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tv   Kate Clifford Larson Walk With Me  CSPAN  December 23, 2021 11:08am-12:16pm EST

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of the $3.6 trillion exercise gets passed, it might be the child tax credit, in which case, you will have a two to five-year experiment run nationally, with an incredible amount of data that's going to be generated, after which and through which you could take a hard look at that policy of income support, family floor under income, and have some real strong analytical stuff to go into the final innings of the game with. >> john, thank you for writing the book. thank you for being a friend of the foundation and the library. and thank you for being here tonight. >> thank you. [ applause ] is c-span's online store. brows through c-span products, apparel, books, home decor, and
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accessories. there's something for every c-span fan and every purchase helps support our nonprofit operations. shop now or any time at welcome to tonight's program, a discussion of civil rights leader fannie lou hamer. my name is marcia ely. i'm the director of programs at the brooklyn public library's center for brooklyn history and a part of the library's arts and culture team, bpl presents, the team that brings you climate reads, whispering library, lit films and much, much more. if you're curious about any of these intriguingly titled programs, hope you'll visit the bpl website and find out more. tonight, three women, all leaders in their own rights, will be in conversation about the extraordinary and inspiring life of fannie lou hamer, whose
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courage and spirit and faith gave her the strength to lead the fight for racial justice and voting equality in jim crow mississippi. it is distressing that today, in pockets across the country, voting rights are again threatened and hamer'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 hamer." it is a powerful book, beautifully written. and i want to share that we will put a link in the chat for those interested in exploring this title further. the link is to a page on the website of a local brooklyn bookstore, the community bookstore, our partner in park slope. i also want to share that as with all center for brooklyn history talks, you have the option to engage closed
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captioning tonight. simply 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 -- they 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," "harriet tubman: portrait of an american hero," and "mary seurat and the plot to kill lincoln." she has served as an expert consultant on feature film
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productions. she is currently a brandeis women's studies research center scholar and her latest book, as i mentioned, is "walk with me: a biography of fannie lou hamer" which was released just this month. karen hill is president and ceo of the harriet tubman home in auburn, new york, where she successfully pursued federal legislation to have the homestead become one of the newest units of the national park service. prior to that she spent more than 30 years working on affordable housing development including a federal appointment to implement a court order to desegregate the city of yonkers. she was chief executive of the affordable housing implementation office and chief executive of the american homeowner education and counseling institute.
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thank you both for being here. and finally, cynthia r. copeland is president of the institute for the exploration of seneca village history and co-chair of the reparations committee for the episcopal diocese of new york. she is a public historian and educator with teaching and learning affiliations at new york university, bank street college of education, teachers college, and a host of nonprofit cultural and educational institutions throughout the country. so i want to thank you, all of you, for being here with us tonight. and i'm excited to hear your conversation. and i hand it over to you. >> thank you, marcia. >> thank you, marcia. hello, kate and karen. and we should all remember to unmute ourselves. i am just so excited to be here tonight, and i'm particularly interested, as was mentioned, with the current fight for the
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right 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 rights. and fannie lou hamer is certainly one to have an incredible position in -- 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, a 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 a superficial kind of understanding of fannie lou
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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? >> 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
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became hooked on her life and her passion and her brilliance and what she did and -- 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, cynthia, 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, similar in build, in stature, and, you know, she was very bold in her being. and for me, i can remember -- i mean, you know, i'm old, okay?
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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, my parents and my grandparents, we lived together. and it was a topic, you know, that these voting rights have to happen and that there's a woman from mississippi and she's singing the songs that my family, really grounded in their own christian face and the ame zion church and the freedom songs. you know, it was like grounded in me that this woman was a part
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of the 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 have been -- they were forgotten, because then the modern civil rights era came about, and we had all of these men from whitney young to leaders of the naacp and dorothy haight was catapulted as the lone woman leader, not remembering or acknowledging what should have been acknowledged, fannie lou hamer's absolute dynamic change in the body politic within the democratic party.
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now, 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 or 13 years old and voting rights had been passed, and i remember voting and my family being really, really critical, anybody who was eligible to vote had to vote, the same way, to be honest with you, with tithes, i used to be the little girl who collected everybody's tithes, even if you didn't go to church you had to have your tithes, there were certain things that were sacrosanct. voting was one of them, tithing was one of them. 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 --
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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, was 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. whoever you worship, you have to have faithfulness and
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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 struggle, but having to explain an 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 black men being
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shot in the back and being held down by law enforcement, those are like -- 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 for and wide and learn the lessons of faith and fearlessness. >> it is interesting that you brought up these threads and the recurring themes and how you've introduced the idea, when we were preparing and thinking about drawing the parallels between tubman and hamer, which are just unbelievable, you cannot, if you study those two women, especially if you study them from kate's books and her work, you will really come to
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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 tack on harriet, who was, you know, a hundred years before that. so there is just some -- a little bit of a gap. yet the more things change, the more they remain the same, and we're still fighting for these 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.
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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, and she just was -- you know, she said she was tired but she kept getting up and kept fighting and kept going back. so i'm hoping that maybe we can 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, but we don't have a lot of time together on this talk, and we want to intrigue people so they'll go out and get that book and read it a little more and have book discussions and really give fannie lou hamer the credit
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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 black women in particular, from harriet to hamer to the present times, all these issues we're talking about that have been threaded throughout. i throw it out to us for conversation around those ideas. >> well, i look to look at hamer as -- we were talking about her faith. 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. and 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.
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and she -- her faith at many times was the only thing, 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. and 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 or 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
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movement or decided to commit herself to the movement, she told colleagues and audiences that she felt that those white supremacists had been trying to kill her all along. and so what's the difference, we 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 inconsistencies, their disingenuousness, because she had business to do. voting and bettering the lives of her family, her community, the world. and that's what she did, she really did. >> i think it's really interesting, the way that tubman had to leave where she was born
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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. but i think the key is, both of these women were incredibly smart. they had an intellect that came from another place that we don't often honor and acknowledge. but they had an intestinal fortitude, incredible determination, amazing wit, real genius, pure genius in their being, one knowing that she had to leave to make the difference, to show the empirical value of moving from the land of the enslaved to the north.
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and then one in the deeper south, knowing that -- so that the deeper south was not left behind, she needed to stay to make the difference that needed to happen. imagine, 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. 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, they knew it instinctively. >> that's a great observation. 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 been part of the movement there in some structured organization. but she chose to stay in the community in mississippi.
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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 the young people that came to mississippi. they were willing to go through being hungry and the violence, confronting and dealing, enduring that violence. when some of her neighbors were not willing to do that. so she found that being there on the landscape in mississippi was transforming people from away, and they were going to take that with them someplace else. she 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 that she knew in her world. and that motivated her, that if
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they could be 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, primarily -- 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 black 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
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women, again, thinking of tubman and hamer, about the intelligence and the brilliance and the genius 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 needs 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 class issues, class issues just in general, and the difference between the deep south and the south? >> well, i --
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>> go ahead, karen. >> oh, no, you go, kate. >> 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 -- her 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 go do something else. and that's not to denigrate frederick douglass, but to say 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, but she lived in a world where men, white and black men still were
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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 bearing the brunt of all of that violence. and she was determined to bring the people up. and the elites sometimes did not see the faces or hear the voices of the average mississippi delta farmer, that's the truth. >> i was going to say that 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
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authenticated of the young harriet, she knew that that was the attire 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 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. that was 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
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ability. 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 new york, dc, then atlanta, okay? and then he realized that he needed to go deeper south, because what happens, there's the south, and then there's the deeper south. and where the real change that needed to happen, that would galvanize everyone, was the work that needed to happen in the deeper south. so there were some men who were willing to be led by the
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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 that 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 groups and diversity of peoples that were starting to question that which had been taught to them as
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a means. i'm wondering if you think these were sort of the fuel that could help to keep them going and help them 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 yourselves christians. 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 do and what you have
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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 kind of made their appearances. of course there was a lot of their work and their doing to get them to get to those points. but could that have been a possibility to help them to envision and realize, 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.
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and those relationships were very important to her. and, you know, they became -- some of them she became lifelong friends with. they were 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, 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. and she didn't have the tools in mississippi. the tools weren't there. and so when snic came to rueville, it was the moment for her. she knew that they had come, and it was her one opportunity to try to see if she could do something. and when they gave her the tools to try to register to vote, that's all she needed. she could see that they wanted
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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 did have a powerful voice, she had no idea she could own the room with kids and young people coming from around the country who were well-educated, some of them were very well-off. they just looked at her in awe and that empowered her. and she knew 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 write, and you have a woman who had a sixth grade education, who
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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 had 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
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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 toward, moving toward the promise of america. and i think that that's an amazing thing, that the promise of america was in their being. how does that happen? how does that happen? >> right. >> when you see your people being beaten and mistreated and living on the margins, but you still believe in the promise of america. and for me, i have to juxtapose all of that with what is happening today.
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i think history is great, but i have often said history just for history's sake doesn't mean a thing unless you can apply that history in a way that has practical application, 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 wonder. she's a personal friend. she's a great historian. i love her. but kate was hankering to do this book when these issues were we're grappling with today weren't on the front page of "the new york times." and there is something that grabbed hold of kate, even, that said this book must be written, this is a book of our time, and this is a book for young people
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in particular, who 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 kate as a sage is absolutely correct in bringing these issues all together. the book is clearly timely. it deals with the issues of violence and women. it deals with the issues of the voting rights situation. it deals with the issues of, you know, 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
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totally, is right up there. and so, you know, in thinking about -- kate, how was it that you were able to sort of organize the book because of -- 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 warp-y tornado sending you forward? i don't know what you were in, but it must have been this incredible space where you were like, wait a second, why -- this was happening, 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, just 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. >> okay. well, as far as doing the biography, karen is right, when i started this, what has exploded on the scene in the
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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, feig fannie lou hamer recognized by bob mosis
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immediately, he knew she was going to take the reins in mississippi. there are people like that today, we have to pay attention to them and support them and understand there will be differing views and complications along the way. this has happened before, there's a blueprint on both sides of this, we need to be aware of it. 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 years, researching her, and interviewing people that knew her, i felt it was my responsibility to reveal some of the things that happened in her life. one of them was this horrific beating she received in the winona county, mississippi jail
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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,
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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 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 deeply personal for me. 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, you
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need to go -- after you get a mammogram, then you have to go back, get one of those letters that scare the bejesus out of me, and i was constantly going back and getting screened over and over and over again. i was able to talk to a 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 grandmother 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
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mean very personally. 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 got all the way up to 4 million something dollars a day. that's when i was appointed by the federal court to come in and do the be safe work. i understand not everybody is going to be with you all the time. that was an extremely lonely
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time for me outside of my family because a lot of black people needed the jobs that they had, you know. 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 were -- there was an incident where someone accidentally was killed off the back of a garbage truck. the truck ran over them. this stuff happens. it's real. everything doesn't make it into a headline. so, you know, i relate to this book from -- i try to do my walk as best i can, as best i am able. so now to me it becomes another
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guidepost for me, another guidepost for me. i really think there's something incredible about these women. their blackness they did not try from, shy away from or 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. i so appreciate harriet tubman. i so appreciate fannie lou hamer, because it shows in all of our blackness, which we have to wear every day, these women were able to lead -- you know, they are exemplars of how your
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blackness can catapult you toward your greatness. and, again, they had loving hearts. i mean, you have to know the compassion that they had to have, not only for themselves for black people but for whites 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 a franchise through voting. it was mostly helping white people. you know, it's so hard, they don't understand. you come across people who don't understand that there is this possibility. we truly believe in the promise of america and the constitution is not perfect. i have issues with the federalist society. it is not perfect. it is there for us to improve upon.
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they knew that. they knew that with no education and they knew that with a sixth grade education. there are people who sit in our congress who don't get it. who don't get it. >> or they get it but choose to ignore it. >> that's because they're into self. self. hamer and tubman did not put self first because what they're doing is advancing their own political careers. they're not thinking of the greater good. they're not looking at how to improve our constitution. inclusion is going to happen. you know, i was listening to a news report last evening where, you know, the reporter was saying how all these movements are beginning to now add up, you
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know. they're becoming these -- these small victories are becoming bigger and bigger and bigger. it is 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 that if not for yourself, if you love your children and their children yet unborn, you would want to be on the right side of this, because 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 more improvements, make for hope, make for love, make for, you know, opportunities, and it started with family, and then -- so it's kind of like that micro to the macro to the messo, so on
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and so forth, but they also came to realize that family is everything. family is the nuclear of what i've got, but you know what, you're my family. suzie down the street, you're my family. they just embraced and adopted everybody. they were everyone's aunties, they were everyone's mamas, they were everyone's nursemaids, they were everything to the community, and i'm wondering if 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 a knowing and willing to lead and understanding the whole idea of a 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. >> that's very much true with
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hamer. her mother was an amazing woman, ella, who did everything to protect her children, protect hamer, raise her to who she became, and we have to give credit to ella townsend. but hamer also learned a lot in the church hall, and the women would gather together and have their meetings, and they would raise money for this or organize for that or help this family that was struggling more than the rest of the world. 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. 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
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learning this community and expanding that concept of family far greater. 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. >> i know her toughness, when she established the home for the aged, she had eight women as the managers. now, that was really 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 governance, okay?
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that is remarkable. you know, she understood about sharing it and passing it on. and, you know, for -- on the tough side, she combined faith, community, self-determination, all 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
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acknowledge the tubmans and hamers of our time in our community, they were servant leaders. i think that's what makes their leadership style so amazing and so different, that they believed in servant leadership. you know, like my thing is we have a lot of leaders, not a lot of servants. we don't have leaders that are going to wash somebody's feet, and 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 miss hamer would tap as this new generation's fannie lou? a new servant leader type, if
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you will. we have our black lives matter movement, we have a lot of movements out here. we've got stacey abrams, we've got a lot of folks out here. who do you think they would -- >> right. she was all about young people, so certainly stacey abrams. i think that she might let the leaders rise up themselves. she would not kind of anoint to anybody. she would be supportive once that person kind of rises, but she would be there to support and help move that needle forward. there are a lot of movements now that -- >> that's what bob moses did. >> i'm afraid to name anybody,
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because once you name somebody you hear from instagram and twitter, but 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 have a big family. there is a grounding that comes from having a faith in your core. that's what i see as a common thread between tubman and hamer and stacey abrams. >> we talked in preparation for the conversation that snick didn't have leaders, black lives matter, kind of following that same model in a way.
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they're trying to adapt to different circumstances that arise which likely can be very useful and very helpful and a means of survival in order to get through all this stuff that be being thrown at them in so many different ways, just trying to, you know, choose your battles, pick your battles, which ones are -- which one is going to stick, where am i going to give my voice the loudest resonance. 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? >> music was always in her life. she was identified as having a beautiful voice even as a little girl. it was in her home, in the fields, everywhere around her, so she grew up singing and she grew up with the delta blues,
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which the birth site of the delta blues was six miles from her home, and she just -- in church, the spirituals, gospel music, so it infused her life. so everyone links hamer with this book and this song, "this little light of mine." what she's saying at rallies during the movement. but her favorite song is one called "walk with me" and it's asking jesus to walk with me, support me, help me, guide me, 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. she asked her cellmate, sylvester simpson, to sing the song with her, "walk with me." that fortified her to make it through the night and survive that beating.
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that's why it's the title of the book, "walk with me." >> it looks like we also have a question from esther who said 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 in the 1970s. some of them got involved in the black lives matter movement, and went on to do different things. some of the leaders in mississippi went on to organize 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
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and raise hogs so they would each have meat for the wintertime. and health care, she wanted health care for everybody. it was not good health care, and accessing it was very difficult and expensive. she wanted universal preschool for every child. she was struggling for all 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's 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 in the bottom, you know, five for health care, education, et cetera in the country, so mississippi is still struggling. >> is there a landmark to show where she's from and to
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recognize her? >> yes. there is a monument to her grave site in oralville, mississippi. there is a beautiful statue for 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 more about that as you went down to experience the space? what kind of insights did it give you and how did it perform your approach to writing books? >> 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. that mighty mississippi river flooding didn't help a couple years ago.
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so i was not able to see that landscape. i watched a lot of videos online about the environment and talked to family members, people who lived there so 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 this 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 in organizing ways. what message can 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
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energy and perhaps emulate or honor these two women? >> this is the last word. i think that the hamer book is a new opportunity. it's a new opportunity for them to not only learn about mothers and men in particular that maybe did not know it was that long ago we were having these fights about voting rights in particular. and young people who perhaps did not know the extension which so much of this country still lives at the margins, still lives at
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the margins, and that, you know, when we begin to connect our center city's rural america, we will be better off. >> i agree. >> a lot of my work in other spaces, that's a big issue, that people who live in the metropolis have to have a better relationship with people who live in rural america if we want to define the social issues we've been talking about for the last hour. but i would say this book is a touchstone, 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 take a step back and see how you're connecting up with the var i
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can't say chapters of the book. because it is so timely and it is so relevant. >> thank you, karen. and i'm just briefly going to say, launching off what she just said, i hope that people will read it and recognize the values that hamer had that's very similar to the values we all have, but she took action, so in reading this, too, i'm asking people to interrogate themselves 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.
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>> thank you so much for this amazing conversation. i do hope 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 book on history for having us. >> and thank you to all of you for sharing this conversation with us, this powerful conversation with us. american history tv saturdays on c-span2, exploring the people and events that tell the american story. at 2:00 p.m. eastern on the presidency, the ronald reagan museum marks its 30th anniversary. speakers include former secretary of state condoleezza
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rice, david ferio and peter robinson. next year marks the 200th anniversary of frederick law olmsted, coverage of a conference that looks at his legacy, including his designs for college campuses such as stanford. explore the american story. watch american history tv saturdays on c-span2. get a full schedule program guide or watch any time at c-span/history. hi there, welcome to virtual events series. it's hard to believe, but we're at 50 years this year, so we have some great authors to share some time with us. tonight we have giles milton, who is


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