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Fannie Lou Hamer Calls Us  
By Bonnie Boswell  Contributing Writer 
Published June 23, 2022

Bonnie Boswell (Courtesy photo)

 

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” said Fannie Lou Hamer, a heroic figure in the 1960s voting rights effort.

 

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Ms. Hamer, a sharecropper from Mississippi, started picking cotton when she was six-years-old.  By the time she was 13, she was picking up to 300 pounds of cotton a day.

 

At 17, she took her first state-mandated literacy test to vote.  She would have to take two more tests before she passed.  These tests were commonly used at the time to drive down the Black vote.

 

Undeterred Ms. Hamer helped register thousands.  She was shot at 15 times and beaten brutally in jail with a hammer. She suffered injuries from which she never fully recovered.  She was tired, but she did not give up.

 

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Ms. Hamer co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.  And in 1972, she was elected as a national party delegate.

I thought about Ms. Hamer recently as I read Erika Smith’s column in the Los Angeles Times where she noted that some Black men had become disengaged from politics. I ran into this same disaffection in 2004, when I initiated a “Barbara Shop/Beauty Shop Campaign” to help register Black Angelenos to vote.

 

I’d co-founded a group called African America Women for Peace and Justice (AAJP) simply to encourage people to vote.  Our thought was, after all the work that’s been done, whatever you do, don’t disenfranchise yourself.

 

We were a small group, but in one day, we registered a number of people who didn’t know they could vote in California if they’d served time in jail.  And there were those who said, “My life doesn’t change regardless of who is in power.”

 

I get it.  Our community is still impacted by racism – benign or manifest.  But, Black votes counted in the elections of Obama and Biden and Warnock.  Put another way, if the vote weren’t so important, why would people be working so hard to keep Black people and others from voting?

 

Whether it’s the mayoral race in 2022 or the presidential race in 2024, people need know their votes count – but only if they use it.  We can decide whether to support bonds to improve our school facilities or to make available alternatives to incarceration.

 

So, whether in barbershops or beauty shops, churches, in families or neighborhoods, let’s talk to people.  We can take a page out of Fannie Lou Hamer’s book when she said, “If I fall, I’ll fall 5 feet and 4 inches forward in the fight for freedom.  I’m not backing off.”

 

Watch Bonnie Boswell Reports, Fridays at 2:58 p.m., before PBS NewsHour or at kcet.org/bonnie.  For voting information, see https://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/voting-resources/voting-california/who-can-vote-california/voting-rights-californians

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