Magazine article The Crisis

Power to the People

Magazine article The Crisis

Power to the People

Article excerpt

Throughout this country's history Blacks have had to fight for political power.

We have come a long way.

Forty years ago at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, Fannie Lou Hamer declared, "We didn't come all this way for no two seats."

Mississippi had sent an all-White delegation to the convention and, in an effort to have the interests of Blacks in the state represented, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) sought to have its diverse slate of 68 delegates seated. After days of back-room maneuvering, the Democratic Party offered a compromise: The MFDP could seat two delegates - one White and one Black. Some MFDP members and other Black leaders thought it wise to accept the offer, Hamer, a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee field secretary, believed the sacrifice was too great - hence her declaration.

During the summer of 1964 - Freedom Summer - about 1,000 civil rights activists, many of them White college students from the North, went to Mississippi to register Blacks to vote. At the time, only 6.7 percent of African Americans in the state were registered. Blacks, who mostly worked for Whites, risked losing their jobs, and more, if they registered to vote. Hamer lost her job and her home. Buildings were bombed. Some activists were murdered.

It was in this climate that Hamer, a sharecropper, who two years earlier didn't even know that she was eligible to vote, found a cause and her voice. The activities of the MFDP were a major component of Freedom Summer. Members set as a goal signing up 200,000 voters for the party. They organized themselves down to the precinct level and held elections to choose their convention delegates. Hamer testified before the Democratic convention's credentials committee, describing in raw detail the savage beating she received at the hands of five men after being jailed for her voter registration activities. …

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