October 20, 2011
Fannie Lou Hamer (pronounced hay-mer) was one of the unsung pillars of the civil rights movement in the U.S. She was a phenomenal woman—a woman of great determination and great purpose. She was not one to hold back her feelings, especially when fighting for equality.
In 1964 she was elected Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). Their stated purpose was to challenge Mississippi’s all-white delegation to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) which was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
Democratic President, Lyndon Johnson was furious that a group of Blacks would challenge the Democratic Party and interfere with his reelections plans. Johnson often referred to Hamer as “that illiterate woman.”
Out of desperation, Johnson sent top Democratic Party officials to negotiate with the MFDP, most notably, Senator Hubert Humphrey from Minnesota (he was lobbying very hard for Johnson to choose him as his running mate for Vice President).
Johnson offered to give the MFDP two non-voting seats at the upcoming convention in exchange for their silence and had secured the endorsement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).
Humphrey had indicated to the group that if the group didn’t agree to this deal, Johnson would not choose him as his running mate. Hamer was always considered the moral conscious of the group and here is her response to Humphrey: “Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than four hundred thousand black people's lives? Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Now if you lose this job of Vice-President because you do what is right, because you help the MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take [the nomination] this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk about. Senator Humphrey, I'm going to pray to Jesus for you."
As a result of her principled stand, Hamer was excluded from future negotiations. Johnson was so afraid of Hamer that he pressured the MFDP to agree to allow the DNC to select the two delegates to be seated in order to prevent Hamer from being chosen. The MFDP ultimately rejected the proposed deal.
But what does that say about the rest of the leadership of the MFDP—that they would allow their “moral conscious” from attending future meetings?
Black leadership, those sanctioned by whites, have always been easy to silence because they have no conscious. They want to be liked. They want to seen in photographs.
Of all of her many accomplishments, she was best known for what would eventually be the epitaph that would be written on the tombstone on her grave: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."
Where are the Fannie Lou Hamers of today? I cannot imagine Hamer allowing Obama, Pelosi and Reid to get away with their total disregard of issues of concern to the Black community. I can’t imagine her “cutting a deal” just to get an invitation to the White House are to be seen standing next to someone in power. She never lost sight of the goal.
Hamer had very little leverage, other than moral suasion, to use against Johnson and the Democrats; but yet forced the DNC to change their platform for the 1968 election. Today, Blacks have money, votes, and media; but lack the will to use moral suasion or any other means to affect change.
The supposed Black leaders of today seem only to be concerned about being invited to the White House for a photo opportunity. Black Elected officials are too afraid of criticizing Obama. But what are they afraid of? Obama hasn’t given them anything that he could take away from them! Yet, in my private conversations with many of these people, they constantly complain about how Obama is ignoring them and their issues.
Are they not “sick and tired of being sick and tired?”
California representative Maxine Waters is one of the few elected officials to publically criticize Obama, but she also apologizes to him in the same sentence.
So, to all my Black Democratic friends, I challenge you to get on the phone to your Black leaders and all the Democratic Party officials and let them know in no uncertain terms that “it’s Hamer time!”
Raynard Jackson is president & CEO of Raynard Jackson & Associates, LLC., a D.C.-public relations/government affairs firm. He is also a contributing editor for ExcellStyle Magazine (www.excellstyle.com), Freedom’s Journal Magazine (www.freedomsjournal.net), and U.S. Africa Magazine (www.usafricaonline.com).