Thursday, October 08, 2009
(Photo: Legendary Organizer Fannie Lou Hamer by Charmain Reading)
Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi Delta civil rights leader, was frequently the target of social injustice. The town where she was once beaten, Winona, is currently the target of a murder investigation by the Friends of Justice.
Friends of Justice launches narrative-based campaigns around unfolding cases where due process has broken down, and empower affected communities to hold public officials accountable for equal justice.
Recently, representatives moved into Winona, Miss. to work on a murder case, asserting that the state’s theory of the murder crime accused of a Winona company's former worker, Curtis Flowers, "... doesn’t fit the actual evidence, and the state manufactured phoney evidence by manipulating, badgering and bribing witnesses."
Details of the Curtis Flowers case are shared at the FOJ website in a story titled, "A brief primer in wrongful conviction: the case of Curtis Flowers."
It wouldn't be the first time the this small town has been accused of participating in social injustices ...
WINONA IS A CITY in Montgomery County, Mississippi, United States. The population was 5,482 at the 2000 census. The name of the city comes from a Sioux word meaning "first-born daughter." It is the county seat of Montgomery County. Winona is known in the local area as "The Crossroads of North Mississippi" due to its central location at the intersection of U.S. Interstate 55 and U.S. Highways 51 and 82.
It is also known in the civil rights arena as the small town where Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was jailed and beaten, after attending a voting rights conference.
The Voter Registration informational meeting had been organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Hamer, a Delta sharecropper, heard from SNCC something she'd never heard before: black people had the right to vote.
Becoming a field organizer for SNCC, Hamer was returning home from a voter training workshop in June 1963, when she and two others were taken to jail in Winona, Mississippi, and mercilessly beaten. Hamer suffered permanent damage to her kidneys. After recovering from her injuries, she traveled across the U.S. telling her story and raising more money for SNCC than any other member.
Mrs. Hamer's telling account before the Credentials Committee of the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey on August 22, 1964 -- of what happened when she was arrested and beaten -- stunned a nation when the speech was heard on national televsion.
(Photo, The Freedom Archives)
Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights leader, was beaten in Winona, Miss.
Hamer was attending the convention with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), formed to expand black voter registration and challenge the legitimacy of the state's all-white Democratic Party.
MFDP members arrived at the 1964 Democratic National Convention intent on unseating the official Mississippi delegation or at least getting seated with them. On August 22, 1964, Hamer appeared before the convention's credentials committee and told her story about trying to register to vote in Mississippi.
Threatened by the MFDP's presence at the convention, President Lyndon Johnson quickly preempted Hamer's televised testimony with an impromptu press conference. But later that night, Hamer had fascinating so many people around the country with her partly-told story, that it was broadcast in its entirety on all the major networks.
After speaking to the Credentials Committee, acompromise was reached that gave voting and speaking rights to two delegates from the MFDP and seated the others as honored guests. The Democrats agreed that in the future no delegation would be seated from a state where anyone was illegally denied the vote. A year later, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.
After years of working to make a change for people of color, Mrs. Hamer -- born October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, Mississippi, she was the granddaughter of a slave and the youngest of 20 children -- died penniless in Ruleville, Miss. where friends paid for the funeral.
* * * * *
Hamer was a frequent target of the Sovereignty Commission. Here are several of the hundreds of files still available today in the state's digital archives, where her name is listed in the following versions:
HAMER, FANIE LOU
In this file, Mrs. Hamer's campaign fundraising is tied to the Communist Party of the U.S.A.
HAMER, FANNIE L.
Here, she is listed on the SNCC Staff Directory.
HAMER, FANNIE LOU
Here, the Sovereignty Commission sends spies to a federal courthouse hearing in Oxford, where Mrs. Hamer filed an injunction against city officials to prevent an election of taking place.
HAMER, FANNIE LOUS
Mrs. Hamer leads a boycott against schools and white businesses. AP story.
Photos of the Mississippi Freedom Delegation to Washington, D.C. (sans Mrs. Hamer, but she was there!)
HAMER, FANNY LOU
Mrs. Hamer tops a list of "five people colored people Mississippians vow they will kill in the register-to-vote battle."
A friend, Jane Stembridge, writes
a poem and letter of support for Mrs. Hamer.
This is only a small sample of the many files you will find on Mrs. Hamer by doing a search at the MDAH Digital Collections of the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission. Remember, these files are not indexed digitally. Names are spelled in many versions and often records are not fully indexed.