Anger, Memory, and Personal Power
Fannie Lou Hamer and Civil Rights Leadership
Chana Kai Lee
By revisiting in this essay the familiar parts of Hamer's story—the first voter registration attempts, the eviction from the plantation, and the Winona beating—I highlight the usefulness of categories like personal memory and anger. More to the point regarding the value of this approach for black women's civil rights history, this way of thinking about leadership really should push us to take seriously the matter of black women's subjectivity. What was it like for these women to live their lives? How did they think about what they were doing? How did they think about themselves, their public and private lives? How did they perceive and conceive of their relationship to larger forces—to histories of racial violence and racial exclusion; the persistence of black women's devaluation? How did they think about their particular circumstances (in this case, the Civil Rights Movement)? What language did they rely on to convey understanding and conscious purpose to each other and posterity? As I have argued elsewhere about reconstructing histories of black women, I can think of few exercises as profitable and instructive as reflection over the meaning of their lives for those who lived those lives. How can we not think about this in our effort to yield a more complete measure of a life and a movement?
Still, I appreciate the temptation to do otherwise exclusively. More often than not, through public commemorations, in written work, at conferences and in other ways, we understand and recall what their lives meant for us, the living. This is understandable, if also insufficient. Let's face it: history is property; it is currency. Among other