By Barney Blakeney
I started a Facebook account a few years ago thinking I would be another source for information. That’s worked out better sometimes than others. I’ve seen some crazy stuff on Facebook, but also have found some real pearls of wisdom.
Recently I saw something about voter suppression on Facebook. The subject’s been on my mind a lot recently since viewing a CNN report on voter suppression in America. The subject’s also been in the forefront of national news coverage of elections in Florida, Georgia and Mississippi. I also read an op-ed piece by Atlanta, Ga. journalist Heather Gray who focused on the late Fannie Lou Hamer’s fight against voter suppression in Mississippi.
I’ve always been fascinated by Fannie Lou Hamer. Born in 1917, the same year as my mother, that Mississippi cotton picker who stopped school at age 12 was one of the most courageous, steadfast and determined women I’ve ever heard about. She died in 1977 at age 59, but before she did that hefty woman from Montgomery County, Mississippi stood on the world stage and struck fear in the hearts of some of the most powerful men on earth.
Hamer led Mississippi’s Freedom Democratic Party founded after white Democrats in Mississippi continuously disenfranchised Blacks. She spoke at the Democratic National Convention held in Atlantic City, N.J. in 1964. By then she had gained renown as an advocate for Black voters’ rights. She’d been kicked off the plantation where she and her husband share cropped for trying to register to vote, had been shot at 16 times during a drive-by shooting. She had been arrested, beaten and molested.
President Lyndon B. Johnson was so terrified of what Hamer would say at the DNC – which was to be nationally televised – he concocted a ruse to pre-empt her address. Hamer and the MFDP, which had sought to be seated at the convention instead of the all-white contingent from her state was not successful, but they squeezed victory from defeat. The next year Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which provided protection for voters. I think of Fannie Lou Hamer when I see Black folks today shy away from the fight for civil rights using their need to keep their jobs as rationale. Today, Mississippi has more Black legislators than any other state.
Earlier I saw something on Facebook about controversy at the Charleston Rifle Club. It seems a Black man applied for membership, but was denied by the all-white voters. According to a news report, 14 people applied including the one Black guy. Only the Black guy was denied.
The club is 155 years old and never has had a Black member. I don’t find that so unusual considering rifle clubs in South Carolina were established to enforce the segregation and subjugation of Black people. I used to live near the rifle club and would look out my window at Black folks who seemed oblivious to that history, party and have a good ole time at the joint which could be rented for festive events.
Reading the news report of the apparent membership discrimination I got the sense that some progressive-thinking folks hope to change the history of the rifle club going forward. Here we are in 2018 trying to change the racist history of an organization that for over 155 years has not welcomed a Black member. And if I’m to consider any of what I see on Facebook and other medium, it may take another 155 years before that happens.
They say those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. The history of discrimination manifested by the voter suppression Fannie Lou Hamer faced all the years of her life continues to affect our daily lives as demonstrated by the vote at the rifle club. One of the things that depress me is how that history is perpetuated.
At the Center for American Progress website I found this statement, “The United States has a troubled history of voter suppression. Prior to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, many states used policies such as poll taxes and literacy tests to prevent African Americans from voting. Even after the voting barriers of the Jim Crow era were removed more than 50 years ago, some lawmakers continue to pursue policies that would undermine our nation’s progress.”
Fannie Lou Hamer died a fairly young woman after a life of hard struggle. I wonder what she’d think today about the battle for voting rights and civil rights, some 40 year after her death. An avid reader, I wonder what she’d think of the stuff that’s posted on Facebook – the pearls of wisdom and the crazy stuff.
This article originally appeared in the Charleston Chronicle.