(Extensions of Remarks - October 06, 2017)

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[Congressional Record Volume 163, Number 161 (Friday, October 6, 2017)]
[Extensions of Remarks]
[Page E1344]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office []

                      THE CONSCIENCE OF THE NATION


                        HON. SHEILA JACKSON LEE

                                of texas

                    in the house of representatives

                        Friday, October 6, 2017

  Ms. JACKSON LEE. Mr. Speaker, as a senior member of the Congressional 
Black Caucus and a Co-Chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, 
I rise in remembrance of Fannie Lou Hamer, a leading heroine of the 
Civil Rights Movement, a fearless fighter for voting rights and social 
justice who spoke truth to power and touched conscience of the nation.
  On this day, exactly 100 years ago, October 6, 1917, Fannie Lou Hamer 
was born in Montgomery County, Mississippi to Lou Ella and James Lee 
Townsend, the youngest of twenty children.
  Although she managed to complete several years of school, by 
adolescence Fannie Lou Hamer was picking hundreds of pounds of cotton a 
  She would later meet and marry Perry Hamer, known as Pap, and work 
alongside him as sharecroppers at W.D. Marlow's plantation near 
Ruleville, in Sunflower County, Mississippi.
  From these humble beginnings Fannie Lou Hamer would go on to become 
one of the iconic figures of the Civil Rights Movement that succeeded 
in bringing down the Jericho walls of de jure segregation and winning 
passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the greatest victory for 
civil rights and human dignity since the Emancipation Proclamation.
  Mr. Speaker, one of our proudest boasts as Americans is that ``one 
person can make a difference.''
  The life of Fannie Lou Hamer demonstrates that this is not an idle 
boast but a simple truth.
  Fannie Lou Hamer dedicated her life to the fight for civil rights, 
working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an 
organization that engaged in acts of civil disobedience to fight racial 
segregation and injustice in the South.
  During the 1950s, when Fannie Lou Hamer was in her 30's, she attended 
several annual conferences of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership 
(RCNL), a civil rights and self-help organization that ignited her 
passion for activism.
  In 1962 Fannie Lou Hamer took up the call to try and register to vote 
in Mississippi, a state whose constitution and laws erected barriers 
such as poll taxes and literacy tests to disenfranchise African 
  It was on the bus trip to Indianola, Mississippi to register to vote 
that, in what would become her signature trait as an activist, she 
began singing African American spirituals such as ``Go Tell It on the 
Mountain'' and ``This Little Light of Mine.''
  Singing spirituals reflected her firm belief that the struggle for 
civil rights was a righteous cause and toiling in this vineyard was the 
Christian thing to do.
  Fannie Lou Hamer's courage and leadership in Indianola came to the 
attention of SNCC organizer Bob Moses who recruited her to travel 
around the South doing organizing work for the organization.
  Being an African American activist was at that time in that place was 
dangerous, but that did not deter the fierce Fannie Lou Hamer:

       I guess if I'd had any sense, I'd have been a little 
     scared--but what was the point of being scared? The only 
     thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like 
     they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I 
     could remember.

  During one of Fannie Lou Hamer's trips she and other civil rights 
activists were arrested and badly beaten on the orders of police 
  After recovering from the assault she returned to activism and the 
task of organizing voter registration drives:

       Sometimes it seem like to tell the truth today is to run 
     the risk of being killed. But if I fall, I'll fall five feet 
     four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I'm not backing 

  In 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer helped organize ``Freedom Summer,'' during 
which she was known by other activists as a motherly figure who 
strongly believed that the civil rights struggle should be broad-based 
and multi-racial.
  Later that year, Fannie Lou Hamer helped to found and served as Vice-
Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MDFP), which 
challenged the seating of the all-white and anti-civil rights 
Mississippi delegation to the Democratic National Convention in 
Atlantic City, New Jersey.
  In Atlantic City, Fannie Lou Hamer addressed the Democratic National 
Convention's Credentials Committee, where she passionately recounted 
the problems she had encountered in voter registration, including the 
vicious beatings she received in jail:

       All of this is on account we want to register to become 
     first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is 
     not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land 
     of the free and the 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?

  Fannie Lou Hamer's raw, authentic, and powerful testimony was so 
compelling that President Lyndon Johnson hastily called a White House 
press conference to divert media attention, which succeeded temporarily 
until the broadcast networks replayed her speech, unedited and 
uninterrupted, on the evening news.
  Responding to Fannie Lou Hamer's speech, viewers flooded the 
Democratic National Credentials Committee with thousands of calls and 
letters demanding the seating of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic 
Party delegates.
  Although the MDFP's delegates were not seated, as a compromise the 
Democratic Party changed its bylaws to require equality of 
representation of state delegations to the national convention, which 
led in turn to the selection of Fannie Lou Hamer as a delegate to the 
1972 Democratic National Convention in Miami Beach, Florida.
  Fannie Lou Hamer died on March 14, 1977 in Mound Bayou, Mississippi 
at the age of 59, due to her poor health, a combination of a lifetime 
in poverty, her 1963 beating, and a 1976 cancer diagnosis.
  Mr. Speaker, Fannie Lou Hamer was always about paying it forward:

       Never to forget where we came from and always praise the 
     bridges that carried us over.

  As the third African American woman elected to Congress from the 
State of Texas, the second to serve on the House Committee on the 
Judiciary, and the first to become the Ranking Democratic Member of the 
Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and 
Investigations, I am ever mindful and grateful of the sacrifices made 
by giants like Fannie Lou Hamer so that persons like me have the 
opportunity to serve and contribute to the greatness of our country.
  I ask the House to observe a moment of silence in memory of Fannie 
Lou Hamer on the 100th anniversary of her birth.
  Happy birthday Fannie Lou, you made a difference; you made America