tv National Book Festival - Author conversation on Women Leaders in Civil... CSPAN October 7, 2022 10:44am-11:31am EDT
talks about his book america a retention story on his life political career and his thoughts on america's future. at 10 p.m. eastern on "after words" missouri democratic congresswoman cori bush author of the four runner discusses her life and advocacy work. she's interviewed by danielle belton. watch booktv every sunday on c-span2 and find a full schedule on your program guide or watch online anytime at booktv.org. >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government. we are funded by these television companies and more including comcast. >> are you thinking this is just minutes after? no. it's way more than that. >> caucasus bargain with 1002 dissenters to quit wi-fi enabled lift zones so students from low income families can get the tools they need to be ready for anything.
>> comcast supports c-span is a public service along with these other television providers giving you a front-row seat to democracy. >> good morning. i'm a reporter with national public radio. such an honor to be the national book festival and we do these distinguished authors. within the next hour almost which is just notot enough time learning about two of the most unsung female heroines at the civil rights movement, two women who in many, many ways could that have been more different. one was establishment. one was grassroots. one was upwardly mobile, kobe well educated and the other one came from a background filled with such deprivation that describe it that seems almost a greater one was an obvious leader one was an unlikely and late in life luminary. both of them change the course of history and neither one of
them has been given their due. hopefully these biographies thao we're going to be discussing will help change that tomiko brown-nagin is a dean at the harvard, at harvard university. her earlier u book is perched to dissent, a land of the civil rights movement. the book wicca to be talking today is civil rights queen constance baker motley and the struggle for equality. kate clifford larson is a distinguished scholar whose order books include a biography of harry tubman, rosemary the hidden to the daughter, and the assassins accomplice to plot to kill every liggett. today will about walk with me a biography of fannie lou hammer. so i am going to assume that many of youou are like me. maybe the levit about fannie lou. lou. maybe haven't heardtl anything about constants. i'm hoping that you introduced us to the subjects of these
books. tamiko, yours is i think unjustly harassed less known. when you please tell a little about constance motley who she was and why you chose her? >> sure. happy too, thank you neda thanks to all of you for being here this morning. delighted to share about constance baker motley who is a legendary lawyer who in her time was very well known. i set out to write about her because it is the case that people today don't know her to the extent that they should. legendary civil rights lawyer who litigated the cases that made it possible for all of us to be together today regardless of race, madeib it possible fore to be a law professor and kate
to be a scholar and symbolically. symbolically. she was very important to professional women. to give you three points about her achievements, in addition to litigating cases like brown v. board of education, the james meredith case, , the case that e segregated university of georgia and the university ofor alabama, motley was a path breaker in politics. she was the first female manhattan borough president as well as the first black female state senator in new york and then she cat stoned her career by becoming the first black female federal judge appointed by lyndon johnson in 1966. as you can imagine she has inspired a generationha of lawyers, including women of color lawyers, like my late
colleague, the first black woman appointed to the faculty of the harvard law school. , harris and justice could tonja brown jackson who, when she was introduced to the nation cited constance baker motley this pathbreaking lawyer as a role model. so motley really is a person whh should be well known by all of us because as i said she reallyy did lay the groundwork for modern american society changing the legal and social landscape. >> and fannie lou hamer? >> so fannie lou hamer rose up to be an incredible leader during the civil rights movement in the 1960s as was brought up before she had an entirely different life trajectory than constants. it cannot be underestimated the deprivation and the poverty that she was born into in 1917 the 20
is a child sharecroppers, and her life was defined by hunger, lack of access to health care, education. she attained a sixth grade education, and also the incredible violence that permeated life ine mississippi. and she arosean out of that low circumstances as an adult to become a path breaker and to really change the landscape. she came out of the earth mississippi and she was very different than the elite civil rights organizers and figures that we know today so well, the martin luther king's of the world and rosa parks of course and others that were sort of managing and pushing the movement forward on the national level. and she had this passion that she had to make a change because
her life was so profoundly difficult and she was so impressed, as and so many ths have been taken from her that at a very late age, she was about 40 years old, 44 years years old, she decided it was time that she would make a difference, and she was a deeply spiritual woman. her face was everything to her. her family meant everything to her and so did her community and that's her activism started. and her faith fortified her to move forward when violence was perpetrated against her. her body, her soul, and she went on to lead people around the country and inspired them and she became famous. for those of you who may know and those of you who don't, in 1964 at the democratic national convention in atlantic city she was given a platform to talk about what was happening in mississippi and african-americans were not represented their and they were denied the vote in mississippi.
her heartfelt speech that was so powerful it shook the people in the room that heard it, men and women were crying, and people around the nation who saw the video of it later that evening in august of 1964 deeply moved all of them and change people so that it altered really the course i believe of the civil rights movement. president johnson was affected by what she said as well, and he went on to sign some very important legislation including the 1965 voting rights legislation which is been powerful over the past few days and is under threat today. so her legacy lives on in voting rights campaigns around the country, and i think that there are people just like fannie lou hamer in our communities today and they need to be recognized and supported just like she was because they can make a world of
difference for all of us. >> one of the things i didn't know about fannie lou hamer, it's just been sitting with me, the words that are on her tombstone are a true she introduced into the cultural conversation, which is i'm sick and tired of being sick and tired. >> right. >> with constants motley, she came from a west indian immigrant family. shean grew up in new haven. her father actually worked for skull and bones. >> he did. then she was plucked a wealthy white man learned, i think -- how come what's that are on the trajectory to columbia law school? >> right. let me tell you about it and a bit abouthe her background. she was not a person of privilege. in fact, her family was a working-class family. her parents immigrated to this
country from the west indies in the early 20th century from nevis. they, virtually every male relative and her family worked for yale university and she grew up iner the shadow of yale in nw haven. something i note in my work is that for some, you can imagine one of the working-class, a black person growing up in new haven in the shadow of yale, there might be some resentment. but for her family their position was inspiring. in fact, her father really read the privilege of the young man that he served at yale as the chef into himself. and the parents thought of themselves as the father in particular as superior.
they were part of the british empire and proud of that. they were ambitious in their own way, and yet constance baker was a young girl and she was not expected to go very far. however, she was incredibly intelligent, ambitious, had teachers who introduced her to the work of w.e.b. du bois and james weldon johnson. she decided pretty early on that she wanted to be a lawyer, and when she told her family and friends about this they said that you must be crazy. women don't get anywhere in the law. and yet she was able to attend college and law school because she gave a talk at a social club, pacific club in new haven which happen too be attended by clarence blakely who was a
graduate of yale and a wealthy man, philanthropist, who heard her speak and said to her afterwards, why are you not in college? because you clearly should be. and he offered to pay for her college and her law school tuition, and she says it was like a a fairy tale, that she could be locked in that way -- plucked. and a set or underscores what she was able to attend law school and got her first job out of law school with thurgood marshall at the naacpma legal defense fund and stayed there for 20 years during which time she mostly, most of that time she was the only woman. just to say a little bit about who she was as a person. she was reserved. she was graceful, elegant in her
bearing, and a part of this came from the sense of being connected to the british empire. she grew upd in a home where her mother would play god save the queen. and one could, to see her was to understand that she did feel herself to be different, and it was really important that she felt this way because of course when she went down to the deep south to litigate these cases on behalf of people like fannie lou hamer and others in the community, she was subjected to the same kind of indignities as were her clients. so she wasn't called mrs. by opposing counsel. there were judges who would neither look at her. and on the other end of the spectrum of course there were members of the black community who just loved her, called her a queen, the civil rights queen,
because she was doing this work in the courthouse translating the deprivation of these communities into the language of the law. i thought it was important to write her back into history. she represented thurgood marshall, the birmingham children's marchers. she was a colleague of thurgood marshall of course who thought very highly of her. and i believe it was a sort of historical malpractice to not ever considered one of the greats in the same way that these men are. >> who is fannie lou hamer in the same as a person? who was she? >> i love what you said about how motley translated the deprivation that a fannie lou hamer was experiencing the discrimination, the violence intoer the courtroom and back to the community. because fannie lou hamer, as i said, wase the 20th child of
jim and alan townsend, and what i discovered in my research is the seven of those children had died before fannie lou was born, and four of of them were babies and the four years before she was born. and fannie lou and her siblings all talked about how it seemed that fannie lou was the mother's favorite. well, now i know why. she lost for babies before that. so she was raised and loved and cherished and protectedra in ths really horrific environment, as cotton sharecroppers in the delta in mississippi. so she provides childhood and has a spotty education, and she grows up to be a very strong child and take care of her elderly parents once her older siblings had moved on. and during the d great depressin she struggled with them to feed themselves and work and earn money,d and that informed her
being, that struggle just gave her in an odd way that sense of strength and a nobility, even though that she had very little education and had no resources whatsoever there it was the poorest of the poor. so when she became an adult she looked around at those indignities and they frustrated her. ..t or hurt in some way, or fired from her job as a sharecropper, she found other ways to fight back. that meant, you know, picking the cotton and the boss would cheat the cotton pickers and underestimate how much the cotton weighed. and she would jiggle with the weights and change the weight so the sharecroppers were paid
fairly. and the fellow sharecroppers that she was crazy to do that, because they knew if she got caught she would be in so much trouble. but she just knew what was right. as i said, she was profoundly faithful. she married another sharecropper in 1944. and they lived on this plantation outside of rural though -- ruralville, mississippi. they adopted two little girls and try to have children of their own, but fannie lou had difficulty conceiving. she had several stillbirths and miscarriages. so they raised these children and had deep love and passion for family. but it was a struggle every single day, and one day she was talking
one day she was talking with mrs. marlowe who was the wife of the plantation owner and mrs. marlowe told her she should go to the local doctor charles dondero and he could take care of the fibroid sores that she wassuffering from and assured her this would help her get pregnant and carry a baby to term . so emerald went ahead and did this but morrow sterilized her and haymer would talk about this all the time, they called it mississippi appendectomy because they did this to a lot of black women in thecommunity and when that happens in 1961 changed her dramatically . he went through a crisis, it tested her faith and some women would have just receded into their home and done nothing after that but it angered her so much and she knew she had to fight back. that doctor took something
from her that ghhe had no right to take and there was no recourse because she was a black woman in mississippi and she cannot sue and what doctor. she became involved in the civil rights movement when this to nonviolent coordinating committee arrived in roseville mississippi, many of you probably know who he was, he was a young activist dedicated to snake is what they call it and a group of other young students and young people came to rule dell and asked the people there what do they want, the civil rights movement to do for them and help them with and they wanted to vote and this became a cause in rule dell and sally lou hamer was able to register to vote and pass the voting rights test and she went on to keep
fighting for the rights for everyone to be able to vote because once e she went and registered tovote , the plantation owner and affected ic her from the plantation that very night. so she was determined to not let that bring her down. she just had this fierceness about her and some of her neighbors were very ig frightened for her and frightened for themselves that she would bring a reign of terror down on them that white supremacists would just become brutal and tried to kill them which they did do . people fired shotgun blasts at their house and in their neighborhood all the time . but she had had enough and after she was arrested for her role in the movement and brutally beaten and raped in the winona county jail in june 1963 she faced another crossroads and she later said they've been trying to kill me my whole life.
well, they might as well do it but i'm not going to stop fighting for equal rights and as i said earlier in my comments she went on to fight and fight and fight from the grassroots level and those young people from the student nonviolent coordinating committee were so loud by her, she was 20 years older than them but they looked up to her as such an inspiring leader and she was inspired by them. she once said those students, she felt was the new kingdom that had come to mississippi. that there was more christianity in those young people than she had seen in in any church that she had attended they had inspired her to rest her life and she inspired them to risk their lives to and she went on to really mobilize change from the ground up and challenge civil rights elites as well as the white supremacist that
would circle her house every single day showing their shotguns, threatening her. so her legacy is so powerful today for the people that knew her and i think a new generation needs to get to know her and know that you can come from the most obscure circumstances and the most difficult places and still rise up and be a leader and create change. >> fannie lou hamer was born and raised with her activism. it was in mississippi and mississippi is where constance motley had one of her most extraordinary legal battles. can you describe her role in the segregating? >> yes. i wanted to become up on something you said is true in many ways these women are
differently positioned and citing in contrast but it's also the case that both of them and something i deeply admire about motley and hamer, they both had such tremendous courage. it's moral courage but it's also the case that motley when she litigated in alabama and mississippi in particular she did so under threat of her life. and this was the case when she traveled from her new york city apartments down to mississippi 22 times in the span of 18 months. >> with a small child at home . >> yes, with the goal her son at home. her husband back in their apartment and just imagine doing that. you would only do something like that if you got yourself on a mission.
and she did it because first of all, thurgood marshall signed the case to her. they were in the office at lgf and received this letter from james meredith who said he wanted to challenge segregation at ole miss in his home state. and thurgood marshall said this man has got to be crazy.l and it was because of the violence in mississippi. the threat , just the absolute stranglehold of white supremacy on people of the state. and nevertheless, motley went down to mississippi. she represented james meredith. it was a terribly difficult case for also to reasons.
first of all, the fear and the anxiety was provoked by being a black person. coming down from new york, the antithesis in many ways of mississippi it was n considered and daring to come to the courtroom, a federal court room and stand up and motley stood nearly 6 feet tall and claimed a black man should be allowed to enter ole miss, the university of mississippi. and she did that and she did it despite hostility from her cocounsel who refused to recognize her.he would call her that woman and motley challenged it and sent to the judge who himself was a segregationist but on the spectrum of segregationists even he knew that that was wrong and so he admonished the council when motley said
he should call me by my name mrs. motley. to at least call her the woman from new york iswhat you ended up calling her . and another point i want to make about the ways in which thisis a difficult case . medgar evers was the main naacp operated in mississippi would pick motley up from the airport and travel with her, take her to the courthouse and she stayed with medgar evers and his wife and children when she was then in mississippi. they werereally are community . feeding her and they experienced the terror of mississippi together. so when they weretraveling to the courthouse , on more than one time medgar said to her
look, don't look back. we're being followed and the state police is trailing them as their driving down the highway in mississippi and he says to her that legal pad inside your new york times because you don't want to be stopped and have evidence that you're doing this civil rights work. and that happened time and time again. he said to mentor evers once when she was staying in their house that there was some bushes that were close to hedges, close to the house and she said you need to cut those down because someone could harm neyou, come from behind those hedges and harm you. of course that's exactly what happened, he was assassinated just a few months after she left mississippi for the last time after just battling in court. she would win positions in
court and the court of appeals wojust would not counter what was inevitable. and ultimately after being in court time and time again, meredith was able to enter ole miss but that was hardly the end of the story because he met a riot when he entered and two people were killed all with medgar evers trying to enter ole miss so it was quite a trial. she had been roughed up several times. there were times when he thought he just had had enough. he'd had enough. and she brought him out of the state into her new york city apartment where he did essentially taste freedom and she got him through that which illustrates how she not only was working in the
courtroom but outside of the courtroom. helping her clients to continue in this really perilous fight. >> there is a great moment in the story. the book is so incredibly ritually recentresearch. i like the details , taking her where she was admitted into the university of mississippi, had to be moved to a bedroom because his bguards needed their own room and then you also told this incredible story about how there was such fear, it's incredible not only did they all survive physically but survived mentally . he needed to take a break and constance motley said you need to study and he said i need to go dancing. >> that's right. she brought him up to the to the apartment, he stayed with her and ultimately he said he just needed to be with his friends and to dance.
he needed not to feel like a soldier every day which was what was required to be a hipart of the landmark cases. >> can you tell us a little bit kate about how fannie lou hamer challenged d as you say the civil rights elites and whether or not these two titans of the civil rights movement actually evercrossed paths ? >> i don't think they did. i don't think there certainly hamer would have been aware of motley especially with her work in mississippi and hamer new mentor evers. soshe was aware of things that ngwere going on in the movement . and i think that she probably paid a special attention i'm imagining because on another woman was in the trenches fighting like she was. >> i don't think that they knew each other but certainly they knew of each other. and i'm so interested to hear
about the challenge to the gecivil rights elites and i know the hamer story including one line i had in my earlier book where hamer says there's nothing she respects less then the naacp. and you tell the story. >> she did say that which is interesting because during the 1950s she did try to get people to sign up to be members of the naacp. but it was an elite middle-class man that ran most of the chapters, specifically in mississippi but other places. and she tangled with some of the elites in the movement once she became nationally known and she wasin atlantic city . martin luther king and laos abernathy and all the group around king. they disrespected her because she was not welleducated . she had a fairly strong
mississippi delta accent. she was very coarse. her clothing didn't meet their standards. they even said that directly loto her that she was an embarrassment and they said with what you're wearing, you should go home and you are going to say that to fannie lou hamer. she was not going to take any of that. she was so grassroots she could not relate to the elites in the movement and martin luther king could not relate to her despite how we all think of him as this grassroots organizer. he was not, it was all the people below and under him in communities across the country that were the ororganizers and he was the figurehead and the inspiring leader but he and hamer just talk past each other. the city he was there with a group of people from
mississippi challenging the rights of the mississippi all-white democratic party to be seated on the convention floor and to vote for president johnson's nominee of the democratic party that year. and she belonged to a more diverse group of people that wanted to represent mississippi and so they had this challenge. so martin luther king was there to support them but didn't have a feel for the people there. he inspired people and he spoke eloquently but he read his speech before hamer got up on stage and shewas the one that allowed everybody personally . . the press followed king around until they heard hamer speak and then they could not get enough because she spoke ul to people across the country i that were living in circumstances like her . so some of those mostly men around king felt a little threatened by her rising power e.
they didn't want her to have the strong voice that she had but there was no denying fannie lou hamer and the nation responded to her. she also had this amazing singing voice so she used that so effectively as part of her rhetoric, as part of her speeches, her presence and people felt connected to her once she would start to sing so she had these qualities that many of those men didnot have . so there was a big divide between you know, those elite leaders who were absolutely necessary y and she was just another partof the movement that we often forget about . >> if i can piggyback on that comment and talk a bit about motley's relationship to those same elites, she was one of them and some of the things that she did were consistent with the attitudes , the sort of attitude that
they are discussing for instance and the university of alabama case there were two plaintiffs originally. one was lizzie and the other was polly and meyer who actually had instigated the case and was a good friend of lizzie. however, pollyanna meyer ran into trouble when the university found out that she had become pregnant before she was married. and her husband evidently had some run-ins with the law. and on the basis of morals, they said that she was not qualified to apply much less attend the university of alabama. and the naacp legal defense fund including motley and the local lawyer just rocked her.
there was no effort to me to stand up for pollyanna meyer and the reason was that in these legal cases in particular, the plaintiffs needed to be the best in the community as was understood. the politics of respectability which motley certainly believed in were very relevant to the types of plaintiffs who were chosen and who could be successful. so for instance in the university of georgia case one of the plaintiffs was charlene hunter gault who had done really well in school and who had, she was very beautiful and she was easier i guess she would say for some to accept. but the thing about motley,
she also had trouble with some of the men in the naacp establishment. in fact after she had litigated her first case in mississippi which was on behalf of black teachers, a salary equalization case she marched into the third all marshals office and said he wasn't being paid what she thought she should be paid. and she didn't have the title that she deserved . and he eventually did give her a raise and was working with the naacp national and making those decisions but it was not an easy way for her at all. one of the deepest valleys in her life occurred in 1961 when she was passed over or thurgood marshall's job once he was appointed to the federal court. she wanted to be director counsel. she thought that she deserved it. but she didn't get it.
it went to jack greenberg who was a terrific lawyer, supporter of the civil rights movement. he also was a white man and motley thought both race and gender had to do with why she was passed over . so there are two sides of the coin and all kinds of gradations and i love deposing these stories because it shows the texture of the movement and the different variances and certainly how gender is very relevant to historical memory of the movement and also whom we should understand as leaders of the movement. it wasn't just the men who were giving the speeches and rallying the tcrowds. as important as that was. it wasn't thurgood marshall who was famously extroverted
and charming and sort of alpha male. it was also these women read motley was as i said reserved. she was not the kind to put herself out in front, she was just doing the work and it's important toappreciate all parts of the spectrum of leadership . >> we have a few minutes for questions if anybody has any. >> i'm intrigued by the relationship between miss motley and miss murray, were they contemporaries? especially considering the issue you brought about leadership haat the time. they were both practicing. >> they did know each other. they were friends, they supported one another . at the same time, motley was able to go farther within the context of the naacp
establishment and legal establishment. and be received better than polly murray was. as you know i'm sure she had a hard time getting her legal theories accepted by the men of the naacp although as they thought about it they decided they would use itbecause it was so great . they did know each other. they loved each other. when motley was appointed to the court, polly murray sent her a note saying hooray for our side. we finally done it because they thought it would be so great for her to have one of their own on the court.. >>. >> footnote to history, when fannie lou hamer was so badly the in present a young law student need eleanor holmes
helped her get out of prison and she was in there with lance lawrence who was a well-known community organizer in dc as well and those injuries she had were with her throughout her r life. >> they contributed to her early death. she died of breast cancer in 1977 but she been suffering with kidney disease or not disease but the damaged kidney from the beatings he took in the jail but the people around her were quite amazing and eleanor holmes norton actually was very close to her and later when she had a mastectomy norton helped her get prosthesis because hamer couldn't afford to do othat and she did that for her . >> she was that young lawyer who helped bail her out of jail in june 1963. >> how old was she when she died last and mark. >> she was 59 years old. >> first of all, i'm happy
that you mentioned gender and the civil rights movement when you were discussing the two wonderful women. in my research on the anti-slavery movement, we talk about how even if you're fighting for the same thing you may not agree how to fight for it. so i was happy to hear you talk about that. but also sometimes women in particular feel a special burden to bring women's issues to the forefront. they represent two constituencies in a fight for anyone's rights at all times. could you talk a little bit about whether or not either of these women felt a enspecial burden because ofatheir gender ? >> i can tell you that motley when she became a new york city politician said when
people call her a feminist that she was not. and so she made a choice publicly to put some distance between herself and the women's movement. both because she didn't think that it was necessarily representative of her and the experiences of other black women but also because in the context of politics in particular when she already had so much against her frankly , she wasn't going to take on feminism to. and yet as i said before in reference to myself and kate and many other women r, she was important symbol of change. and when she joined the court and decided quite a few cases that opened the doors of law firms to women, to journalists, opened opportunities there and so she was a very strategic person and had to be.
supported women's issues but in a way that enabled her to move in the circles that she needed to move in. class i have to say the things same thing about fannie lou hamer. she would d not have described herself as a feminist and she belonged to the national organization of women and she helped organize black women's caucus and she was colleagues with shirley chisholm and betty fred and and medgar evers but she was a very conservative woman and they would have called her a conservative dentist because she was antiabortion and which is interesting because before she was sterilized she had helped other women access abortion services in mississippi and she was anti-birth control to which just kind of really blue the
minds of all those feminist women in the 60s and dearly 70s like what do you mean so i don't think she looked at gender as a burden, it was nd who she was and she was dfighting as a woman for rights for herself and everybody and she was protective of black men because she watched the violence that was disproportionately visited upon black men in mississippi so she was very protective of her husband and other men in the community . >> other questions will have to be addressed to the authors as they find books for the session. so much on the rise when the political climate feel so daunting in many ways . thank you for bringing the question and both of these.