October 6, 1917 – Birthdate of Fannie Lou Hamer

On this day in history, Fannie Lou Hamer (nee Townsend) was born in Mississippi. She came from a family of poor sharecroppers, often wearing rags tied around her feet instead of shoes.

In the 1940s she met her husband, Perry “Pap” Hamer, who worked on the W. D. Marlow plantation, where they worked together for eighteen years until she was fired for trying to vote.

In 1961 she went into a hospital to have a small uterine tumor removed; without her knowledge or consent, she was sterilized by a white doctor as a part of the state of Mississippi’s plan to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state. (Forced sterilization was so common among African-American women in those days that it became known as a “Mississippi appendectomy.”)

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer

On August 23, 1962, Hamer attended a sermon by Rev. James Bevel, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), who ended his talk with an appeal to those assembled to register to vote.

At the time, only 6 percent of eligible black citizens in Mississippi were registered. They knew that to register was to place at risk to their job security, personal safety and even their lives.

Nevertheless, Hamer was the first volunteer to register. She later said:

I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scared – but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”

On August 31, she traveled on a rented bus with other attendees of Bevel’s sermon to Indianola, Mississippi, to register. People in the group were scared, and Hamer began to sing hymns to boost their morale. But none of it was to any avail. As Peter Dreier reported in his book The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (Nation Books, 2012):

Before they could register, they had to take one of the infamous literacy tests designed to disenfranchise black people. Among other questions, they were required to write down the names of their employers, information that would promptly be used against them. They were also required to interpret a section of the state constitution to the satisfaction of local white officials. For Hamer, the clerk pointed to a section of the Mississippi Constitution dealing with de facto laws. As she later explained, ‘I knowed as much about a facto law as a horse knows about Christmas Day.’

She failed the test. By the time she returned home, she had lost her job, but she had discovered her passion. She became a leader and public figure in the civil rights movement.”

(She passed the test the next year, making her one of 28,000 blacks registered in Mississippi out of a total of $22,256 eligible black voters.)

Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer

Hamer came to the attention of SNCC organizer Bob Moses, who dispatched Charles McLaurin from the organization with instructions to find “the lady who sings the hymns.” Hamer was recruited by SNCC, and she began traveling around the South doing activist work for the organization.

On June 9, 1963, Hamer was on her way back from Charleston, South Carolina with other activists from a literacy workshop, and the group was stopped in Winona, Mississippi and arrested on a false charge. In jail, Hamer and her colleagues were beaten savagely by the police, almost to the point of death. It took Hamer over a month to recover from the beating.

Again, she was not deterred. She returned to Mississippi to organize voter registration drives. In the summer of 1964 she helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, or MFDP, organized to challenge Mississippi’s all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention. Hamer was elected Vice-Chair.

Fannie Lou Hamer, 1964

Fannie Lou Hamer, 1964

MDFP sent an integrated delegation of sixty-eight members, including Hamer, to represent Mississippi at the 1964 Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in August. This was a direct challenge to the official all-white delegation, which excluded blacks from voting. When they arrived in Atlantic City, the MFDP demanded that the national Democratic Party seat them rather than the segregated official delegation.

In Washington, D.C., President Johnson, fearful of the power of Hamer’s testimony on live television, called an emergency press conference in an effort to divert press coverage. The television networks switched to the White House from their coverage of Hamer’s address, in the belief that Johnson would announce his vice-presidential candidate for the forthcoming November election. Instead, he arbitrarily announced the nine-month anniversary of the shooting of Texas governor, John Connally, during the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But many television networks ran Hamer’s unedited speech on their late news programs. The Credentials Committee received thousands of calls and letters in support of the “Freedom Democrats.”

Johnson then dispatched several Democratic Party operatives to negotiate with the Freedom Democrats, including Senator Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Walter Reuther, and J. Edgar Hoover. They suggested a compromise which would give the MFDP two non-voting seats in exchange for other concessions, and secured the endorsement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the plan. But when Humphrey outlined the compromise to the Credentials Committee, saying that his position on the ticket was at stake, Hamer sharply rebuked him:

Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than four hundred thousand black people’s lives? Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Now if you lose this job of Vice-President because you do what is right, because you help the MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take [the nomination] this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk about. Senator Humphrey, I’m going to pray to Jesus for you.”

Hamer’s speech to the Committee brought many to tears, and gained her national attention.

Fannie Lou Hamer testifying at the Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City in 1964

Fannie Lou Hamer testifying at the Democratic Party convention in Atlantic City in 1964

While the MFDP rejected the compromise, they had managed to put the issue to the forefront; the Democratic Party adopted a clause that year which demanded equality of representation from their states’ delegations in 1968. At that convention, Hamer became the first African American delegate since the post-Civil War Reconstruction period and the first-ever woman delegate from Mississippi. She was seated to a thunderous ovation as part of Mississippi’s official delegation to the convention.

Hamer continued to work for Civil Rights until she died of complications of heart disease and breast cancer on March 14, 1977. She is buried in her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, where her tombstone reads one of her famous quotes, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

You can listen to her testimony to the 1964 Democratic Convention Credentials Committee here:

September 29, 1789 – The U.S. Congress Legalizes a U.S. Army

On this day in history, Congress, on its final day of its first session, passed “An act to recognize and adapt to the Constitution of the United States, the establishment of the troops raised under the resolves of the United States in Congress assembled and for other purposes, 29 September 1789.” The act legalized the existing U.S. Army, a small force inherited from the Continental Congress that had been created under the Articles of Confederation.

Section 3 of the act set forth an oath to be taken by members of the Army:

That all commissioned and non-commissioned officers, and privates, who are, or shall be, in the service of the United States, shall take the following oaths or affirmations, to wit: “I, A. B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the constitution of the United States.” “I, A. B., do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) to bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and to serve them honestly and faithfully, against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and to observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States of America, and the orders of the officers appointed over me.”

Section 5 added a provision for additional troops as necessary:

That, for the purpose of protecting the inhabitants of the frontiers of the United States from the hostile incursions of the Indians, the President is hereby authorized to call into service, from time to time, such part of the militia of the states, respectively, as he may judge necessary for the purpose aforesaid; and that their pay and subsistence, while in service, be the same as the pay and subsistence of the troops above mentioned.”

The full text of the Act can be accessed here.

President George Washington here seen as Major General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army

President George Washington here seen as Major General and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army

September 27, 1940 – Tripartite Pact Signed, Forming the WWII Axis

On this day in history, Chancellor Adolf Hitler of Germany, Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano of Italy and Ambassador Saburo Kurusu of Japan signed the Tripartite Pact, creating the World War II alliance of the Axis Powers. The Pact was later adopted by other members of the Axis, including Hungary, Romania, Croatia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and the Kingdom of Yugoslavia.

In the Pact, the Axis powers declared it was their “prime purpose to establish and maintain a new order of things calculated to promote the mutual prosperity and welfare of the peoples concerned.”

You can read the complete text of the pact here.

The signing of the Tripartite Pact by Germany, Japan, and Italy on 27 September 1940 in Berlin. Seated from left to right are the Japanese ambassador to Germany Saburō Kurusu, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Galeazzo Ciano, and Adolf Hitler.

The signing of the Tripartite Pact by Germany, Japan, and Italy on 27 September 1940 in Berlin. Seated from left to right are the Japanese ambassador to Germany Saburō Kurusu, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs Galeazzo Ciano, and Adolf Hitler.

September 24, 1957 – Eisenhower Declares Mob Rule Cannot be Allowed to Override Decisions of the Courts

On this day in history, President Dwight D. Eisenhower addressed the nation about his decision to send troops under Federal authority to Little Rock, Arkansas in order to ensure the safe admission of blacks to schools, pursuant to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown vs. Board of Education (347 U.S. 483, 1954). In that decision, the Court declared that, as Eisenhower summarized, “separate public educational facilities for the races are inherently unequal and therefore compulsory school segregation laws are unconstitutional.”

However, in Little Rock, “[c]ertain misguided persons, many of them imported into Little Rock by agitators, have insisted upon defying the law and have sought to bring it into disrepute. The orders of the court have thus been frustrated.”

Arkansas National Guard troops and large crowd outside of Little Rock's Central High School, September 5, 1957

Arkansas National Guard troops and large crowd outside of Little Rock’s Central High School, September 5, 1957

Eisenhower declared:

The very basis of our individual fights and freedoms rests upon the certainty that the President and the Executive Branch of Government will support and insure the carrying out of the decisions of the Federal Courts, even, when necessary with all the means at the President’s command.

Unless the President did so, anarchy would result.

There would be no security for any except that which each one of us could provide for himself.

The interest of the nation in the proper fulfillment of the law’s requirements cannot yield to opposition and demonstrations by some few persons.

Mob rule cannot be allowed to override the decisions of our courts.”

You can read the full text of his explanation of Executive Order 10730 “Providing Assistance for the Removal of an Obstruction of Justice Within the State of Arkansas” here. (It was published in the Federal Register at 22 F.R. 7628). You can watch Eisenhower’s address on video here:

Review of “Ruth and the Green Book” by Calvin Alexander Ramsey


This “historical fiction” picture book for kids will acquaint many readers with The Green Book, a yearly publication first available in 1936 that notified African Americans of places that would welcome black travelers. Before the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, many hotels, restaurants, gas stations, hospitals, and other establishments would not serve African Americans.

[In 1946, for example, the famous heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson died from a car crash near Raleigh, North Carolina. Ironically, Johnson was racing angrily from a diner that refused to serve him. After the crash, he was taken to St. Agnes, the closest hospital serving blacks. This hospital lacked lacked the technology that could have saved his life, which was, however, available at the closest “white” hospital, the Rex Hospital. In yet another cruel irony involving the same two hospitals, in 1950, Charles Drew, the man who found the way to preserve and store blood plasma, fell asleep at the wheel while traveling through Raleigh on his way home to Washington, DC.  He too was taken to St. Agnes, the only place that would admit him. He needed blood plasma to save his life, but the technology he invented was not available at St. Agnes and he died from his injuries.]

This story tells about a trip from Chicago taken by a little girl with her parents in the 1950’s to visit Grandma in Alabama.

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They were having a good time, but couldn’t use restrooms in gas stations, eat in restaurants along the way, nor stay in motels along the road. When they stopped at the house of one of Daddy’s friends in Tennessee, Eddy told the travelers they should look for Esso gas stations, where blacks could get served. The little girl was given the job to look out for an Esso station. The black man working there showed them The Negro Motorist Green Book, and they bought their own copy for seventy-five cents. The rest of the trip was smooth sailing, thanks to the recommendations of the Green Book. The little girl couldn’t wait to see Grandma and tell her all about it.

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An afterword gives more historical background about the book, written by Victor Green. Although it was first designed to help travelers in New York City, it proved to be so popular that the book was expanded, and eventually covered all of the U.S., Bermuda, Mexico, and Canada. The Civil Rights Bill, making such discrimination illegal, was passed on July 2, 1964, and Victor Green published the final edition of the Green Book that same year. You can find out more information about the book here, and access an entire edition of the 1949 book here.


Floyd Cooper once again employs his trademark “subtractive process” to create the sepia-toned impression of old photos in his soft renditions of times both good and bad, showing the harshness of bigotry and the warmth of fellowship by the manipulation of color and amazingly nuanced expressions.

Evaluation: This book is an excellent way for children to understand just what “Jim Crow” was and what it meant for blacks to live under its strictures, even though they were supposed to be equal citizens. This winner of multiple awards is highly recommended.

Rating: 5/5

Published by Carolrhoda Books, a division of Lerner Publishing Group, 2010

September 20, 1964 – Bombing of Society Hill Missionary Baptist Church in Mississippi

On this day in history, the Ku Klux Klan bombed the Society Hill Missionary Baptist Church in McComb, Mississippi. The church had been the site of a “Freedom School.” Freedom Schools were temporary, alternative free schools for African Americans mostly in the South, part of a nationwide effort during the Civil Rights Movement to organize African Americans to achieve social, political and economic equality in the United States.


The goal of the schools was to foster political participation among Mississippi elementary and high school students, in addition to offering academic courses and discussions. Over the course of “Freedom Summer” in 1964, more than 40 Freedom Schools were set up in black communities throughout Mississippi, with over 3,000 students attending. Students ranged in age from small children to the very elderly with the average approximately 15 years old. Teachers were volunteers, most of whom were college students themselves.

After the bombing, McComb’s black residents spilled into the streets to protest, and they were arrested. Nine white men confessed to the bombing and were released with suspended sentences.

September 18, 1857 – Oregon Constitution Adopted


On this day in history, Oregon adopted its constitution, which included several measures to ensure that, while slavery would not be permitted in the state, nor did the state welcome people of color:

Article 1 Section 31.-White foreigners who are, or may hereafter become residents of this State shall enjoy the same rights in respect to the possession, enjoyment, and descent of property as native born citizens. And the Legislative Assembly shall have power to restrain, and regulate the immigration to this State of persons not qualified to become citizens of the United States.

Article I Section 34–There shall be neither slavery, nor involuntary servitude in the State, otherwise than as a punishment for crime, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.

Article I Section 35.– No free negro, or mulatto, not residing in this State at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall come, reside, or be within this State, or hold any real estate, or make any contracts, or maintain any suit therein; and the Legislative Assembly shall provide by penal laws, for the removal, by public officers, of all such negroes, and mulattoes, and for their effectual exclusion from the State, and for the punishment of persons who shall bring them into the state, or employ, or harbor them. (Repealed November 3, 1926).

Article 11 Section 6.–No Negro, Chinaman, or Mulatto shall have the right of suffrage. (Repealed June28, 1927).

Technically the state’s exclusion laws were superseded by federal law after the Fourteenth Amendment was adopted. But Oregon had a lot of opposition to the amendment.

For example, “The Portland Oregonian” observed in 1865 that anyone seeking to extend voting rights to Blacks was “reckless” because the “same privileges would have to be extended to Indians and Mongolians.” “The Oregon Statesman” opined that giving voting rights to Blacks would possibly lead to a “war of races.” State Senator H.C. Huston argued in “The Oregonian” that the amendment would:

…place the inferior races upon an equality with the superior; to make a mongrel people; to place a negro or greasy Chinaman on the same level with Grant the hero and Johnson the incorruptible Chief Magistrate.”

Nevertheless, the legislature ratified the Fourteenth Amendment by a close margin, only to withdraw its ratification in 1868 when the Democrats regained the majority. For those who think hateful racist rhetoric was confined either to the South or to the pre-Civil War period, one only need peruse the campaign of Democrats to get approval of the Fourteenth Amendment rescinded. As reported by Cheryl Brooks in the Oregon Law Review (83 Or. L. Rev. 731, 2004), Democrat Joseph Smith of Marion County asked voters: “Do you want your daughter to marry a nigger?” and “Would you allow a nigger to force himself into a seat at church between you and your wife?” And “The Eugene Democratic Review” published this diatribe in March, 1867:

…gaping, bullet pated, thick lipped, wooly headed, animal-jawed crowd of niggers, the dregs of broken up plantations, idle and vicious blacks, released from wholesome restraints of task masters and overseers . . . . Greasy, dirty, lousy, they drowsily look down upon the assembled wisdom of a dissevered Union. Sleepily listen to legislators who have given them their freedom and now propose to invest them with the highest privileges of American citizenship.”

Finally, in 1973, Oregon House Joint Resolution 13 passed, resolving to ratify the Fourteenth Amendment.


Today, the population of Oregon is still overwhelming white .

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates the white population in Oregon at 88.1%, with only 2% black or African American. However, the rate of Hispanics is growing rapidly in the state.


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