By Dolores Cox
Published Oct 31, 2010 11:02 PM
The anniversary of the birth of a cherished freedom fighter occurred recently. On Oct. 6, 1917, Fannie Lou Townsend was born and grew up on a Mississippi plantation in a sharecropper family. She began picking cotton at the age of 6. She was the youngest of 20 children and the granddaughter of an enslaved African. After marrying, she became Fannie Lou Hamer.
Subsequent to attending a SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) meeting, Hamer registered to vote in 1962. Upon leaving the Indianola, Miss., courthouse that day, she and others were stopped on the road as they headed home to Ruleville. They were harassed and given a fine because their bus was “the wrong color.”
As a result of refusing to remove her name from the registrar’s list, the plantation owner evicted Hamer and her spouse from their home. A couple of days later, bullets were fired into the bedroom where she slept in a friend’s home. Violent acts were also committed against other Black residents in Ruleville that same night.
In June 1963 after returning to Mississippi from a voter registration workshop, Hamer and others were harassed at a roadside restaurant by the police chief and a state highway patrol officer. Then they were arrested. At the county jail, Hamer was kicked and nearly beaten to death with a blackjack. While she was in jail, civil rights organizer Medgar Evers was murdered.
Fannie Lou Hamer was an outspoken civil rights activist and voting rights advocate. She said her goal was “to register every Negro in Mississippi.” She possessed a love for her people and a keen interest and understanding of the power of the political process. This led Hamer to co-found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
She fought tirelessly for inclusion and parity of Blacks in the racist Democratic Party. In Detroit Rosa Parks later established the Michigan Freedom Democratic Party at the urging of Malcolm X that there be an independent Black political party.
In 1964 Hamer challenged the Democratic Party to seat her party, claiming that the Credentials Committee and regular Democrats were “illegally elected” based on discriminatory practices against Blacks statewide. At the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City she also challenged then-President Lyndon Johnson and Vice President Hubert Humphrey.
In her testimony there Hamer stated: “If the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated today, I question America. Is this the land of the free and home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings in America?”
Johnson ordered the nationally televised convention to be interrupted to keep Hamer’s views from spreading. However, major networks later ran her speech. The country heard her conviction, speaking truth to power passionately, powerfully and fearlessly. Her party was not seated then; but in 1968 Hamer became a delegate to the Democratic National Convention.
Outspoken against hunger and poverty, Hamer urged Blacks to unify and stressed connecting with all freedom movements. She asserted that nobody’s free until everybody’s free. She co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971. Hamer died in 1977 of cancer and complications from damage to her kidneys and eyes resulting from her beatings in jail.
NY’s Freedom Party challenges power structure
On the New York State ballot this November is the newly created Freedom Party, inspired by the memory of Hamer’s Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. It is challenging the all-white Democratic Party slate in the upcoming election. It is an African-American- and Latino/a-led political party with candidates running for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general. Its gubernatorial candidate, Charles Barron, a New York City Councilperson, refers to today’s Democrats as the “Republicrats.”
Racial and ethnic disparities in income, employment, education, housing, health care, police violence, incarceration and opportunities persist. Much more needs to be done to attain social, economic and political justice and correct glaring inequalities. Freedom Party supporters emphasize that these crucial issues and conditions have not been addressed by the Democrats.
The Freedom Party’s goal is to change existing political power relationships and narrow existing gaps, fight for inclusion, protect the human rights of the working class, regardless of skin color, and represent “unashamedly” their interests. FP’s allegiance is to the people, not corporate U.S.
The party’s overall aim is to restart the Freedom Movement, which includes inspiring young people to fight for their communities’ political and economic futures. FP’s founders intend to provide the political vehicle to connect oppressed communities statewide.
The party seeks to speak with one voice in fighting racism, fascism and capitalism and demanding the right to self-determination and liberation of all people worldwide. Candidate Barron, for example, helped lead a 2009 convoy to Gaza in Palestine to deliver solidarity and needed aid to the victims of Israel’s genocidal bombings.