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Fannie Lou Hamer Electrifies the Democratic Convention

Fannie Lou Hamer grew up as one of 20 children born to sharecroppers in rural Mississippi. She and her husband were eking out a living as sharecroppers near Ruleville when, at the age of 44, she decided to attend a mass meeting about voting in 1962. Hamer quickly became a leader of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee's voting rights campaign in Mississippi, helping others navigate the difficult barriers that kept African Americans from voting and leading the charge to integrate Mississippi's representation within the Democratic Party. Representing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, Hamer electrified the crowd and a nationally televised audience with her story of the brutality she endured for helping others register to vote.

…[On] June the 9th, 1963, I had attended a voter registration workshop; was returning back to Mississippi. Ten of us was traveling by the Continental Trailway bus. When we got to Winona, Mississippi, which is Montgomery County, four of the people got off to use the washroom, and two of the people - to use the restaurant - two of the people wanted to use the washroom. The four people that had gone in to use the restaurant was ordered out… I stepped off of the bus to see what was happening and somebody screamed from the car that the five workers was in and said, "Get that one there." When I went to get in the car, when the man told me I was under arrest, he kicked me.

I was carried to the county jail and put in the booking room. They left some of the people in the booking room and began to place us in cells. I was placed in a cell with a young woman called Miss Ivesta Simpson. After I was placed in the cell I began to hear sounds of licks and screams, I could hear the sounds of licks and horrible screams…And it wasn't too long before three white men came to my cell. One of these men was a State Highway Patrolman and he asked me where I was from. I told him Ruleville and he said, "We are going to check this."

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.

After the first Negro had beat until he was exhausted, the State Highway Patrolman ordered the second Negro to take the blackjack.

The second Negro began to beat and I began to work my feet, and the State Highway Patrolman ordered the first Negro who had beat me to sit on my feet - to keep me from working my feet. I began to scream and one white man got up and began to beat me in my head and tell me to hush.

One white man - my dress had worked up high - he walked over and pulled my dress - I pulled my dress down and he pulled my dress back up.

I was in jail when Medgar Evers was murdered.

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?

*Medgar Evers was a vocal N.A.A.C.P. field secretary in his home state of Mississippi. He was assassinated in his driveway on June 12, 1963, the night President Kennedy announced his support for a national civil rights bill.

Source | Fannie Lou Hamer, "Testimony Before the Credentials Committee, Democratic National Convention," (Atlantic City, New Jersey: 22 August 1964), full text and audio available from American Radio Works, Say It Plain: A Century of Great African American Speeches, http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/sayitplain/flhamer.html.  
Creator | Fannie Lou Hamer
Item Type | Speech
Cite This document | Fannie Lou Hamer, “Fannie Lou Hamer Electrifies the Democratic Convention,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed December 7, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1370.

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