Fannie Lou Hamer Interview
With me is Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer a member of the Executive Committee of the Freedom Democratic Party and the candidate of that party for the United States Congress.
Mrs. Hemmer tell us a little about yourself. What part of the South you come from and how you got involved in Freedom Democratic Party politics.
Thank you very much. My home is in Ruth Vale Mississippi. It's located in the black belt of Mississippi known as the Delta Avery. And actually the way I got involved in the freedom Democrat Party is we tried to get in the regular Democratic Party we tried from the present level to the county and from the county to the state. I remember when we tried to attend the precinct meeting at the little polling place in rules deal it was eight of us eight Negroes went up to visit the present meeting and the door was locked and we couldn't get in. And we stood on the outside and held our own meeting. We elected our chairman and our secretary our delegates and our alternate. And we passed a law order resolution and we move from the present level to the county and up to the state the 24th of April and 1964. We are going to has at the Masonic Temple in Jackson Mississippi the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. And then the 24th of August in 1964 we went to the national convention in Atlantic City New Jersey to challenge the seating of the regular delegation from Mississippi in which we were unsuccessful.
That's right. We was all for two votes at large as a compromise in the convention and the convention. But. After 100 years we wouldn't accept a compromise because it didn't mean anything to 63000 people at that time was registered with the freedom Democrat party so we didn't compromise. So again in January we get in a fourth of January. The three candidates from the Freedom Democrat party Mrs. Gray Mrs. divine and I went before the door of the House of Representatives to contest the seating of the five representatives from Mississippi. And we was turned away and we were allowed to even go in to have a you know to contest their CD. We didn't go there to be seated because we knew from the beginning that we wouldn't be seated but we wanted to explain our side whereas in a state that folded 2 percent of the people can't register. They weren't representing us. And I think somebody is time now for somebody to be in Congress is going to represent the people of Mississippi. And we weren't allowed to go inside but that didn't stop the challenge. We did have that Day One hundred and forty nine Congress ones that stood up against these people being seated. So we're still working with this challenge and we hope by the last of this month which is August that we will have a chance to unseat these congressman because actually. This Voting video that the president passed last week it didn't mean anything and I'm not looking for a voting bill in 1965 when they are not in force and the voting bill and our voting rights with the 15th Amendment which guaranteed us the same rights to vote from the 15th Amendment in eighteen hundred and seven day and at that time eighteen hundred and seventy Mississippi was readmitted back to the union because they promised at that time that they wouldn't do anything to disenfranchise Negroes to keep them from registering to vote. So now it is a matter of a violation of the 13th 14th and 15th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States. And what I am curious to see do the Constitution of the United States mean anything so far hadn't worked. And I'm sick of seeing this kind of stuff on paper.
We want them to do something about it because we are part of America because we didn't come here on our own.
Our parents and our descendants was from Africa and we didn't come on our own. But we do want to be treated as human beings. And I'm fighting for human rights not for equal rights.
I'm only interested in one thing. Before you set up your own Democratic Party. You tried to enter the local Democratic Party and I wondered why you did that. Because my instinctive situation would be not to join that club that Democratic club or democratic organization but to form another one with the broad people in the community to contest the elections as the Democratic Party the reason we tried.
If we had tried doing it and then just set this one up they would have said from the beginning then if we had tried we could have got in there. Yes but you see we've done the only fair thing to do. We wouldn't accept it.
So we've set up a freedom Democrat Party in Mississippi and I think is one of the most effective weapons in this whole United States.
I'm still a little puzzled. Maybe it's because I'm a foreigner. I would never join the Democratic Party in this country if I were an American citizen. Because part of the party is as a racialist I'd say they'd have to throw them up before I joined it. And perhaps Europeans think more ideologically about their parties.
Well I don't I don't thank you thank in your logic about it. But we got quite an education in seeing what the whole Democratic Party of this country was like what it was you know question right and you know fact that cried I don't know what I really been involved in politics.
Now if I had known it was like 80 years.
But one day I think working with this Mississippi Freedom Democrat Party and so many great people that I find in this country and especially these young people of this country we will have a great democracy and only through that can we can bring a change because I am really fed up with covering up stuff you know this stuff have been covered up year after year and we are beginning now to sweep it out or monitor it to work and see that we are not free in America.
And that make nobody for a year until we all of you.
But let me clear up another point for you Have you cleared up another point. Does the Freedom Democratic Party regard itself as a group that wants to make the Democratic Party more democratic and in the way that Theodore Roosevelt in his boom truck party tried to change the Republican Party going back and merging with the party again when it had a separate his views. Or do you really consider this a third party now.
Well to me it really does seem to be actually a third party because it is so far different. From the Democrats of this country and I don't see no other way other than a third party.
Many people think of the Freedom Democratic Party as principally a civil rights organization that entered politics. But is it more than that. Does it have a wide sort of program on a great number of issues beside this matter of voting rights and civil rights.
Yes and it is not on our nation and it is a party not anonymization.
You made that clear. Could you tell us something about the main platform planks in the platform of the party starting with civil rights to exactly what youre aiming to achieve in terms of legislation.
Well we we stand and I don't know what I should say all of this or not but our policy is far different from the the from even the National Democratic Party. It is it is it is very different the things that we stand for you know and in foreign policy is is quite a different.
Well good now on domestic policy I take it your stand for a greater amount of legislation guaranteeing individual rights. Yes.
And I gather you don't think in terms of just negro rights but individual rights area visual rights you see it doesn't matter to me whether the person is an Indian Jew Chinese a Mexican whatever.
Whatever nation they are I think they should have their right.
Now what do you mention foreign policy a moment ago for instance. The biggest issue in foreign policy at the moment is the war in Vietnam does a party take any position in American involvement in in an Asian conflict.
Well right now I had met with the executive committee to you know have no say what Stan that the freedom Democrat party will have on a policy of Vietnam. I have my own personal feelings about Vietnam.
You know the party will come out with a policy on it.
I'm not sure but we might we have been accused of saying that you know the stand we had taken but at the time it was said that we had taken you know made a policy of what we felt about Vietnam the Executive Committees at that time hadn't had a meeting you know to say what we would say. But personally me guess America gone to Vietnam and the reason I have several reasons why I don't think we have any business in Vietnam first place I don't think that you can tell me how and clean up my house if your house is you know is nasty. I think we all have to think in terms of cleaning up our own place before we can go and do the job some other place.
One of the other major issues regarding Asia of course is recognition of China. What they call a Communist China here and admission of China to the United Nations of the Peking government to the Chinese sitting United Nations do you have. Does a party have a position on that.
Well we don't have a position on that. But I hear the word communist quite often in fact I have been called a communist. And I begin to question now if if communist do communist stand for all the things we fight for because you know if all the things we fighting for if communist stands are there would be a whole lot more than we've ever been offered in this country but I don't know anything about communism.
If I've ever seen a communist I don't know whether in fact President de Gaulle is pledged now to actively work for the seating of the United Nations of of communist China. He's recognized this trend and I don't think he's a communist.
Is that right. Yes.
Well that's great you know are you see I don't know I don't know actually anything about communism I don't. But everybody I asked see you know if we push just a little farther than they think we should push you know then they say this is communist.
So I began to wonder about communists because from what the people is really telling us it must be very well.
I've lived round the world I don't like communism but the aspects of communism I don't like which are the repression of certain types of freedom the control of the press and so forth. We are finding that in many countries we are supporting. That's that's very true. What about questions like nuclear disarmament has the party come out with any positions on this. Not so far not on day two. No we hadn't come out with no policy. What about or does this include domestic legislation for instance on health. No I'm from Britain and in Britain we regard it as a right that everyone whatever his means should have medical care as much as he needs the best available without the thought about cost to doctors and patients don't have to think of the money. Is there anything that Bill you have.
Well I actually I don't know how far this will go but you know we push for medical care you know because not only can aged people be sick without money but young people can be sick without money. And I think any person that needs medical care should be you know treated.
Do you have an issue things about the ownership of industry or anything. Is there any policy on this issue. Do you take any positions on this.
The interest ABN in the state of Mississippi or state or nationwide if they got any theories about economic structures of society about whether something should be nationalized or made into cooperatives or yes we are talking about that in fact now one of the young men that have been working for us is e of Brian out something is called bricks for freedom and if we can get help with this we you know will have people trained to make bricks and also concrete and then real contractors to teach these people and if Now if the government is going to do anything for the property stricken people it will be time for them to invest some money in and these people can be paid as they be trained to work and can build their own homes do you know that will be a decent place to live in and still the present condition of the homes that we live in now.
I notice for the peris I would say the first past five or six months to keep the new shoes of the Freedom Democrat Party you know from being in the light of people for people to really know what the Freedom Democrat Party purposely is and what is done on the news about the freedom Democrat Party has been completely sabotaged. We can't get out lose some time we have a press conference and they won't even show it.
Even the national papers that have been sympathetic to the to the negro cause like the New York Times The New York Times and had been doing too much recently.
I don't know from what source they are getting pressure but I think somewhere along the line they are being pressured. And I know we're not getting the news that we you know at the beginning like in Atlanta sit in 1900 for the news media was almost run over you to see what the Freedom Democrat Party had to say. But now the you know we get into can get away from the Freedom Democrat Party.
Now what has been happening to the fortunes of the Freedom Democratic Party has its membership been growing and would you tell me first off whether it's the only group party or whether it's multi-racial.
Well we do have the party is open to any person. You know this over 21 years old it's open to all people in fact the executive the executive National Committee man is a white man and he is a Mississippian. Reverend Edwin came from to college which is a chaplain there to the college. He is the National Committee man is open to all people.
And I would say that he has grown quite a bit for the past assaye for the past two or three months in the last two or three months it's been growing more rapidly than yes it because so many people now like their people is on strike in Mississippi that wasn't involved in anything you know not only now participate with the Mississippi Freedom labor union but the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party too.
You have an approximate idea of your membership.
Well. It should be I'm not sure but it should be close to seventy eight thousand.
And how are they organized. And where are they cross Mississippi and Alabama. Only or.
Well actually right now the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party is only in Mississippi but they have something I would say is similar to the Democrat Party is beginning to pick up in all the states you know people need in other states. Even in an hour in New York City and Brooklyn is beginning to run candidates you know in that way. That's right.
Let's be scaring the daylights out of the Democratic Party to split the vote for them. It might be but that is what's happening. That's one way of changing the Democratic Party.
And it's one way of bringing a change you know for the poor people all across the country.
There's another party and forming that out here called a federalist party that breaks away from the Democratic Party and also of course in the Republican Party on foreign policy issues and on all these other things that's forming out here with a strong commitment to civil rights and against the war in Vietnam and similar things.
You know that. No I didn't. We were just starting here.
Before joining the Freedom Democratic Party Mrs. Hayman had been a sharecropper on a Mississippi plantation. Her husband also worked there. He had advanced to the position of FOREMAN But even for a foreman which is a high point of opportunity for a Negro life on a southern plantation meant long hours low wages humiliating conditions of work and perhaps worst of all no hope of being accorded fair treatment a decent standard of living and respect as a human being. However negroes were now demanding equal rights and thousands were attempting to register to vote for the first time in their lives. Among them was Mrs. Hayman. Immediately after taking the literacy test to qualify for registration as a voter in Mississippi she learned what it costs to challenge the system of white supremacy and white privilege in that state.
So I was forced away from the plantation because I wouldn't go back in withdrawal. You know my literacy test after I had tried to take it I wouldn't go back and I had to leave in.
My husband was forced to stay on this plantation and till after the harvest season was over and then the man that we had worked for had taken the car and the most of the few things we hear had been stolen. I've been in jail and I've been beat.
You tell us about that who and what grounds did the jury oh what no rounds you know I don't honest stand there until the day I had been to a voter registration workshop you know two they were just training and teaching others how to register to paste a literacy test and it was given us enough training that we could tell other people you know how to pass the literacy test. So we had attended a workshop from the 3rd of June through eight we finished a workshop on the 8th and then we got the Continental Trailways bus to come back to Mississippi and we got to a one on a Mississippi I would say about 10:30 that Sunday morning on our way back to Greenwood. And that was we had got in 25. As other voter registration headquarters and the bus stop and one only you know at the bus terminal and four people got off of the bus you know to use the phone. Restaurant to get food into people got off used to washroom while I was still on the bus and I looked through the glass I saw the people rush out and one of the girls would have gone in a washroom she just got back on the bus and asked to see what had happened and Miss Pandit told me that it was a state highway patrolman and the chief of police only inside him again and tapped him on the shoulder with billy clubs and ordered them to get out. And I said well this is Mississippi. So I got back on the bus and as soon as I was seated I saw them when they began to put the five people what was you know off the bus. But they were an oval of six feet from the bus began to put them in the Highway Patrol men's car and asked ept off again because I was holding one of the ladies urns you know that they was arresting and she said get back on the bus missing and then I heard somebody scream from the college she was in and said get that one there. And then a white man stepped out of a car and told me I was under arrest.
And when he opened the door and I went to get in the car he kicked me. And they carried me on down to the county jail where they hit the other highway patrolman had carried the other five. And they you know when I we walked in when I walked in with the two white men that carried me down and they cursed me all the way down. They would ask me questions and when I would try to ALSA they would tell me to Hersh. And when we when I walked inside of the book in room one of the policeman's went over and jumped up on one of the negroes feet. That was with us. And then they just began to you know put us in sailboats and I was put in a sail with Missy Vesta Simpson. And after I was put in the sail I could just see a some horrible screams and horrible sound. You know of licks. And I saw one of the girls was 15 years old was with us and she paced my sail and she was real bloody. And then they asked the little man that clean up the jail to go inside and mop up that blew it. And then I heard some mo stream in and I heard some awful sounds. And I would hear somebody when they say can't you say yes a nigger can't you say yes sir and they would call her names that I wouldn't want to go on a date. And she said yes I can say yes Sosa was saying. And she said I don't know you well enough and I would hear when she would hit the floor again. And finally she began to pray. And she asked God to have mercy on these people because they didn't know what they was doing. And after a while a past mass sailed Oh with this young woman Miss and they all ponder. And one of our eyes look like blew it. And a hair was standing up on her head and a clothes had been toned from the shoulder down to the waist. And then three white men came to my sale and want to was a state highway patrolman because he was wearing a little civil plate across us pocket that said John L. bass and Jerry and he asked me where I was front and I told him I was from Ruvo and he said I'm going to check it. And he went out and I guess he called rules and they did didn't like me and rule because I work with voter registration there. And when he came back he said. You damn right you say you're from ruble all right and we'll make you wish you was dead and they led me out of that sale into another sale. And he gave a negro prisoner a blackjack and he ordered me to lay down on about bare. And a negro prisoner said do you want me to beat her with this sir. And he say You damn right. Because if you don't you know what I do for you. And I lay down on the bucket and he ordered me to do.
And the first Negro beat me he beat me until he was exulting. And after he beat the State Highway Patrolman out of the second negro to take a bribe and in the time he was beating I began to work my feet because that was a horrible experience. And the State Highway Patrolman all of the first Negro that had be to set on one of the while a second when Vee and I just began the screen where I can control it. And then the white man got up and began to beat me in my head. I have a blood clot now and to the left eye and a permanent kidney injury on the right side from that these are the things that we go through in the state of Mississippi just trying to be treated like a human we would steal. This is called a part of America.
I suppose is a naive question but is a no possibility of you making a civil complaint. A criminal complaint or whatever to mount two against these people for this beating.
The Justice Department brought a suit against these five law fishes from Mississippi. And they had the trial in Oxley. And they had every evidence in the world if it ever was going to be in a people convicted because we had flew to Washington D.C. and hectic pictures made and they had a pictures today of what happened to us in that jail. The bus driver. They even had the waitresses from one owner that they bust on him it said we hadn't done anything we hadn't done no demonstration. The negro that they forced to beat me they came in they told the truth. They told how these white men had made them drunk on whiskey before they did beat us because they figured you know if they didn't have something in on it they might not do it. They told all of that and nothing have been done. So samey and I guess I'll steal when they're gone.
It puzzles me that Negroes in the south have not set up in a way territories of their own with their own armed people. True but the deacons in the south is armed defense organization so that you are outside of the control of police officials like this. Why has this not happened. Is it because the white people there are so powerful that it is such a very deadly and has been impossible.
They are very powerful in the state of Mississippi but some of the people a lot thank is beginning to get where now they just don't care. They are beginning to see if they tried to do anything for the sales well they would be killed anyway by the police official other police officials because there's nowhere that I would call massive go on in the state of Mississippi to be protected by a police official. As they are worst in a savage.
The federal government isn't able to effectively sic give you security.
No because as you know the three civil rights workers that was murdered in Mississippi they say their civil rights had been violated. They had a day.
And when they're when they're killers is still the sheriff.
That's right. And fact the same in reining in price was assisting the people across the street and they was havin memorial service this year for Chaney and Goodman and Michael Serrano and Marcus from was a Jewish person.
He was one of the greatest me and I ever met. You knew him and knew him very well. And his wife Rita and and you know I couldna went there for more service not elect the same two police officials Guard we crossed the street. I would have been low enough.
The low that dare. To go across the street let them guide me cast a tree and it hadn't been for them they wouldn't be in there.
What do you feel about the deacon's This is frightening some white people that I like and can't understand why they don't understand that this is a natural development I think is one of the greatest thing that ever happened.
In fact I admire those people. I respect those people. Because they are doing.
What I believe every need another have them feel if you don't have the guts to say it.
What do you think of Malcolm X Malcolm X was one of the best friend I ever hear. A remarkable man. Oh he was a great man. In fact I had invited Malcolm X to come to Mississippi. And he was supposed to come to Mississippi on. Monday and was killed that Sunday.
He had belonged to the Muslim organization is the Muslim groups making much progress in the south.
They seem mostly to be in the north mostly in the north because a whole lot of things that the Muslim stand for I don't agree with their policies. But I did respect Malcolm X and Malcolm X was a great man.
What what can you think of the Muslims advocate that you don't agree with.
You think one of the things is said nope a separate state. You know just give the negroes a state. They won't our state you know set up the I would have to be more than a state for 20 million black people in this country but just they have so much separation you know that we couldn't you know we wouldn't have to deal with white Oh no times and just put us out.
I would I would say on a deserted island and what we're thought of with a lot of white people in a country we'd last about two days but a lot of reverse racism.
Yes and Yes yes we wiped off the map. Because you see I take this stand that I don't see all people as bad and we didn't have some good white people. It wouldn't be in a bar to stand in a you know trying to help bring about a change and make things better not only for the Negro but it will benefit every human being in this country if we was just free.
What do the people in your movement think about Dr. Martin Luther King and his approach to this whole problem.
Well I couldn't just say in Mississippi because people it is people have different feelings about Dr. King.
They feel that he's accepting to slow the rate of progress.
Well to me it is somewhat slow. But Dr. King's on his Asian do there are some great people like me susceptible PETER CLARKE To wrote the book echoes in my soul is a great woman. And it's quite a few of the people. There are in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. And respect. But I take this stand with any person. A person that was born in the middle class that have never had to suffer. You know he can afford to take things maybe easier than I can. And all I have ever done was suffer you see and now in fact. A person is born in the middle class and I've always had things somewhat decent. You can't make a decision for me because we actually don't know.
I think you know when you mention middle class and middle class negroes and thinking of Lee Roy Jones who is a middle class Negro but is one of the most violent of the young negro writers and lecturers How do you your people feel about him.
Well in Mississippi is not too many people know Leroy Jones although I know Lee Roy Jones. But it's a wonder every new girl in the United State didn't feel exactly like Lee you know I don't there's a lot of happen to us that we should all you know if we wanted to feel like that. But I just have never been you know my parents brought me up. As Christian people and I believe strongly in Christianity and to me if I hate you because you hate me I'm no better than you are and I don't hate a person because they hate me.
I'll try to free that person to other any people you see among the people who are speaking for the Negro. And apart from the people you mention in your own organization for instance we Lomax or James Baldwin or people like that that you regard as being significant for the future.
I think Jane is a great man. I have great respect for Jane Hall.
Are you hopeful of the future for your party politically.
Yes I am hopeful for the future of this party because. All across this country. We have young people. This very aware. Of what's going on in this country. Your membership is largely young people as are in the state. Members of the Freedom Democrat party will have to be 21. But we have so many older people you see out of state of Mississippi is very concerned about the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
Yes but I mean people save 21 to 30 of the most as it in that age group you find most of your membership in Mississippi.
You know we have people from I would say 21 to 75.
Including a lot of older people and yes they've given up their old attitude of accepting things here. Yet nothing you know is not right.
Well some of the young workers there say that they in their day they had never been in a place they had is many older people working as we have in Mississippi.
Would you be standing for election of the next congressional elections.
Well we plan to run people you know and fight.
We have people in sun block county where I live as we hope to run for our circuit clerk and sunlight and we will be having people to run all over the state for state election. County. Own up to the United State representatives and senators too.
I suppose money is always a problem. Oh money is always a problem. Moving for more more than for the other part is yes I do find you can get space in the newspapers and radio stations and.
We hope to have if we have enough money we don't always have enough money but we've been broke all our lives. So we go some time without it.
This transcript is machine-generated and has not been corrected. It is likely there will be errors.
- Fannie Lou Hamer Interview
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- KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
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- Pacifica Radio Archives (North Hollywood, California)
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- Colin Edwards interviews Fannie Lou Hamer on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, voting rights, human rights, and politics during an interview he taped during her visit to Berkeley. Mrs. Hamer also relates a vicious beating she received in a Winona, Mississippi, jail from two African American prisoners forced by officials. She discusses her admiration for the Deacons for Defense and her friendship with Malcolm X. For information on Mrs. Hamer, see Kay Mills, This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2007).
- Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party; Voting--Mississippi; African Americans--Civil rights--History
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Interviewee: Hamer, Fannie Lou
Interviewer: Edwards, Colin
Producing Organization: KPFA (Radio station : Berkeley, Calif.)
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- Chicago: “Fannie Lou Hamer Interview,” 1965-09-24, Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 16, 2019, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_28-bg2h70895r.
- MLA: “Fannie Lou Hamer Interview.” 1965-09-24. Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 16, 2019. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_28-bg2h70895r>.
- APA: Fannie Lou Hamer Interview. Boston, MA: Pacifica Radio Archives, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip_28-bg2h70895r