In 1961, Fannie Lou Hamer, without her knowledge or consent, was sterilized by a white doctor as part of an effort to reduce the number of poor African-Americans in Mississippi. This was just one of the facets of the institutionalized racism that Hamer and other civil rights activists faced down. In 1962, Rev. James Bevel gave a sermon in Ruleville, Mississippi that concluded by urging African-Americans to register to vote, even at the risk of beatings, harassment or lynching. Hamer was the first to volunteer. While on the bus on the way to register, Hamer led the group in hymns to lift their spirits. Soon after, she was recruited by Bob Moses, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and began doing activist work all over the South. In 1963, Hamer and other activists were on their way back from a literacy workshop in Charleston, South Carolina when they were arrested, jailed, and so savagely beaten that Hamer needed a month to recover afterwards. In 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (“Freedom Democrats”), of which Hamer was Vice-Chair, attended the Democratic National Convention. President Lyndon B. Johnson, knowing that the Freedom Democrats’ success would lose him Southern support for reelection, tried his best to suppress press coverage of Hamer’s address to the Convention’s Credentials Committee, but many TV networks ran it unedited on late night shows, garnering public support for the Freedom Democrats. Johnson sent several Democratic operatives to negotiate with the Freedom Democrats, and as a result of the debate, the Democratic party adopted a clause which demanded equality of representation in state delegations. Hamer continued to campaign for civil rights causes and also spoke out against the Vietnam War.
For Freedom’s Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer by Chana Kai Lee
Mary McLeod Bethune’s parents both had been born slaves. Despite their poverty, it was Bethune’s dream to go to college so she could go to Africa as a missionary. Though she did get to college, she was denied the opportunity to go to Africa, so she became a teacher instead. She moved to Daytona Beach, Florida and started the Literary and Industrial Training Center for Negro Girls. Though the school started out on a very low budget (desks were made from old crates and the juice of wild berries was used for ink), the quality of the education was excellent and rivaled the standard set for white schools of the time. Aided by wealthy white benefactors, Bethune’s school grew to 351 students in 1920. Three years later, it merged with the Cookman Institute for Men and became the Bethune-Cookman School. Teaching was not Bethune’s only contribution to history – she was also president of the Florida chapter for the National Association of Colored Women and founder of the National Council of Negro Women. In the 30s, Bethune was appointed Director of the Division of Negro Affairs, a department of the National Youth Administration. She became good friends with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (who admired Bethune so much that she requested that the segregation rules at the Southern Conference for Human Welfare be changed so they could sit next to each other) and used her access to the White House to form what would come to be known as the Black Cabinet. When she died in 1955, a columnist wrote that “she gave out faith and hope as if they were pills and she some sort of doctor.” Both her homes in Daytona Beach and Washington D.C. are designated historic sites.
Mary McLeod Bethune: Building a Better World, Essays and Selected Documents, ed. Audrey Thomas McCluskey and Elaine M. Smith