i cannot explain the emotional schizophrenia of anger, pride, and hope, as i watched “freedom summer” on amazon prime. listening to fannie lou hamer tell her story, one chapter in a library of injustices black citizens endured in the jim crow south, my eyes burned and salty tears rolled down my cheeks. when she was arrested by white officers and jailed for attempting to register to vote, my tears pooled around my feet. when the officers enlisted jailed black men to beat her, leaving her physical body desperately wounded, but her spirit unshaken, my tears swelled into a river. as the documentary unveiled the chicanery and duplicitous actions of LBJ who pre-empted miss fannie’s testimony with a charade of the highest order, i was near drowning. but then, like a buoy, black mississipians rose up and created an integrated mississippi freedom democratic party (MFDP).
miss fannie was selected to speak at the 1964 democratic national convention in atlantic city, her testimony was sure to stir the conscious of the credentials committee and unseat the lily-white delegation. joe rauh, a lawyer and political activist, took up the cause. i don’t view his involvement as altruistic; politics is a numbers game and rauh knew the number of black votes withheld due to white southern control was impeding democracy. imagine the power a black voting bloc could have had at that time and how rauh’s wheels turned picturing how whites could leverage them. but i digress, back to LBJ. fearing how the nation would respond to seeing and hearing miss fannie’s televised testimony of abuse, LBJ held a press conference. his impotent public address lacked substance, and according to the newscasters of the time, the backlash was so fierce miss fannie’s testimony was broadcast anyway.
fear is a powerful force. it could be added as a fifth element as it too, occurs naturally in our environment. LBJ was driven by the fear of losing southern support if the MFDP unseated the cemented all white delegation. he breathed that fear into hubert humphrey to whom he demanded, “fix the mississippi problem” or lose your nomination as vice president. like a game of telephone, the message passed to the UAW president, walter p. reuther who let his constituents know that he was aligned with LBJ. reuther pressured joe rauh (yes, the same joe rauh who championed the MFDP) to do what was necessary to prevent the freedom party from advancing, or risk his position as the UAW chief counsel. their cards handed to them, these white protectionists followed orders. like cheese placed in a rat trap, LBJ lifted the catch just enough for Humphrey to access his reward, but his tail was still caught. joe rauh accepted the compromise, LBJ passed the voting rights act of 1965, and blacks in Mississippi continued the fight.
these tactics aren’t new, but they have been refined. white leaders are crafty in how they move black people around like so many chess pieces, strategizing to protect the king, when the (black) queen is the most powerful player on the board. but what they could not have predicted is the power of our stories.
black women have crossed the line en masse, an exodus from oppressive silence to exclamations of fact. we are telling our truths in public forums, no longer quietly lamenting racial discrimination, microaggressions, dismissals couched in a furlough or lay-off, or having our intellectual property co-opted and re-presented as original thought. we have played by the rules set, we have accepted the “not now” responses to our requests for promotion, we have propped up our white colleagues and watched them soar to levels we have yet to attain. we have earned degrees, certifications, and amassed years of practical experience. All of that has been insufficient, until now.
when a black woman, marilyn booker, stands up to a corporate giant, morgan stanley, and sues the shit out of them for racial discrimination, we witness her courage, hear her demand for equity, and we rally around her for taking up the mantle of justice, come what may.
ms. booker’s story isn’t new, but it is coming at time when black people across the country are protesting, marching, and demanding change. enough conversations, enough recommendations, enough documents filed in drawers, we want what we have earned, and the only acceptable response is agreement and signed checks.
my story isn’t new either, but it hasn’t been told publicly. so, i’ve decided to dedicate the next few posts to my experiences, the situations that have shaped me and reignited the activist fire within. sisters, i encourage you to tell your story. reclaim your power. recognize that what was designed to stop you, deter you, and dissuade you has no authority over your destiny.