By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
“All my life I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. We have been waitin’ all our lives, and still gettin’ killed, still gettin’ hung, still gettin’ beat to death. Now we’re tired waitin’!”
Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi activist, was speaking out forcefully here during the 1964 Democratic Party Convention where she and her associates were unwelcome.
Black Lives Matter (BLM), National Black Coalition for Justice, the National Action Network, the National Council of Negro Women, the Black Panther Party, the NAACP, SCLC, and The National Urban League.
These and other organizations are involved in activism to give voice to Black economic and social equality and justice.
Hamer’s statement exemplified her view of the frustration often confronted by Black activists.
The oldest of these – the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) – was formed in 1913 by Black and white activists to confront Jim Crow Segregation.
Nearly 100 years later, in 2012, BLM was created in the wake of the death of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old, killed by a white security guard in Sanford, Florida. BLM’s mission was heightened after George Floyd died in May 2020 under the knee of a white policeman in Minneapolis.
Each generation of Blacks in America has witnessed individuals or legions of men and women, marching, speaking, and raising funds to support the aim of resisting and fighting white institutional racism and oppression.
Such activism has been met too often by white political and economic opposition and cultural indifference. But Black practices of resistance are undeterred.
During the direct action fight against Jim Crow, civil rights leaders and organizations challenged white institutional pushback in the face of death, physical abuse, and efforts to weaken their credibility or operations by state and federal agencies such as the FBI.
Black activists confronted white southern politicians applying “Massive Resistance” against educational desegregation in the 50s.
Today, activists are resisting renewed applications of similar measures against the teaching of Black culture and historic oppression.
Whites, activists say, are driven by fear of the weakening or replacement of White Christian values and economic power.
Dr. Tommy Booger is currently the acting Dean of Liberal Arts at Norfolk State University.
He wrote “Free Blacks in Norfolk, Virginia, 1790-1860: The Darker Side of Freedom.”
Bogger noted that even enslaved Blacks in Colonial America exhibited activism in subtle fashions to resist white oppression.
He noted examples of free or enslaved Blacks, with the help of sympathetic whites, who sued in the courts or petitioned the Virginia legislature to provide a license to give them some exceptions so they could participate in various trades and jobs.
Ship pilot, Henry Johnson, for example, filed a petition to secure a license to guide ships along the Chesapeake Bay. It helped him, a son and grandson to continue in the profession.
In the 1840s when German immigrants arrived and began pushing Blacks out of various trades, it was rumored that Blacks retaliated by committing acts of arson.
Black sailors and longshoremen helped escaped enslaved Blacks to board ships going northward as an act of protest, he said. They and other operators of the Underground Railroad outwitted authorities tasked with capturing and returning enslaved Blacks to their masters.
Sojourner Truth was born a slave but escaped with her daughter and later she freed her son. She advocated for the abolition of slavery and women’s suffrage. In 1851 at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, she delivered her famous ‘Ain’t I am woman” speech, promoting the idea of both.
Truth, Frederick Douglass and other Black activists gave weight to the abolitionist movement.
Douglass also was enslaved but escaped and became well-known in the U.S. and abroad for his direct activism.
Like Truth, he gave a spark to women’s suffrage which inspired Black women to join the movement until the 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920.
In 1848, Douglass was the only Black person to attend the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rights convention, in upstate New York.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton asked the assembly to pass a resolution supporting women’s suffrage. Many of those present opposed the idea. Douglass stood and spoke eloquently in favor of it, declaring he could not accept the right to vote if women could not also.
Before the close of the Civil War, which ended slavery, a striking symbol of Black civic protest and activism, occurred on January 1, 1863 in Norfolk after the Union Army took over the city and other parts of Tidewater.
According to the February 20, 1926, Edition of the GUIDE, the “Great Event of 1863” is mentioned and was still being commemorated that year as “5,000 Blacks took part in the Great event of 1863 procession assembled on Queen Street.” The observances were held in Norfolk and other communities for a century.
Black men elected to office during Reconstruction advocated for funds to provide the first public schools and burial sites for their people.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett was an American investigative journalist, educator, and activist of the early rights Movement.
Born into slavery, she is one of the founders of the NAACP. Wells dedicated her life to combating prejudice and violence, and for equality for Blacks and women.
At the age of 14, after losing her parents and having to support her siblings, she moved to Memphis. Wells found better pay as a teacher.
She co-owned and wrote for the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight newspaper. Her reporting covered incidents of racial segregation and lynchings of Blacks in the late 1800s.
She wrote a pamphlet “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law In All Its Phases, and The Red Record.”
To deter her activism in Memphis, she was run out of the city, but she continued her civil rights activism and her writing with a newspaper in New York.
Wells inspired others to join the fight against Jim Crow Segregation from the 1890s onward.
Fannie Lou Hamer: Mississippi Activist
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Angela Davis, and Huey Newton inherited her legacy and are well-known figures in history texts.
Fannie Lou Hamer is not as well-known; yet, she was dynamic.
Born in deeply racist Mississippi, she emerged as a voting and women’s rights activist, organizer, and leader in the civil rights movement.
Hamer was returning from a voter registration workshop by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in South Carolina by bus with a group.
They stopped in Winona, Mississippi. Some of the activists went inside a local café but were refused service. Mississippi State highway patrolmen were summoned and began intimidating those who resisted.
At one point the police chief entered the cafe and arrested the party, including Hamer. They were beaten by the police in the booking room.
Hamer was then taken to a cell where two inmates were ordered, by the state trooper, to beat her with a baton and rape her.
Another in her group was beaten until she was unable to talk; a third, a teenager, was beaten, stomped on, and stripped.
Hamer was released on June 12, 1963. She needed more than a month to recuperate from the beatings and never fully recovered but she continued her work.
Hamer made her mark as an activist as the vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, a group she co-founded and went to at the 1964 Democratic National Convention.
The group sought to be seated with the all-white delegation to the event but was denied.
Hamer sought in the national media to reveal why her group should be seated.
Minnesota U.S. Senator Hubert Humphrey tried to propose a compromise to give Freedom Democratic Party two seats with the Mississippi delegation.
The MFDP rejected the compromise, with Hamer saying, “We didn’t come up here to compromise for no more than we’d gotten here. We didn’t come all this way for no two seats when all of us (is) tired.”
In 1968, the MFDP was finally seated after the Democratic Party adopted a clause that demanded equality of representation from their states’ delegations. In 1972, Hamer was elected as a national party delegate.
Hamer never quit resisting oppression. In 1977, at the age of 59, she died of heart disease and cancer.
Photo by Nicola Barts