VNV Tuesday: “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” 1/9/18

Fannie Lou Hamer, American civil rights leader, at the Democratic National Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, August 1964

I didn’t watch the Golden Globes on Sunday, but I have watched Oprah’s speech. For me, the line that resonated the most is the sentence used as the title of this post: “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” I was also gratified that Oprah recognized and honored Recy Taylor. Today I’m going to focus on another woman who spoke her truth, Fannie Lou Hamer, but instead of providing a bio and background information, which is readily found on the internet, I’m just going to let her speak.

The transcript of her remarks:

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 31st 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 Ruleville, we was held up by the City Police and the State Highway Patrolmen and carried back to Indianola where the bus driver was charged that day with driving a bus the wrong color.
After we paid the fine among us, we continued on to Ruleville, and Reverend Jeff Sunny carried me four miles in the rural area where I had worked as a timekeeper and sharecropper for eighteen years. I was met there by my children, who told me the plantation owner was angry because I had gone down — tried to register.
After they told me, my husband came, and said the plantation owner was raising Cain because I had tried to register. And before he quit talking the plantation owner came and said, “Fannie Lou, do you know — did Pap tell you what I said?”
And I said, “Yes, sir.”
He said, “Well I mean that.”
Said, “If you don’t go down and withdraw your registration, you will have to leave.”
Said, “Then if you go down and withdraw.”
Said, “You still might have to go because we’re not ready for that in Mississippi.”
And I addressed him and told him and said, “I didn’t try to register for you. I tried to register for myself.”
I had to leave that same night.
On the 10th of September 1962, sixteen bullets was fired into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Tucker for me. That same night two girls were shot in Ruleville, Mississippi. Also, Mr. Joe McDonald’s house was shot in.
And 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. During this time I was on the bus. But when I looked through the window and saw they had rushed out I got off of the bus to see what had happened. And one of the ladies said, “It was a State Highway Patrolman and a Chief of Police ordered us out.”
I got back on the bus and one of the persons had used the washroom got back on the bus, too.
As soon as I was seated on the bus, I saw when they began to get the five people in a highway patrolman’s car. 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.” And 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 I could hear somebody say, “Can you say, ‘yes, sir,’ nigger? Can you say ‘yes, sir’?”
And they would say other horrible names.
She would say, “Yes, I can say ‘yes, sir.'”
“So, well, say it.”
She said, “I don’t know you well enough.”
They beat her, I don’t know how long. And after a while she began to pray, and asked God to have mercy on those people.
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. And I told him Ruleville. He said, “We are going to check this.” And 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’re 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. And I laid on my face, the first Negro began to beat me.
And 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 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 of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?
Thank you.

My transcript of this brief video:

The man, my opponent, James Earl [sic] Whitten…has done nothing to help the Negroes in the Second Congressional District. How … Mr. Whitten used his power in the Congress last year; he used it to prevent the distribution of Federal commodities in counties throughout the Delta, leaving people hungry. People naked. He’s not doing anything for us. And it’s time now, as he was not representing all the people, because he wasn’t representing the Negroes at all. It’s time for us to do something about that. And we need your support. We need your vote, because if I’m elected as congresswoman, things will be different. We are sick and tired of being sick and tired. For so many years, Negroes have suffered in the state of Mississippi. And we are tired of people saying we are satisfied, because we are anything but satisfied.

Transcript not available, but I have transcribed some excerpts:

Missippi is still a very rough place. People is not just walking up like they used to do in the past; walking out, you know shooting a man down and getting maybe two or three hundred people carrying out a lynching. It’s in a more subtle way. They let you starve to death, not give you jobs. These are some of the things happening right now. See, Mississippi is not actually Mississippi’s problem. Mississippi is America’s problem, because if America wanted to do something about it: “What has been goin’on, Mississippi?”, it could have stopped by now…
…All of the burning and bombing that was done to us in the houses; nobody never said too much about that, and nothing was done. But let something be burned by a black man, and then, my god, you know? You see the flag is draped with our blood. Because, you see, so many of our ancestors was killed because we have never accepted slavery. We had to live in it, but we never wanted it. So we know that this flag is draped with our blood. So what the young people are saying now, “Give us a chance to be young men, respected as a man, as we know this country was built on the black backs of black people across this country. And if we don’t have it, you ain’t gonna have it either, because we gonna tear it up.” That’s what they’re sayin’. And people ought to understand that. I don’t see why they don’t understand it. They know what they’ve done to us. All across this country, they know what they’ve done to us. This country is desperately sick, and man is on the critical list. I really don’t know where we go from here.

I hope listening to Mrs. Hamer motivates you to do further reading about her inspiring activism (this article is a good starting place: Civil rights crusader Fannie Lou Hamer defied men — and presidents — who tried to silence her). Her truth was born out of unrelenting poverty, indescribable barbarity and cruelty, and a spirit of determination born of her faith and fortitude. When she spoke her truth, she changed our world.

  12 comments for “VNV Tuesday: “What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.” 1/9/18

  1. WYgalinCali
    January 9, 2018 at 10:19 am

    Good morning, Pond Dwellers, and thanks for the very reflective diary, DoReMi. You keep amazing me with these stories that you tell. Showers today in Sacramento. 1.6 inches of rain since yesterday. Looks like we’ll get our two inches.

    Off to finish reading and to refill my cuppa.

    • DoReMI
      January 9, 2018 at 10:39 am

      I’m assuming any rain is good news, but where does that fall on the good news scale?

      And thank you for your kind words. The fact is that most of these sorts of posts come from my ignorance; I can’t do in-depth, detailed posts like Sis Dee would, but I can use my ignorance and turn it into something positive. At least, that’s what I try to do.

      • WYgalinCali
        January 9, 2018 at 11:35 am

        On a scale of 1-10? An 11. We are way behind our precipitation totals this year. Also, this finally put out the hotspots in SoCal from those awful fires.

        I would say a very smart person realizes their shortcomings and works to fix them. I don’t think you come even close to fitting the description of ignorant. I like to think I have a few brain cells and I’ve never heard of her nor would I know that I didn’t know. I hope that makes sense. {{{DoReMi}}}

        • bfitzinAR
          January 9, 2018 at 12:02 pm

          {{{WYgal}}} – I’m so glad – especially that it put out the hot spots – fire season is hopefully now over. And with enough rain, steadily over time or snow in the mountains to be released slowly, maybe we can skip a fire season this year. moar {{{HUGS}}}

          • WYgalinCali
            January 9, 2018 at 1:38 pm

            For sure. Between NoCal and SoCal…too many.

  2. bfitzinAR
    January 9, 2018 at 12:00 pm

    {{{DoReMI}}} – Very good, as usual. I knew a little bit about Fannie Lou Hamer – vaguely from the time she was running. The last year the white supremacists were still in total control of the Dem party and hadn’t migrated to the Rs yet. More from one of DOV’s Sunday diaries. I admire her courage and strength. But mostly it depresses me. That our society is that evil. That the evil is a feature not a bug as Aji said in her theme last night. I don’t have the courage of Hamer. Or Denise. Or Aji. I would not have survived what they did – but I didn’t have to because I’m white. I do what I can to make things better in the small circle I live in – but I can never wash the still dripping blood of folks of color from my society. And that just makes me sick.

    moar {{{HUGS}}} and Healing Energy to us all.

    • DoReMI
      January 9, 2018 at 1:11 pm

      One thing I’ve learned over the years as that we only know our courage (or lack of) if we’re called upon to use it. For the most part, we, as white women, are not in that position. Our skin color protects us more often than not, and speaking only for myself, I know I’ve often taken advantage of that. I’d like to think that I haven’t reaped the benefits at someone else’s expense, but ultimately, I know that the truth is far more ugly and hard-to-swallow than whether I’ve personally acted vs benefiting from systemic oppression.

      So in many ways, I do these sorts of posts not only to combat my own ignorance, but to illustrate what courage can be and what it can cost. Would I be a different person if I had undergone forced sterilization? Or hadn’t even known that I had the right to vote? Would that have made me more likely to stand up and speak out and even endure a brutal beating? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but at least now I can understand that for Mrs. Hamer, it did make a difference. And I can respect that. I can honor that. And I can use these tiny tidbits of knowledge in my very white circles, when I hear things like “all lives matter” or “slaves had it pretty good overall.” And if that makes someone stop in their tracks for even a moment, it’s something. Not much…but something.

      • bfitzinAR
        January 10, 2018 at 12:10 pm

        {{{DoReMI}}} – every step forward is a step forward. I know that. It just doesn’t always help when looking at what was – what is too-damned close to is – and know it’s a “feature not a bug” of the society I belong to by birth. Bless you for making/taking those steps forward, no matter how small. moar {{{HUGS}}}

  3. VonsterTX
    January 10, 2018 at 11:14 am

    I am reminded of the fear of my childhood and the uncertainty. Naively I thought we would be further along than this by now. In some ways, yes, but I now wonder what has been warped to accomplish the same ends. Like she said, “they starve us”. Miss Fannie’s words remind us that we can never sleep. We must always stay woke! Or, beware of idol gods.

    Thank you for the poignant reminder, in the words of Little Steven..” It ‘ain’t that far away..”. (Sin City)

    Blessed day to all! Heartfelt thanks, Do.

    • bfitzinAR
      January 10, 2018 at 12:19 pm

      {{{Vonster}}} – and I am sick about the fear and uncertainty of your childhood. I too hoped we’d be further along than we are now. I always knew it was bad, even before I knew more about how bad it was. No way am I going to ever claim that I know how bad it was. I couldn’t. I’ve always done my best to be an ally – although frequently I’ve been a gormless one – and I’m doing my best to become less gormless and a better ally. Healing Energy to all concerned shaped to their needs. moar {{{HUGS}}}

      • MomentaryGrace
        January 10, 2018 at 5:54 pm

        {{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{{bfitzinAR}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}

        • bfitzinAR
          January 11, 2018 at 9:06 am

          {{{MomentaryGrace}}} – Always holding you (both) in my Heart. moar {{{HUGS}}}

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