Fannie Lou Hamer has been on my mind. In this post, I explore challenging and straightforward questions, as I reflect on the blessing of her work and the expectation of Black women to struggle on behalf of various communities for social progress.
Are We Smiling Up There
Do Black women smile in heaven?
Once we get there, do we have more to climb?
Do Black women enjoy Paradise, looking down at oppression all over the world?
These questions linger as I have been thinking about Fannie Lou Hamer.
She visits my heart and mind from time to time.
I hear the prophetic clarity in her voice calling America higher.
Her words move me like scriptures, sermons, and hymns.
And the progress gained from her life fuels torches of people from all walks of life to keep going.
As the Spirit moves, I yearn to find out if Black women know how to let go when we go on to the next life.
I inquire because we can devote ourselves to a people or to a movement, at our own expense and to our own demise.
Fannie died young, pushing striving, and fighting, and climbing for causes.
A host of Black women know how to climb.
We literally climb.
We climb flag poles, to take down symbols of terrorism.
We climb the Statue of Liberty with a question to America.
Fannie Lou Hamer questioned our nation and called us to climb higher. Before an entire country, she asked,
“Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?”
Her life reflected her questioning out of fierce love and an unquenchable thirst for freedom for all people.
Now that she is no longer with us, does Fannie Lou Hamer look at our progress and smile on the United States of America?
When she made it to heaven, did she laugh with jubilee because of her freedom from disease, injury, poverty, and terrifying oppression?
Did tears of rejoicing burst through her magnificent presence when she heard the words, “Well done, My good and faithful servant?”
Did she hear the cries of those racist White men from Mississippi, as they languished in hell? Did they ask her for a sip of water, humbly recognizing that the Lazarus their White Jesus spoke of turned out to be a Black woman?
I am curious.
I am dangerously curious for a Black woman.
Because I learned that a good Christian does not believe people go to hell over racism. It is not listed as a sin in the Bible.
Plus, you can enslave people and walk through those pearly gates without ever missing a beat.
Ain’t God good?
I envision Fannie Lou standing before God, not the fake God of oppression-the true and living God. I see her weeping.
Some of Fannie’s tears express the joy of an America she did not live to see.
Countless people from different backgrounds stand against racism.
I am Black woman in a nation with much freedom of speech.
It came at a price for women like Fannie Lou Hamer.
I imagine her tears turning into concern at the cloud of social forces, familiar to her time, continue to emerge.
She sees the signs.
She sees the redistricting, knows the court cases and watches the policies.
She feels the temperature slowly increasing in the pot, with the rolling back of the work from her era.
She recognizes the spirit.
Gotta have discernment.
Also, she sees the same old silent folks, scared folks, and the “I don’t get political” folks.
We have come so far; she wants us to keep striving.
Making it to heaven is not enough for a deceased Black woman who wants people throughout the world delivered from a living hell, is it?
But, I hope Fannie Lou Hamer is smiling.
I hope she beholds the multitude of hues who keep going.
Times Sholl ‘Nuff Have Changed
On the day of Fannie Lou Hamer’s arrest, the White highway patrolmen took her to a jail cell and ordered two Black prisoners to beat her. The White prisoners present looked on without intervening.
No one in the jail cell that day lived the path of bravery, save the Black woman with a voice and a desire for all to have freedom.
What kind of man pulls up a woman’s dress, every time she pulls it down in the course of men beating her?
The kind who is found innocent by an all-White male jury.
The fifteen-year-old Ivesta Simpson, likewise beaten within an inch of her life, caved into her agony and she cried out in prayer for God to have mercy not for herself, but for the White police officers who beat her.
Who prays for her attackers?
The least of these-the Black girl, with righteousness higher than the men with the badge, embodying Christ, when he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”
Why would a Black woman dead or alive smile about any of it?
After all, the very people Fannie Lou Hamer sought to help brutally beat her.
That is the crown and reward of a Black woman’s sacrifice.
A number of us no longer require an armed White person forcing us to hate and hurt each other.
We put each other down and other people down with ease.
This faction of us focuses on the racism outside, without examining how we have soaked it in and unleashed the poison on Black people, People of Color and White people.
With our freedoms, we contribute to the violence on one another without commands or threats to our lives from White people.
Times sholl ’nuff have changed.
But we can’t say dat in front of White folks.
We use each other as steps in our climb in this new world, while Black women are out here climbing statues, flagpoles, and whatever we can to get a message across.
Dare we pause to ask, “Who climbs for us?”
Where are the Lawrence Guyots, Hollis Watkins, Willie Peacocks, and Andrew Youngs, when Black men and boys join the racists in disparaging and mocking Black women and girls?
Where are the Len Edwards, who risk their lives for freedom for all?
The Black women who do not make time for such questions remain silent about the wounds from those who look like us and like good soldiers, unquestioningly and relentlessly fight those who attack the Black man.
In our fighting and sacrifice for others, along the way, some of us learned that we are not worthy of even standing for another Black woman, let alone ourselves.
We have more to learn from Fannie Lou Hamer.
Ain’t Waiting For Heaven
I neither want to nor have to wait to get to heaven to rejoice or smile.
I want Black women to smile now.
And some of you might respond, “How can we? How dare you expect us to smile?”
And others might respond along the lines of choosing joy.
To smile now requires a re-envisioning and rethinking the way we engage in social causes, communities, and nations.
Our story does not have to be one of struggle and no peace.
Or do some of us believe it is our calling because of the shoulders on which we stand?
What if we evaluated our roles?
These questions pose a threat to Black women staying our unwritten places.
With our creativity, we can explore carrying the legacy of the Fannie Lou Hamers of the world with practices that do not require relegating ourselves to be workhorses, martyrs, or blind followers of groupthink.
When we reconsider rushing to the front lines to sacrifice our strength and allowing our bodies to be used to validate causes with the satisfaction of crumbs and in return, we begin to live the respect we desire.
Let someone else climb a statue, climb a flagpole, and leap tall buildings in a single bound for a change, while we self-define and our personhood and roles.
Right now, the thought of it brings a smile to this Black woman’s face.
You can read the entire transcript of Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony of her arrest and brutal beating here: http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/sayitplain/flhamer.html