some amazing women.

12 Oct

Today is day 7 of the UU Living Legacy Pilgrimage. And today, I am thinking about the women of the civil rights movement, and the various roles women played.

I would guess that Rosa Parks is the first woman most people think of when they think of women in the civil rights movement. Her courageous seated protest on the Montgomery bus inspired much that came after.

And maybe then some of us think about the wives of leaders of the movement: Corretta Scott King, and Myrlie Evers are the first two who come to mind for me. These women raised their children amidst such stressful conditions. I can only imagine the fortitude they must have had to try to create a good, safe life for their kids and spouses in such tumultuous and dangerous times. And then to carry on after their spouses were asassinated.

My mind also goes to Viola Liuzzo, the white woman who was murdered transporting two black men back to Selma after the Selma to Montgomery March. And to the many women who were students, who made their voices heard by putting their bodies in the struggle. And musicians and artists like Joan Baez.

But today, I am thinking about 2 women in particular who probably never wanted or expected to be a part of history. And yet, without their leadership, the Movement would not have been the same. Two women whom I had never heard of before this trip.

The first is Mamie Till. She was Emmett Till’s mother. In 1955, Emmett was 14 years old when he came to Mississippi from Chicago for summer vacation. Though he had been warned about how to behave around white folks, when he was dared by his buddies to speak to a white woman shopkeeper at a road-side store, he did. Three days later, the shopkeeper’s husband and some friends abducted Emmett from his bed, beat him, shot him in the head, and threw his body into the Tallahatchie River.

Mrs. Till had Emmett’s body sent home to her in Chicago. She had an open casket, so that people could see what had been done to her beloved son. The picture of Emmett’s bruised and swollen face appeared in magazines and newspapers all around the country.

The men who abducted and killed Emmett were arrested and tried. An all-white jury took about an hour to come back with a not-guilty verdict (though later the men confessed to Look magazine!). It was 100 days after the verdict that Rosa Parks decided she was tired – not physically tired, like they taught me in school – she was bone weary of being denied her humanity.

Mrs. Till’s bravery awes me. Her conviction, her refusal to give in to fear. Her resistance to the status quo. In her grief, she made a decision that would rock the country and set into motion a movement towards freedom and equality.

The second woman that I am thinking about is Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer. She is my new hero. If someone asked me who I would most like to have 1 hour to talk to, I would choose Mrs. Hamer.

In 1962, she was around 45 years old, working on a cotton farm. She and her husband were sharecroppers, she had hardly any education. Someone from SNCC came and spoke at a mass meeting, and she attended. When the speaker asked if anyone would be interested in learning more and going to register to vote, she raised her hand.

When the farmer who owned the farm found out, he told her she had to go take her name off the roles (even though she had not been successful at registering). She said “I didn’t go to register for you, I went to register for me.” He fired both her and her husband. Little did he know his actions would create an activist.

In 1963, Mrs. Hamer became a field secretary for SNCC. She was articulate, full of conviction, and difficult to ignore. She was known for leading gatherings in singing “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and “This Little Light of Mine.”

In 1964, she was selected as a delegate of the newly started Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and she was sent to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. There, she tried to make the case that the MFDP delegates were the only democratically selected delegates from the state. She told her story of being denied the right to register, the beating and torture she was forced to endure when pulled over for a traffic violation, and much more to a captivated audience. President Johnson interrupted the broadcast to try to limit the damage her story might do to his campaign.

After the convention, she continued to have leadership roles in the Movement in the Mississippi Delta. A statue in her honor is the only such civil rights memorial in the delta.

In two years, Mrs. Hamer went from raising her hand to speaking to a nation. Sometimes we wonder what we can do to work for justice. Her story teaches us that we must always be ready to raise our hands, and to let our light shine brightly.

Mrs. Mamie Till and Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, thank you for your bravery, for your courageous opening of your arms to embrace justice, for your sacrifice. Your conviction and courage inspire me.

One Response to “some amazing women.”

  1. Annette Marquis October 13, 2012 at 10:20 am #

    Reblogged this on Living Legacy Pilgrimage Reflections.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: