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The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer

To Tell It Like It Is

Maegan Parker Brooks, Davis W. Houck

Publication Year: 2011

Most people who have heard of Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) are aware of the impassioned testimony that this Mississippi sharecropper and civil rights activist delivered at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Far fewer people are familiar with the speeches Hamer delivered at the 1968 and 1972 conventions, to say nothing of addresses she gave closer to home, or with Malcolm X in Harlem, or even at the founding of the National Women's Political Caucus. Until now, dozens of Hamer's speeches have been buried in archival collections and in the basements of movement veterans. After years of combing library archives, government documents, and private collections across the country, Maegan Parker Brooks and Davis W. Houck have selected twenty-one of Hamer's most important speeches and testimonies.As the first volume to exclusively showcase Hamer's talents as an orator, this book includes speeches from the better part of her fifteen-year activist career delivered in response to occasions as distinct as a Vietnam War Moratorium Rally in Berkeley, California, and a summons to testify in a Mississippi courtroom.Brooks and Houck have coupled these heretofore unpublished speeches and testimonies with brief critical descriptions that place Hamer's words in context. The editors also include the last full-length oral history interview Hamer granted, a recent oral history interview Brooks conducted with Hamer's daughter, as well as a bibliography of additional primary and secondary sources. The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamerdemonstrates that there is still much to learn about and from this valiant black freedom movement activist.

Published by: University Press of Mississippi

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INTRODUCTION: Showing Love and Telling It Like It Is: The Rhetorical Practices of Fannie Lou Hamer

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pp. xi-xxxii

“The education has got to be changed in these institutions,” Fannie Lou Hamer boldly declared while addressing students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Invited to speak at the campus’s Great Hall in January 1971, Hamer wasted no time before indicting those in power. “We got to tell the truth even in these institutions because there’s one thing about it, folks—you elderly folks ...

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“I Don’t Mind My Light Shining,”: Speech Delivered at a Freedom Vote Rally in Greenwood, Mississippi, Fall 1963

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pp. 3-6

Of the many strategic innovations introduced in Mississippi by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Council of Federated Organizations, perhaps none was more consequential than the Freedom Vote of fall 1963. The joint creation of Allard Lowenstein and Bob Moses, the Freedom Vote was a “mock election” designed to dramatize, especially to the federal government, that...

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Federal Trial Testimony, Oxford, Mississippi, December 2, 1963

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pp. 7-35

As her Continental Trailways bus arrived at Staley’s Café in Winona, Mississippi, on the morning of June 9, 1963, Fannie Lou Hamer could not have known her life was about to change dramatically. Nor did she likely know the extent to which local law enforcement officials had so brutally and swiftly suppressed any civil rights activity there long before her arrival. ...

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Testimony Before a Select Panel on Mississippi and Civil Rights, Washington, D.C., June 8, 1964

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pp. 36-41

Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony was an integral part of a hearing that the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) orchestrated to expose the volatile climate into which the Mississippi-bound Freedom Summer volunteers would soon enter. The hearing took place at the National Theatre on June 8, 1964. It featured twenty-four speakers who testified before a board of distinguished panelists, including ...

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Testimony Before the Credentials Committee at the Democratic National Convention, Atlantic City, New Jersey, August 22, 1964

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pp. 42-45

When the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was founded in April 1964, the event barely registered across the state, let alone in Washington, D. C. And yet in four short months, the MFDP changed the history of the Democratic Party. ...

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“We’re On Our Way,”: Speech Delivered at a Mass Meeting in Indianola, Mississippi, September 1964

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pp. 46-56

So many black Deltans wanted to see the woman from their community whose testimony was broadcast before the nation that soon after Mrs. Hamer returned from Atlantic City, she was finally able to speak at a mass meeting in Indianola, Mississippi. Although speaking in a small church twenty-six miles outside of Ruleville might not seem like a telling measure of Hamer’s growing popularity,...

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I’m Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired,”: Speech Delivered with Malcolm X at the Williams Institutional CME Church, Harlem, New York, December 20, 1964

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pp. 57-64

In the fall of 1964, when famed performer and avid civil rights supporter Harry Belafonte sponsored a trip to West Africa for a group of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) members, he hoped the journey would internationalize their perspectives as well as provide some much needed respite for the weary activists. The delegation’s time in Africa not only accomplished this, but...

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Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Elections of the Committee on House Administration, House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., September 13, 1965

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pp. 65-69

As the U.S. House of Representatives began its eighty-ninth session, Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Devine, and Victoria Gray stood at the door of the Capitol building intent upon challenging the electoral legitimacy of Mississippi’s five white congressmen, Jamie Whitten, John Bell Williams, Thomas G. Abernathy, Prentiss Walker, and William Colmer. A host of Mississippi Freedom Democratic...

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“The Only Thing We Can Do Is to Work Together,”: Speech Delivered at a Chapter Meeting of the National Council of Negro Women in Mississippi, 1967

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pp. 70-73

With passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as well as the Johnson administration’s War on Poverty, Fannie Lou Hamer’s rhetorical trajectory shifted ever so subtly. Instead of relying almost exclusively on personal narratives highlighting the cruelties and violence of Mississippi’s white supremacist culture, as the late 1960s played out Hamer marshaled new...

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What Have We to Hail?,”: Speech Delivered in Kentucky, Summer 1968

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pp. 74-83

In this address to a predominantly white audience in Kentucky, Fannie Lou Hamer tells her story with particular emphasis on her first attempt at voter registration. Part of Hamer’s unique agility as a speaker was her ability to amplify a given story based on the speaking occasion. Before her Kentucky auditors, Hamer provides an extended treatment of the events surrounding August 31, 1962—to ...

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Speech on Behalf of the Alabama Delegation at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, Chicago, Illinois, August 27, 1968

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pp. 84-85

Unlike at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, the controversy plaguing the 1968 gathering stemmed less from domestic racial politics than it did from protests of the country’s foreign policy—most notably, the war in Vietnam. With commotion in the streets, the three Credentials Committee hearings, initiated by civil rights activists in Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, received...

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“To Tell It Like It Is,”: Speech Delivered at the Holmes County, Mississippi, Freedom Democratic Party Municipal Elections Rally in Lexington, Mississippi, May 8, 1969

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pp. 86-93

Fannie Lou Hamer always called Sunflower County home, but she was never shy about venturing into surrounding counties—especially when it involved an election with a Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party member on the ballot. In 1967, for example, Hamer worked to get Holmes County schoolteacher Robert G. Clark elected to the state house of representatives. Clark defeated twelve-year ...

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Testimony Before the Democratic Reform Committee, Jackson, Mississippi, May 22, 1969

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pp. 94-97

Not long after the disappointed members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) left the 1964 Democratic National Convention, an interracial coalition of Mississippi politicians including Charles Evers, Pat Derian, and Hodding Carter III came together to ensure the success of the 1968 challenge to seat an integrated delegation from their state. By stringently adhering to the national ...

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“To Make Democracy a Reality,”: Speech Delivered at the Vietnam War Moratorium Rally, Berkeley, California, October 15, 1969

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pp. 98-103

In 1965, when Fannie Lou Hamer first began speaking out about U.S. involvement in Vietnam, hers was among a small chorus of bold voices to challenge the war. By 1969, however, there was a widespread shift in public sentiment— opinion polls indicated over half of the country felt that the United States should have never intervened, and antiwar protests began to grow in both participation ...

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America Is a Sick Place, and Man Is on the Critical List,”: Speech Delivered at Loop College, Chicago, Illinois, May 27, 1970

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pp. 104-120

Fannie Lou Hamer traveled north to Chicago’s Loop College in the spring of 1970, as part of its “Decade of Civil Rights History, 1960–1970” speakers’ series. The college, which was founded in 1962 and today bears the name Harold Washington College, also honored Hamer with a Citizen’s Achievement Citation for her civil rights activism. No doubt Hamer was also doing some fundraising for ...

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“Until I Am Free, You Are Not Free Either,”: Speech Delivered at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, January 1971

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pp. 121-130

Of her scores of speaking destinations, perhaps none was visited more frequently by Fannie Lou Hamer than Madison, Wisconsin. Not only was Madison home to many progressives within a progressive state, but Hamer received significant and regular support for her Freedom Farm ventures from Measure for Measure. The organization was founded in 1965 by Madison residents, who had traveled ...

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“Is It Too Late?,”: Speech Delivered at Tougaloo College, Tougaloo, Mississippi, Summer 1971

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pp. 131-133

When Fannie Lou Hamer spoke at Tougaloo College in 1971, she was following in a long line of modern civil rights advocates—from Robert F. Kennedy to Stokely Carmichael—who had addressed this private historically black liberal arts college tucked away on the northern edge of Jackson, Mississippi. This was not her first address to the school where her long-time political ally Reverend Edwin ...

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Nobody’s Free Until Everybody’s Free,”: Speech Delivered at the Founding of the National Women’s Political Caucus, Washington, D.C., July 10, 1971

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pp. 134-139

As the 1960s drew to a close, black women and white women were both inspired and disenchanted by the movements for social change that surrounded them. Their experiences within civil rights, Black Power, and newly formed student organizations reinvigorated the centuries-long struggle for gender equality. Though the inception of both black women’s and white women’s movements for ...

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“If the Name of the Game Is Survive, Survive,”: Speech Delivered in Ruleville, Mississippi, September 27, 1971

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pp. 140-144

As voting rights laws evolved after passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, many blacks in the South entered the world of electoral politics, especially in areas where blacks outnumbered whites. Considering that she was a woman who marked her entry into civil rights activism on the single issue of voting, it was no surprise to find Fannie Lou Hamer running for elected office in 1971; it would...

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Seconding Speech for the Nomination of Frances Farenthold, Delivered at the 1972 Democratic National Convention, Miami Beach, Florida, July 13, 1972

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pp. 145-146

By all medical rights, Fannie Lou Hamer should not have been in Miami Beach, Florida, in July 1972. But at the behest of her political friends and allies, and by virtue of being elected as a delegate, Hamer traveled to the Democratic National Convention; it would be her last appearance before the quadrennial gathering. Hamer was increasingly burdened by failing health, and her speaking ap-...

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Interview with Fannie Lou Hamer by Dr. Neil McMillen, April 14, 1972, and January 25, 1973, Ruleville, Mississippi; Oral History Program, University of Southern Mississippi

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pp. 147-180

Of the many interviews Hamer gave during the last fifteen years of her life, this oral history interview—conducted by Dr. Neil McMillen, professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi—is distinctive. While several newspapers and magazines published interviews with Hamer throughout the 1960s, by the early 1970s the nation’s gaze followed the civil rights workers out of...

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“We Haven’t Arrived Yet,”: Presentation and Responses to Questions at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, January 29, 1976

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pp. 181-193

On a cold January afternoon in a packed third-floor lecture hall at the University of Wisconsin–Madison campus, Fannie Lou Hamer described the challenge that remained before both Mississippi and the nation. The year was 1976. Four years had passed since Hamer limped her way to the podium at the Democratic National Convention to offer words of support for Frances “Sissy” Farenthold. ...

APPENDIX: Interview with Vergie Hamer Faulkner

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pp. 194-208

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pp. 208-211

Researching the oratorical contributions of black female freedom movement activists—women whose words were not commonly recorded or preserved with any great care—is no easy task. Recovering Fannie Lou Hamer’s texts was made much easier by fellow researchers and devoted archivists, as well as friends and family members of Mrs. Hamer who generously shared their ...


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pp. 212-216


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pp. 250-254

E-ISBN-13: 9781604738230
E-ISBN-10: 1604738235
Print-ISBN-13: 9781604738223
Print-ISBN-10: 1604738227

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2011