorium Rally in Berkeley, California, and a summons to testify in a Mississippi courtroom.Brooks and Houck have coupled these heretofore unpublished speeches and testimonies with brief critical descriptions that place Hamer's words in context. The editors also include the last full-length oral history interview Hamer granted, a recent oral history interview Brooks conducted with Hamer's daughter, as well as a bibliography of additional primary and secondary sources. The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer demonstrates that there is still much to learn about and from this valiant black freedom movement activist.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-823-0
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. INTRODUCTION Showing Love and Telling It Like It Is The Rhetorical Practices of Fannie Lou Hamer
    (pp. xi-2)

    “The education has got to be changed in these institutions,” Fannie Lou Hamer boldly declared while addressing students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Invited to speak at the campus’s Great Hall in January 1971, Hamer wasted no time before indicting those in power. “We got to tell the truth even in these institutions because there’s one thing about it, folks—you elderly folks my age is almost hopeless,” she admitted, but “you got to know now that the children know what’s going on and you not going to be able to fool them any longer.” If the near-decade Hamer...

  4. “I Don’t Mind My Light Shining,” Speech Delivered at a Freedom Vote Rally in Greenwood, Mississippi, Fall 1963
    (pp. 3-6)

    From the fourth chapter of St. Luke beginning at the eighteenth verse: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captive, and recover the sight to the blind, to set at liberty to them who are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

    Now the time have come that was Christ’s purpose on earth. And we only been getting by, by paying our way to Hell. But the time is out. When Simon...

  5. Federal Trial Testimony, Oxford, Mississippi, December 2, 1963
    (pp. 7-35)

    Would you state your full name.

    Flh. Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer.

    Q. Where do you live?

    Flh. 626 East Lafayette Street, Ruleville, Mississippi.

    Q. What does your family consist of, Mrs. Hamer?

    Flh. Four.

    Q. Who are the members of your family?

    Flh. My husband and two daughters.

    Q. Where were you born?

    Flh. I was born in Webster County, Tomnolen, Mississippi.

    Q. Where have you lived?

    Flh. I’ve been in Sunflower County, not out of Sunflower County a year for forty-four years.

    Q. Lived all your life in Mississippi.

    Flh. That’s right.

    Q. Now, are you associated at the...

  6. Testimony Before a Select Panel on Mississippi and Civil Rights, Washington, D.C., June 8, 1964
    (pp. 36-41)

    Mr. Freedman: Mrs. Hamer, what is it that brings you before the panel today?

    Mrs. Hamer: To tell about some of the brutality in the state of Mississippi. I will begin from the first beginning—August thirty-first in 1962. I traveled twenty-six miles to the county courthouse to try to register to become a first-class citizen. I was fired the thirty-first of August in 1962, from a plantation where I had worked as a timekeeper and a sharecropper for eighteen years. My husband had worked there for thirty years.

    I was met by my children when I returned from the...

  7. Testimony Before the Credentials Committee at the Democratic National Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, August 22, 1964
    (pp. 42-45)

    Mr. Chairman, and to the Credentials Committee, my name is Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, and I live at 626 East Lafayette Street, Ruleville, Mississippi, Sunflower County, the home of Senator James O. Eastland and Senator Stennis.

    It was the thirty-first of August in 1962, that eighteen of us traveled twenty-six miles to the county courthouse in Indianola to try to register to become first-class citizens. We was met in Indianola by policemen, highway patrolmen, and they only allowed two of us in to take the literacy test at the time. After we had taken this test and started back to...

  8. “We’re On Our Way,” Speech Delivered at a Mass Meeting in Indianola, Mississippi, September 1964
    (pp. 46-56)

    Thank you very much. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am very glad to be here for the first time in Indianola, Mississippi, to speak in a mass meeting. And you just don’t have a idea what a pleasure this is to me. Because we been working across—for the past two years—and Mr. Charles McLaurin worked very hard trying to get a place here during the time that I was campaigning and he failed to get a place. But it’s good to see people waking up to the fact—something that you should’ve been awaken years ago.


  9. “I’m Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired,” Speech Delivered with Malcolm X at the Williams Institutional CME Church, Harlem, New York, December 20, 1964
    (pp. 57-64)

    My name is Fannie Lou Hamer and I exist at 626 East Lafayette Street in Ruleville, Mississippi. The reason I say “exist” [is] because we’re excluded from everything in Mississippi but the tombs and the graves. That’s why it is called that instead of the “land of thefreeand the home of thebrave,” it’s called in Mississippi “the land of thetreeand the home of thegrave.”

    It was the thirty-first of August of 1962, that eighteen of us traveled twenty-six miles to the county courthouse in Indianola, Mississippi, to try to register to become first-class citizens....

  10. Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Elections of the Committee on House Administration, House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., September 13, 1965
    (pp. 65-69)

    Mrs. Hamer: Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, my name is Fannie Lou Hamer, of Mississippi. I attempted to run for Congress as an interested candidate in the Second Congressional District of Mississippi. I too got the same treatment that Mrs. Gray and Mrs. Devine got, and some of the difference that I received in the Second Congressional District, whereas one man at Nesbit, Mississippi, went to get his name certified as a registrar, Mr. Williams, he was harassed and was told we wasn’t doing anything but stirring up trouble.

    In another case, Miss Penny Patch was working in...

  11. “The Only Thing We Can Do Is to Work Together,” Speech Delivered at a Chapter Meeting of the National Council of Negro Women in Mississippi, 1967
    (pp. 70-73)

    Thank you very much, Annie Devine. That was quite an introduction. I don’t know whether I can live up to it or not, but I would just like to say that I am very happy to be here. I started early today and I had to go back home and we finally made it about four-thirty this afternoon. I’m glad to see white and Negro working together for the cause of human dignity. I won’t have too much to say tonight, but I’ve been greatly shocked for the past few years and for the past seven or eight months at...

  12. “What Have We to Hail?,” Speech Delivered in Kentucky, Summer 1968
    (pp. 74-83)

    Thank you very kindly. I don’t know whether I’ll get this type of rap when I’m finished tonight or not because I’ll be talking, I think, somewhat about “Is politics a hindrance to racial progress?” and then “Do black people have a future in America?” I think we have to start somewhat at its beginning of how I become involved in human rights. And we have to think and draw the line as our goal in talking about the future of black people in this country and how it relates to politics.

    In 1962, in Mississippi—the Delta area—I’m...

  13. Speech on Behalf of the Alabama Delegation at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Chicago, Illinois, August 27, 1968
    (pp. 84-85)

    Mr. Chairman, Governor Hughes, I am here speaking for the national Democratic Party from Alabama. In 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer was on the outside trying to get in. We know the long pattern of discrimination, not only in Mississippi, but also in the state of Alabama. We also know that Governor Wallace is running today for president of the United States, and he is only pledged as a Democrat in the state of Alabama.

    It is time for us to wake up, America. We always talk about a minority, but we don’t even say minority when you carry our sons...

  14. “To Tell It Like It Is,” Speech Delivered at the Holmes County, Mississippi, Freedom Democratic Party Municipal Elections Rally in Lexington, Mississippi, May 8, 1969
    (pp. 86-93)

    Thank you very much, Mr. Guyot. Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I know it’s getting late but, you know, we’ve had quite a bit of very beautiful talks tonight, and I want you to know something; honey, don’tnobodyfeel comfortable when I leave the building because I’m going to tell you where it’s at. I don’t want you to start thinking that you’re going to feel comfortable around here with me talking, and I don’t want you to think that I’m going to stop talking about black folks and where we are today because I’m going to tell you...

  15. Testimony Before the Democratic Reform Committee, Jackson, Mississippi, May 22, 1969
    (pp. 94-97)

    I didn’t think that a Democratic convention could be so outrageous until Chicago.

    The people were left out of any real say-so on the crucial issue. The chairmen would ask for “yeas” and “nays” and a few people would say “yea” and the majority would say “nay” and the chairman would say, “Yeas have it.”

    It was just like back in Mississippi. Chicago was so much a part of Mississippi that I could laugh at one minute and cry the next. I told a congressman that I was at the funeral of the Democratic Party; that’s how sick the convention...

  16. “To Make Democracy a Reality,” Speech Delivered at the Vietnam War Moratorium Rally, Berkeley, California, October 15, 1969
    (pp. 98-103)

    I really feel grateful that what has happened here is something I said in front of Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., in 1965. After I had sent President Johnson a telegram telling him to bring the people home from the Dominican Republic and Vietnam—and I said to President Johnson at that time, “If this society of yours is a Great Society, God knows I would hate to live in a bad one.”

    But at that time, at that time, we felt very alone because when we start saying, “The war is wrong in Vietnam,” well, people looked at us...

  17. “America Is a Sick Place, and Man Is on the Critical List,” Speech Delivered at Loop College, Chicago, Illinois, May 27, 1970
    (pp. 104-120)

    Thank you very kindly. I’m happy to be here tonight. One of the funniest things that happened to me today that I guess never happens: I left Mississippi—it was very hot—so I wore a short-sleeved cotton dress. You know, looks kind of thin. So when I got to the airport, didn’t have a sweater, didn’t have a coat but I had this dress in my overnight bag. The only thing I could say is that somebody got to get me a sweater or loan me something to wear tonight. So you can imagine what it was to me,...

  18. “Until I Am Free, You Are Not Free Either,” Speech Delivered at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, January 1971
    (pp. 121-130)

    Thank you very much, Martha Smith. I don’t know whether I’ll have to holler or not because I am just used to talking loud. So, I don’t have too much trouble having to carry my voice. But with this kind of introduction—Martha Smith is a very good friend of mine. I remember going on educational television with Martha here about two years ago here at the university in Wisconsin and honest to God this woman tickled me to death. You know, I had all kinds of trouble, but she just brought all of that out and for a while...

  19. “Is It Too Late?,” Speech Delivered at Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, Mississippi, Summer 1971
    (pp. 131-133)

    I am here tonight to express my views and to attempt to deal with question and the topic of “Is It Too Late?”

    First, as a black woman, fifty-four years of age, a mother and a wife, I know some of the suffering and the pain mothers must feel for their children when they have to face a cruel world both at home and abroad.

    In the streets of America, my home and land where my fathers died, land of my family’s pride, I have taken a stand for human rights and civil rights not just for my sake, but...

  20. “Nobody’s Free Until Everybody’s Free,” Speech Delivered at the Founding of the National Women’s Political Caucus, Washington, D.C., July 10, 1971
    (pp. 134-139)

    Thank you very much. It’s a great pleasure for me to be here today for the National Women’s Political Caucus. And listening to different speakers, I’ve thought about if they’ve had problems, then they should be black in Mississippi for a spell.

    Now we’ve had it and we’re not going to stand idly by and let the same thing keep happening in Mississippi that has happened in the past. That’s one of the reasons for the organizing of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in the state of Mississippi. And when one of the speakers talked about how the white male...

  21. “If the Name of the Game Is Survive, Survive,” Speech Delivered in Ruleville, Mississippi, September 27, 1971
    (pp. 140-144)

    I expect a drastic change to occur in this country, particularly in the Deep South, as blacks become more aware of the importance of entering into politics and developing the skills necessary to find the solutions to the problems of “mass confusion.” I believe there will be more interest generated for politics at the grassroot level by the everyday kind of people who lost confidence in thedemocratic processbecause of corrupt politicians and their desires to perpetuate themselves in office while causing the “masses to suffer.”

    I would not advise blacks in the South to migrate to the North...

  22. Seconding Speech for the Nomination of Frances Farenthold, Delivered at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida, July 13, 1972
    (pp. 145-146)

    Mr. Lopez: Fellow Democrats, amigos, my name is David Lopez, a Chicano, a union member, and a delegate from the state of Texas, a state whose citizens believe in social justice and have learned to make their tacos with cauliflower instead of lettuce.

    A great American wanted to precede me to this microphone tonight to second the nomination of Sissy Farenthold, but though her heart is strong, her body has temporarily given her a little trouble. I refer to that courageous Democrat from the state of Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer.

    Let me read to you what she wanted to say....

  23. Interview with Fannie Lou Hamer by Dr. Neil McMillen, April 14, 1972, and January 25, 1973, Ruleville, Mississippi; Oral History Program, University of Southern Mississippi
    (pp. 147-180)

    McMILLEN: Mrs. Hamer, why don’t we begin with something about your childhood life? Where were you born and what was your life like when you were a little girl?

    HAMER: Well, I was born fifty-four years ago on a plantation in the hills, the kind of place that’s something similar to Hattiesburg, the place where you are from. In fact I was the last child of twenty children, six girls and fourteen boys. I’m the twentieth child of a very poor family, sharecroppers [who] never had anything—family life, didn’t hardly have food to eat. My family moved to Sunflower...

  24. “We Haven’t Arrived Yet,” Presentation and Responses to Questions at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, January 29, 1976
    (pp. 181-193)

    Thank you very much. I am glad to be here. As I look out into the audience and look at Sarah and Jeff and I saw Debra’s mother—Mrs. Sweet—a lot of people, yeah, I see you all now again. A lot of my friends here that’s done a tremendous job in helping us in the state of Mississippi.

    I want you to become aware—even though we’ve received, you know, quite a bit of assistance from the organization Measure for Measure and this concerned people from Madison, Wisconsin—we haven’t arrived. You know, you here and we there...

  25. APPENDIX Interview with Vergie Hamer Faulkner by Maegan Parker Brooks, July 14 and July 17, 2009
    (pp. 194-208)
  26. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 209-211)
  27. Suggestions for Further Reading and Research
    (pp. 212-216)
  28. Index
    (pp. 217-221)