Speaking for every African-American living under the South’s Jim Crow rules, Fannie Lou Hamer says she is sick and tired of being sick and tired.
About twenty feet back from a narrow dirt road just off the state highway that cuts through Ruleville, Miss., is a small, three-room, white frame house with a screened porch. A large pecan tree grows in the front yard and two smaller ones grow out back. Butter bean and okra plants are filling out in the gardens on the lots on either side of the house. Lafayette Street is as quiet as the rest of Ruleville, a town of less than 2,000 located in Sunflower County, 30 miles from the Mississippi River. Sunflower County, home of Senator Eastland and 68 percent Negro, is one of twenty-four counties in the northwestern quarter of the state —the Delta—that make up the Second Congressional District. Since 1941, this district has been represented in Congress by Jamie Whitten, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, who is now seeking his thirteenth term.
From the house on the dirt road there now comes a person to challenge Jamie Whitten: Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer. Mrs. Hamer is a Negro and only 6,616 Negroes (or 4.14 percent of voting-age Negroes) were registered to vote in the Second Congressional District in 1960. But in 1962, when Whitten was elected for the twelfth time, only 31,345 persons cast votes, although in 1960 there were more than 300,000 persons of voting age in the district, 59 percent of them Negro. Mrs. Hamer’s bid is sponsored by the Council of Federated Organizations, a Mississippi coalition of local and national civil rights organizations.
Until Mississippi stops its discriminatory voting practices, Mrs. Hamer’s chance of election is slight, but she is waking up the citizens of her district. “I’m showing people that a Negro can run for office,” she explains. Her deep, powerful voice shakes the air as she sits on the porch or inside, talking to friends, relatives and neighbors who drop by on the one day each week when she is not out campaigning. Whatever she is talking about soon becomes an impassioned plea for a change in the system that exploits the Delta Negroes. “All my life I’ve been sick and tired,” she shakes her head. “Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Mrs. Hamer was born October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, the twentieth child in a family of six girls and fourteen boys. When she was 2 her family moved to Sunflower County, 60 miles to the west.
The family would pick fifty-sixty bales of cotton a year, so my father decided to rent some land. He bought some mules and a cultivator. We were doin’ pretty well. He even started to fix up the house real nice and had bought a car. Then our stock got poisoned. We knowed this white man had done it. He stirred up a gallon of Paris green with the feed. When we got out there, one mule was already dead. The other two mules and the cow had their stomachs all swelled up. It was too late to save ’em. That poison knocked us right back down flat. We never did get back up again. That white man did it just because we, were gettin’ somewhere. White people never like to see Negroes get a little success. All of this stuff is no secret in the state of Mississippi.