tv Kate Clifford Larson Walk With Me CSPAN November 12, 2021 11:10am-12:17pm EST
you the latest in nonfiction books and authors. funding for c-span2 comes from these television companies and more including buckeye broadband. ♪♪ >> buckeye broadband along with these television companies support c-span2 as a public service. up next, biographer kate clifford larson recounts the life of late civil rights leader fannie lou hailer, hosted by the center for brooklyn history in new york. >> welcome to tonight's program, a discussion of civil rights leader fannie lou hammer. my name is marcia ely from the
center for brooklyn history. a part of the library's arts and culture team, the team that brings to you whispering library and much, much more, and if you're curious about any of these intriguingly titled programs, i hope you'll visit the website and find out more. tonight, three women, all leaders in their own right, will be in conversation about the extraordinary and inspiring life of fannie lou hammer. her courage and spirit and faith gave her the strength to lead the fight for racial justice, in voting equality, in jim crow mississippi. it is distressing that today, in pockets across the country, voting rights are again threatened. and hammer's story is all the more timely. so tonight's program is inspired by a new book written by one of our panelists, kate clifford
larson, titled "walk with me: a biography of fannie lou hammer." it is a powerful book, beautifully written. we will put a link in the chat for those interested in exploring this title further. the link is to a page on a website of a local bookstore in park slope. i also want to share that you have the option to engage closed captioning tonight. click that button at the bottom of your screen. and finally, you are all invited to share your questions for our panelists tonight. type them throughout the program into the q&a box also at the bottom of your screen and towards the end of the program we will take as many as there is time for. so now let me briefly tell you a little bit about karen larson
and her conversation partners and hand it off to them. sorry, i said karen. i meant kate. dr. kate clifford larson is the author of "bound for the promised land," "rosemary: the hidden kennedy daughter," and "the assassin's accomplice." she has served as an expert consultant on film script and museum exhibitions. her latest book, as i mentioned, is "walk wit biography of fannie lou hamer." karen hill successfully pursued
federal legislation to have the home become one of the newest units of the national park service. prior to that she worked on affordable housing development including a federal appointment to implement the court's order to desegregate the city of yonkers. earlier, she was a program director for the national urban league, chief executive of the implementation office, and chief executive of the american homeowner education and counseling institute. thank you both for being here. finally, cynthia r. copeland is president for the institute of preservation of seneca history and chair of the reparations committee for the episcopal diocese of new york. she is a public historian and educator at bank street college of education, teachers college, and a host of nonprofit cultural
and educational institutions throughout the country. so i would to thank you, all of you, for being here with us tonight. and i'm excited to hear your conversation. hello, kate and karen. i'm so excited to be here tonight. i'm particularly interested, as was mentioned, with the current site for the fight over voting rights. it's just horrendous to me, as we think about it daily in 2021, and then we think about the people who fought to give us those rates. fannie lou hamer is certainly one to have an incredible position, a prominent position in pushing this forward. and so a lot of people know of fannie lou hamer but they know
of her from being sick and tired of being sick and tired. and sadly, that's sort of the extent of it. they have sort of a general idea, notion of who she is. maybe they have had the experience of seeing her in old footage at the democratic national convention in atlantic city, firing off her wonderful statement. but really, other than that, there just seems to be sort of a superficial kind of an understanding of fannie lou hamer. and kate, you have done an incredible job going deeper and offering an opportunity for all of us to find out so much more and to have an incredible intimate relationship with her. and so we'll start with you, kate. and i'm just wondering, what inspired you to write the book? >> well, it's sort of easy and
complicated. but, you know, fannie lou hamer inspired me to write the book. she is such an amazing woman. and, you know, she had been on my mind for 25 years. and i don't know, this last time, a few years ago when i was looking for a new project, she was there. she was just, like, you know, knocking and saying, hmm, maybe it's about time. so i decided to start researching her life and i got hooked, just like i did with harriet tubman, i became hooked on her life and her passion and the brilliance and what she did and what she -- i'm amazed at what she sacrificed to bring change in this country. and i hope that everybody learns about her and celebrates her and carries on what she could no longer carry on after her death. >> karen, what does fannie lou hamer mean to you? >> well, you know, it's
interesting, because in one of the photos of fannie lou hamer there is a real strong likeness to my own grandmother, okay? and my own grandmother was similar in build, in stature. you know, she was very bold in her being. and for me, i can remember -- i mean, you know, i'm old, okay? i can remember being riveted by all that went into getting us to 1965, and what preceded it. and it was a topic of conversation in our household.
you know, we -- my parents and my grandparents, we lived together. and it was a topic, you know, that the voting rights have to happen, that there is a woman from mississippi, and she's singing the songs that my family really grounded in their own christian faith, and the a.m.e. zion church, the freedom church, the freedom songs. you know, it was like grounded in me that this woman was a part of a charge. it was interesting, because just to go fast forward, it was like fannie lou and other women did this groundbreaking work, and then i feel like, unfortunately, they were forgotten, because then the modern civil rights era
came about, and we had all of these men from whitney young to the naacp and dorothy height was the lone woman, and not acknowledging fannie lou hamer's absolute dynamic change in the body politic within the democratic party. i say that because everything happens for a reason, and things kind of come full cycle, because also at that time, when i was like 12, 13 years old, and voting rights had been passed, and i remember voting in my family being really, really
critical. everybody who was eligible to vote had to vote. i used to be the little girl who would collect everybody's nfl with the ties -- tithes on saturday. i thought that struggle was behind us, quite frankly. to go back to your opening statement. so i really come at this from, like, i do the work of tubman, and one of my big -- i'm so -- i'm so honored that kate would even like be in this, lead this charge, because she really has sort of taken the thread of tubman to the next stage with hamer. you know, and then i see the women of today need to be lifted up also, because a lot of the
movements that are going on today are really being led by women who don't want to be identified as leaders but they are the leaders. but, you know, tubman was fearless, faithful and fearless. and i see hamer coming from that same tradition of being faithful and fearless. and you have to have that, i'm convinced of it. whomever you worship, you have to have faithfulness and fearlessness to do the work to bring us into equality. and it's unfortunate. it is unfortunate that still today, this country, there's a part of this country that seems resolute in not granting full and equal rights to all of her people. you know, not having her join the franchise.
but harriet would be so pleased that fannie lou hamer is having this time, because she doesn't feel -- like with harriet, not with our struggles but having to explain a historical, a truly historical figure. fannie lou hamer seems very much more of a contemporary, an older contemporary, because these struggles are very real today and going on today. when you have back men being shot in the back and being held down by law enforcement, those are recapitulations of what happened during hamer's time. we have not really advanced to the extent that we can look at hamer as a historical figure, but rather we need to lift her up and we need to share her far
and wide and learn the lessons of faith and fearlessness. >> it is interesting that you brought up the threads and the recurring themes and how you introduced the idea, when we were preparing and thinking about drawing the parallel between tubman and hamer, which are just unbelievable, and you cannot, if you study those two women, and especially if you study them from kate's book and her work, you will really come to have this incredible understanding. and it is interesting that, you know, you bring up this point that it is so fresh and real through hamer because it's only -- it's in our lifetimes, right? many of us, if you're a product of the 1960s civil rights movement and the post to a certain degree because women's rights and liberation came about and those who study that and who
are knowledgeable of it can really sense and feel her presence. and then they tap on harriet, who was, you know, 100 years before that, so, you know, there's some -- a little bit of a gap. yet the more things change, the more they remain the same. and we're still fighting for the same rights over and over again, maybe getting closer, maybe women are starting to get more recognition. but this is -- both of these stories are definitely women's stories. and i think that -- you know, i would like for kate and for us to get into a little bit more of this conversation about what exactly did hamer do, and what was that faith that carried her through to be able to be resilient, to be resistant, to be able to, you know, be so committed to her community, to her people.
and not just to her people, this was for everyone, her people first, but this was going to benefit everyone. and she recognized that. she said she was tired but she kept getting up and she kept fighting and going back. so i'm hoping that we can maybe kind of talk about what exactly, you know -- i hate to be like, what are the high points and what do we really know about her but we don't have a lot of time together, and we do want to intrigue people so that they will go out and get that book and read it a little more and have book discussions and really give fannie lou hamer the credit that she deserves and the recognition and acknowledgement. so let's just talk about who she was, how she spoke truth to power. this idea of, you know, violence that shrouds the lives of back women in particular, from harriet to hamer to the present time. all of these issues that we're talking about that have been threaded throughout. so i throw it out to us for conversation around those ideas.
>> well, i like to look at hamer as -- we were talking about her faith. i mean, she was born and raised in a very strict baptist household. and her faith, it just was a part of her total being. and it was in their home and in the earth, around their house. it was just part of her. but she had to survive extreme poverty and circumstances in the mississippi delta as a child and as a teenager. her faith many times was the only thing that -- and her family's faith is what helped them survive the gnawing hunger in their bellies and the violence that whirled around them and the discrimination and the racism. when she was an adult, i look at a few moments in her life that transformed her. and there were acts of violence against her.
and some people would have retreated and receded and hidden and run away. and she thought about those things, but she turned to her faith and she prayed that she would survive and asked god, her god, you know, what should i do, give me a sign. and i look at her being reborn a couple of times as a result of the violence and the trauma that happened to her. and at one point she said something to the effect of, as she started emerging in the movement or decided to commit herself to the movement, she told colleagues and audiences that she felt that those white supremacists will be trying to kill her all along, and so what's the difference, she might as well go out and fight as long as she had breath. and that's what she did. and she changed people's lives because she was so honest and authentic and direct. and she didn't mince words.
and she called out people. it didn't matter if they were black or white, she called them on the carpet for their disingenuousness, because she had business to do, voting for her family and her community and the world. that's what she did. >> i think it's really interesting, the way that tubman had to leave where she was born in order to do her work that changed america to make a difference, and that hamer had to stay where she was born to change america and make a difference. and -- but i think the key is, both of these women were
incredible smart. they had an intellect that came from another place, that we don't often honor and acknowledge. but they had intestinal fortitude, incredible determination, amazing wit, really genius, pure genius in their being, one knowing that she had to leave to make the difference, the empirical value of moving from the land of the enslaved to the north, and then one in the deeper south, knowing that the deeper south was not left behind, she needed to stay to make the difference that needed to happen. if she didn't do the work that she did, i don't know, you know, the dixiecrats would still be the dixiecrats loud and clear. that's really interesting, they
knew, they were both in tune with what was going to make the difference, without anybody sort of coaching them one way or the other. but they knew it instinctively. >> that's a great observation. and now that you say that, hamer saw that herself, she knew that once she got involved in the movement, she could have moved to washington, dc or new york city and then part of the movement there in some structured organization. but she chose to stay in the community in mississippi. she knew the needs there were so great. and also, she was fortified by those students, from the student nonviolent coordinating committee, the bob moses and all of the young people that came to mississippi. and they were willing to go through being hungry, and the violence, confronting and
dealing -- enduring that violence. and when some of her neighbors were not willing to do that. she found being there in the landscape of mississippi was transforming them in some way and they were going to take that someplace else. she actually said the student nonviolent coordinating committee students were for her the new kingdom on earth, that they were more christian-like than some of the people she knew in her world. and that motivated her that if they could be so -- so moved and driven, she was going to show them the way and be part of that movement. >> then we've got the students that are coming from all over geographically, you've got white students coming down from the north, who had never been in the deep south and had only heard about it, and, you know,
encountered something that they perhaps weren't ready for. and you also had young folks who were from the region where hamer was. and you also had students who are of sort of the upper elitist back south, if you will. and so i'm wondering if we can talk a little bit about any sort of class issues that came into play during these efforts to try to move things forward. we're talking about these two women, again, speaking of tubman and hamer, about the intelligence and the brilliance and the genius that they had, natural organizers, natural risk takers, natural folks that just relied so heavily in greater power to get them through and having that incredible commitment and just -- it needed to be done, just do it kind of attitude.
but there were people who did not necessarily like those women for doing that. and they weren't expecting these folks to be, you know, as exceptional. they were the exceptional ones. you know, how is it that you're going to have these commoners that can't speak intelligently or to the standard that they have become measured against? so can we talk a little bit about the internalized classism in general and the difference between the deep south and the south? >> well -- >> so -- >> go ahead, karen. >> no, no, you go, katie. >> i think tubman could not read or write so her literacy was an issue for elites in the abolition movement, let's say. but she had many other literacies and because of her strong faith and her amazing genius and personality, she navigated that class
environment, because she had work to do and she's like, okay, frederick douglass, if you don't have time for me today, i'm going to go rescue somebody or i'm going to do something else. and that's not to denigrate frederick douglass, just saying he was of a different class and that played out in their relationship. >> hamer, it was the same thing, she had a sixth grade education but her genius was so vast. she lived in a world where men, white and back men, still were in control in their own worlds. and elite men didn't want hamer rising to the top. they thought she was uncouth and unsophisticated and they didn't want her image in the national news, on the newspapers, on television. they wanted to be the ones that were doing that. but she did the work. she was on the ground. she was -- she was bearing the brunt of all of that violence.
and she was determined to bring the people up and the elites sometimes didn't see the faces or hear the voices of the average mississippi delta farmer, that's the truth. >> with tubman, she knew how to own the room, okay? when she needed to get her point across, she knew how to -- you know, we know with the photograph, kate, that you and i authenticated, of a young harriet. she knew that that was the attire that she would wear to go to seward's mansion or one of the other abolitionists, to get her point across. i know from the work i've done on suffrage that they knew that they needed her more than she needed them, okay? because she could articulate
that message of women becoming a part of the franchise, even though it would not include her, even though she was an owner of property. and i think that's a part of the beauty of both tubman and hamer, is that they had an ability to see an america that was beyond the current circumstance, which is really hard, because i don't have that ability. you know, but they had that ability, and that's what they worked toward. they did not stay stuck in current conditions. and then there were -- as far as the elitism, there is the exception of a bob moses who had his education, who did move south. i think he went from, you know,
new york, dc. and then he realized that he needed to go deeper south, because what happens, there is the south and then there's the deeper south. and where the real change that needed to happen, that we galvanize everyone, was the work that needed to happen in the deeper south. so there were some men who were willing to be -- to be led by the circumstances and by hamer's personality for change. and i just think that both hamer and tubman saw an america that no one else saw, quite frankly. and they were willing to put their lives on the line to make that happen. >> and i think it's interesting that you're saying these two women were capable of
envisioning a future, an america that would live up to the ideals of the constitution and the declaration of independence, et cetera. and i'm wondering if the fact that they were working with abolitionists in the case of harriet and in the case of fannie, she had the snic group and the diversity of people that were starting to question that which had been taught to them as a means. and so i'm wondering if you think that, you know, these were sort of the fuel that could help to keep them going and help tom to believe that this was indeed the case. young people, women, that were outside, and accepting them and having maybe not completely and fully, but giving them a bit of a platform and being able to actually listen to the plea and also knowing that, you know, in
god's eyes, this isn't right, that ain't right, you know, that just ain't right, folks, and you call yourself christians. and they both had that sense of, that ain't right. so they pushed forward and tried to hit people sort of morally but also, you know, economically. they recognized where this was going economically. and just because the humanity, looking for the humanity in every single person. i may not necessarily appreciate what you have done to my family as a white supremacist or living in the muck of white supremacy, maybe you don't want to be in it but you're in it, right? but i can see that you are a human being and i want that recognition too and i want it for my people and for all people. i'm just wondering if you think that maybe something like those shifts that made their appearances -- of course it was a lot of their work and their
doing to get to those points, but could that have been a possibility, to help them to envision and realize that, oh, wait, this is possible? >> i know with tubman, she was fortunate to have met some of the most powerful abolitionists in the country at the time. and while it took her a little bit to trust them, once they earned her trust, it did -- it motivated her and supported her and energized her. and those relationships were very important to her. and, you know, some of them she became lifelong friends with. they were a part of her transformation and her rising and being able to do more what have she wanted to do. and with hamer, it's absolutely the same thing. she was frustrated, she did a few things that had to do with the civil rights movement and trying to get local people
interested in pushing for some rights and trying to make a difference in their world. but it wasn't going anywhere. she didn't have the tools in rural mississippi, the tools weren't there. so when snic came, it was the moment for her. she knew that they had come and it was her one opportunity to try and see if she could do something. when they gave her the tools to try to register to vote, that's all she needed. she could see that they wanted to work with her. they weren't going to lead her, they were just giving her tools. and that changed her life, it really changed her life. and those young people looked up to her. like, karen, you said, she owned the room. and while she may have understood she had a powerful voice, she had no idea she could own the room with kids coming from around the country, who were well-educated, some of whom
were very well-off, they looked at her in awe and that empowered her and she knew that she was making a difference. >> i think you're absolutely right. i was going to add to that and say that i just find it -- this is just my very own personal views, that when you have a woman who could neither read nor right and you have a woman who had a sixth grade education, who was doing a lot of the keeping the records and a lot of the sort of administrative work to keep all the plantation running the way it needed to with a sixth grade education, when you have -- those are the only opportunities that they had for how we value formal education and how we learn in this
country. there has to be something else. there had to be something on the inside that manifested itself on the outside with their actions. and it was like in their head that they had these deliberate moves that had to be made in a certain time, in a certain place, in order to make the difference. and just a level of commitment and contentment, that it may not all be solved in their lifetime, but there would be these major steps moving towards, moving towards the promise of america. and i think that's an amazing
thing, that that's a promise of america that was in their being. now, how does that happen? how does that happen? when you see your people being beaten and mistreated and living on the margins, but you still believed in the promise of america. and for me, i have to juxtapose all of that with what is happening today. i think history is great, but i have often said history, just for history's sake, doesn't mean a thing unless we can apply that history in a way that has practical applications, that moves us towards the mark, getting closer towards the mark. and that's what i see hamer in
particular, the reason -- you know, kate is a personal friend, she's a great historian, i love her. but kate -- kate was hankering to do this book when these issues we're grappling with today weren't on the front page of "the new york times" every day, okay? it was something that grabbed hold of kate, even, and said this book must be written, this is a book of our time, and this is a book for young people in particular need to be fortified by this book. and i really, truly believe, i believe it as deep as i can, that people are in certain places at certain times to carry the message forward and to continue the beating of the drum, cynthia, okay? the drum beats on. and this book is the drum of our
time. >> i think she's correct in bringing the issues all together. the book is completely timely. it deals with the issues of violence and women. it deals with the voting rights situation. it deals with the issues of climate and geography and what is happening in these spaces. it deals with the issues of housing, right? and education. >> health care. >> health care, completely and totally, is right up there. and so, you know, in thinking about, kate, how was it you were able to sort of organize the book? because with all of these issues going on, did you feel like you were in some kind of a -- i don't know, like a time warpy tornado? i don't know what you were in, but it must have been this incredible space where you were
like, wait a second, why are we doing this again, why can't we get out of this, and really choosing those points that really, you know, resonated with you, needed to be spoken about, and i would also ask you if you can give the folks a little bit of a heads up about what i think is the most difficult chapter in the book, which is the winona chapter. >> as far as doing the biography, karen is right, when i started this, what has exploded on the scene in the past few years had not quite happened. white supremacy was always there. that wasn't anything different. but then as i started doing the research and writing this, it was like, wow, people are using the same language today that they were using back then to keep african-americans from voting, and giving the same reasons why. it was freaky to me that this was happening.
but hamer, i think for me, the book is important because it also is instructive on organizing, community organizing, movement organization, and that it can't always be just elites. there are people like fannie lou hamer in our communities today that need support, that they're able to rise up if people recognize them as the ones that can be the leader. you know, fannie lou hamer was recognized by bob moses immediately, like, he knew she was going to take the reins in mississippi. so there are people like that today. so we have to pay attention to them and support them. and understand that there will be differing views and complications along the way. but this has happened before. and there is a blueprint on both sides of this. and we need to be aware of it. so it's -- yeah, it's timely, very timely. and i did not anticipate that.
but i'm very grateful that the book is out now. and as far as the book is concerned, i wanted to make it as authentic to fannie lou hamer as possible. and having come to know her over these past few her, i felt it was my responsibility to reveal some of the things that happened to her life, and one of them was this horrific beating that she received in the winona county mississippi jail in 1963 that transformed her life, changed her life. it nearly killed her, and the chapter is very difficult because it details what happened almost minute by minute, and i did that because i had all the fbi files. i had all the interviews. i had details that had not been available before. and i know that hamer would want
everyone to know exactly what happened to her, so that's the warning, but you have to read it because she survived it, and she would want everyone to read it and understand what happened, and some of that is still happening today. so don't look away. you have to read it and let it sink in and then we can have more conversations about it. karen, in reading the book, what new insights did you take away from the story of hamer that you had known before, and, you know, what were perhaps the most troubling, difficult phases to understand and to sit with and rest with, and what gave you hope. >> right. well a lot of it was like deeply personal for me.
you know, i can -- when she was given that hysterectomy without her permission, you know, that was horrific. and she wanted children so badly. and that was deeply personal for me because i remember as a young woman, you know, i had gotten one of those letters that said, you know, after you get a mammogram, then you have to go back and the letters scared the bejesus out of me, and you go back, and for a couple of years, i was constantly going to be screened again and again and again, and i was able to talk to an haitian american, obgyn who shared with me how i had a
grandmother who had a double mastectomy. but she lived like another 30 years after that. and when my doctor looked at her records, my grandma didn't have breast cancer. it's what they did to black women. it's what they did to black women, the easy way out. cut it out. get rid of it. so, you know, when i say this book has hit me personally, i mean, very personally. you know, and that's happening, like it's not everybody needs health care, it's the quality of the health care that everybody needs. so i'm glad that merrick garland is going to be suing the state of texas. okay. that's important to me. that's extremely important to me. and when i was doing my work in
the city of yonkers and i was hired when that city was found to be in contempt in federal court, and they were being fined a dollar a day and their fines doubled, got all the way up to 4 million and something dollars a day. that's when i was appointed by the federal court to come in and do the deep state work, and i understand not everybody is going to be with you all the time. that was an extremely lonely time for me outside of my family because a lot of black people needed the jobs they had. they were afraid to speak up, afraid to come to public meetings, even though i was there to help the conditions, these people did not want to be so identified, so there was an incident where someone off the
back of a garbage truck, this stuff happens. it's real. everything doesn't make it into a headline. so you know, i relate to this book. i try to do my walk as best i can, as best i am able. so now to me, the hamer book becomes another guide post for me, another guide post for me. and i really think there's something incredible about these women. their blackness, they did not hide from or shy away from or mute. okay. and a lot of the struggle has
been about who is the better looking, who is the fairer complected to be the face of, and i so appreciate harriet tubman. i so appreciate fannie lou hamer because it shows that in all of our blackness which we have to wear every day, these women were able to lead, you know, they are an exemplar of how your blackness it catapult you to your greatness. and they had loving hearts. you have to know the compassion they had to have not only for themselves, black people, but for white also. they're trying to make america better. this wasn't just going to help black people, you know, move the
needle towards freedom, move the needle toward voting. this was mostly helping white people. it's so hard. they don't understand. you come across people who don't understand that there is this possibility, if we truly believe in the promise of america and the constitution is not perfect. hello. issues with the federalist society, it is not perfect. it is there for us to improve upon. and they knew that. they knew that with no education, and they knew it with a 6th grade education, so what the, i won't say it, but with people who are learning from harvard and yale and princeton, sitting in our great congress, who don't get it. >> or who get it and choose to ignore it. >> they're so into self.
that's the whole thing. self, hamer and tubman did not put self first, because what they're doing is advancing their own political career. they're not thinking of the greater good. they're not looking at how to improve our constitution. they don't see, i was listening to lindsay port last evening when, you know, the reporter was saying how all of these movements are beginning now to add up, you know, these small victories are becoming bigger and bigger, and bigger. its going to happen. that would be my message. it is going to happen. i may not be here. they may not be here, but it is going to happen. so why not embrace it, if not for yourself, if you love your children and their children and the yet unborn, you would want
to be on the right side of this. that's a better america. >> i agree. >> it does seem that these two women were also about family in the deepest sense of the word, and operated from a place to make for improvements, to make for hope, make for love, make for, you know, opportunities and it started with family, and it's kind of like the micro to the macro, and so on and so forth. but they also came to realize that family is everything. family is, you know, the nuclear, what i have got, but you know what, you're my family. susie down the street, you're my family, and they embraced and adopted everybody. they were everyone's aunties. they were everyones, you know, big mamas. they were everyone's, you know, nurse mate. they were everything to the community and i'm wondering if, you know, you can sort of speak
to the ideals of this nurturing that was a part of who they were. but there was a nurturing, but there was also the knowing and the ability to lead without necessarily calling yourself a leader, and understanding the whole idea of the collective. we don't get anywhere if we're not working within the collective spirit, so maybe we can kind of talk about that a little. >> well, i know that's very much true with hamer. i think of her, you know, her mother was an amazing woman, ella, who did everything to protect her children, protect hamer, raise her to be who she became. we have to give credit to ella townsend, but hamer also learned a lot in that church hall after church, and the church women would gather together and they would have their meetings, and they would, you know, raise money for this or that or help this family that was struggling
more than the rest of them were. hamer as a little girl would go to these meetings and she learned really the basics of democracy there, because they couldn't experience it anywhere else, but in that church hall, that's what they were learning. she was learning from those women, and she, as she grew up, she became those women. so there is something very specific about, i think, women and black women in particular in the black church that are learning this community and expanding their concept of family. far greater and that's where hamer really shined because she had the genius. there was something about her, i don't know what, but it was something about her that made her that much different that she could go on and be a leader in the community. >> yeah, i know for, you know, for tubman, when she established
the home for the ages, she had eight women as the managers. that was remarkable, that she understood that it was not enough for her just to build these cottages so that the indigent former slave could age in dignity and grace but that she needed to pass it on so that these women would be the people who would provide the government. okay. that is remarkable. you know, she understood about sharing it and passing it on. and, you know, for on the tubman, kate, we struggled with her core values, faith, family, freedom, community, self-determination, equality, social justice, all of these things. they are the same for hamer.
they are the same. the core values are exactly the same. and they have made an indelible imprint, an indelible imprint on our progress, on this journey, that, you know, we're not where we want to be, but it gives me great hope to know that we can get there as long as when we acknowledge the tubmans and hamer's of our time, support the broader community, you know, they were service leaders, and i think it's so amazing and so different that they believed in servant leadership. and, you know, like my thing is
we have a lot of leaders, not a lot of servants. they were the kind of leaders that would. >> right. >> which ties into a question that we have from lisa who asks, you know, who do you think ms. hamer would tap as this new generation's fannie lou? new type of servant leader type, if you will. >> we have our black lives matter movement and we've got a lot of movements out here. we've got stacey abrams, we've got folks out here, so who do you think they would -- >> you know, she was all about young people, and so it's certainly stacey abrams. i think that she might let the
leaders rise up themselves. she would not kind of anoint anybody. she would be supportive once that person kind of rises but she would be there to support and help needle forward. so there are a lot of movements now that, yeah, that -- >> that's kind of what bob moses did in tapping her, and noticing the genius, and i need you to do more of this and that. >> i'm reluctant to name anybody, because as soon as you name somebody, but i support all the sisters. i will say this about stacey abrams, both of her parents are methodist ministers, there is a grounding that comes and they didn't have much. and they had big families. there's a grounding that comes from having a space in your core.
and that's what i see as a common thread between tubman and hamer, and stacey abrams. >> you know, and we're talking about this idea of leaders, and we talked in preparation for the conversation that didn't have leaders. black lives matter sort of operating on that same type of model, if you will, so they're finding ways to sort of adjust to the different kinds of circumstances that arise, and which can, you know, likely be very useful and very helpful and a means of survival in order to get through all of this stuff that is being thrown at them in so many different ways. just trying to, you know, choose your battles, pick your battles, what's going to stick, where am i going to give my voice the loudest resonance, and speaking of voices, we know that hamer
was known for her incredible voice, music, folk songs, played a major role. can we talk about music in her life and the title of your book. >> so music always was a part of her life. she was identified with having a beautiful voice even as a little girl, and it was in her home, in the fields, everywhere around her, so she grew up singing, and she grew up with the delta blues, at which time birth site of the delta blues, was 6 miles from her home. and she just, in church, the spirituals, the gospel music, it infused her life. so everyone links hamer with this book, with this song, this little light of mine, which she's saying a lot during rallies, and things like that, during the movement. but her favorite song was one
that's called walk with me, and it's about asking jesus to talk about walk with me, support me, help me, guide me, give me, you know, give me strength, and she's saying that in the winona jail after she had been brutally beaten and assaulted, and she was barely conscious and asked her cell mate to sing the song with her, walk with me. and that fortified her to make it through the night and survive that beating. so that's why it's the title of the book, walk with me. >> it looks like we also have a question from esther who says that hamer died young and her final years seemed so difficult. what kind of support did she receive from the movement in her final years? >> she didn't receive a lot of support from the movement. the movement had sort of fallen apart by the 1970s.
a lot of the young people had gone in different directions. some of them got involved in the black panther movement and in other movements, went on to graduate school, went on to jobs, and to do other things, and they left mississippi, and some of the leaders in mississippi went on to organize in in a different way than hamer was organizing, and she was involved in, you know, raising money to buy land for food co-ops so the people could plant gardens and grow their own food and raise hogs so they would each have meat for the winter time, and health care, she wanted health care for everybody. it was not good health care. and accessing it was very difficult and expensive. and she wanted universal preschool for every child, i mean, she was struggling with a lot of the issues. we're still struggling for that. she understood those basic things in her community could be
replicated throughout the country, but her support system really fell away, and it is tragic in a way. but a lot of those people went on to do great things in other parts of the country, but that left her still in mississippi struggling with that economy, that environment, and it's still, you know, in the bottom, you know, five for health care, and education, et cetera, in the country. so massachusetts is still struggling. >> and is there a landmark to show where she was from and to recognize her? >> yes, there is a monument to her at a grave site in oroville, mississippi, there's a beautiful statue of her, and she is buried there next to the freedom farm that she helped establish in the early 1970s, so you can go and visit her. but the area is still, you know, very much depressed, very much. >> can you talk a little bit more about that as you went down
to experience the space and, you know, what kind of insights did it give you, and how did it inform your approach to writing the book? >> so i didn't make it to mississippi because of covid and floods. which is the bad thing about this epidemic, that i had to cancel trips down to mississippi. and that mighty mississippi river flooding didn't help a couple of years ago. so i was not able to go and see that landscape, you know, i watched lots of documentaries, and videos online about the environment, and of course talked to family members of hers and people who knew her that lived there. so that i could fill in those gaps. but i did not go, but they all said the same thing. it's still very much a depressed area. >> well, throughout the conversation, we have noted just how much violence that was a
part of this history and the story. we've talked about the connections and the relationships that were so important to hamer and tubman. we've talked about exploring activism and the engagement and organizing ways. what kinds of messages can you all, each of you leave the audience as having been inspired by both tubman and hamer in the hopes that people can sort of pick up on that energy, and work to perhaps emulate or honor these two amazing women. >> well, i can say right away -- go ahead. you know, i think that the hamer book is a new opportunity it's a
new opportunity for all of us to learn. not only women, but men and young people in particular who maybe didn't know that it wasn't that long ago that we were having these fights about voting rights in particular and young people who perhaps did not know the extent to which so much of this country still lives at the margins, still lives at the margin, and that, you know, when we began to connect our center city, rural america, we will be better off. >> i agree. i agree. >> and a lot of my work in other spaces that's the big issue that people who live in the metropolis have to have a healthier, better relationship
with people who live in rural america. if we really want to overcome the social justice issues that we have been talking about for the last hour. but i would say that this book is a touch stone, and i really encourage people to read it, and to read it not to zip through it, read it in a measured way that allows yourself to step back. and see how you're connecting up with the various chapters of the book. because it is so timely. and it is so relevant. >> thank you, karen, and i just briefly going to say, launching off of what she just said, i hope that people will read it and recognize the values that hamer has that are very similar to the values that we all have, but she took action, and so in reading this, too, i'm asking people to interrogate themselves
and ask them just like karen said, to see what you can do and what you're thinking about what it means to be an american and what your role is in making this a better world, and a better democracy to fulfill the promise of the declaration of independence. i think hamer can show us a little bit about how we can do that, and don't be afraid to interrogate yourself and look at the world around you. thank you. >> thank you so much for this amazing conversation. kay clifford lawson, and karen hill, to the audience, i do hope that you were inspired and i do hope that you will take the time to get to know fannie lou hamer. digest her, read about her, live with her, walk with her. it will really be a transformative experience for you. so thank you very much. and thank you to the center for brooklyn history for having us.
>> and thank you to all of you for sharing this conversation with us, this powerful conversation with us. weekends on c-span 2 are an intellectual feast. every saturday american history tvr documents america's story and on sunday, book tv brings the latest in nonfiction books and authors. funding for c-span 2 comes from these television companies and more, including mediacom. >> media come along with these television companies supports c-span 2 as a public service. up next, the a
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