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If you grew up in the American South in the 1950s and 1960s and paid attention to the news (here, guilty on all counts), you would have heard the name of Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi woman who upset the Democratic Party by challenging the seating of an all-white delegation from her state at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Hamer had a commanding presence, a precise way of speaking, and a mindset that did not blanche from challenging authority.
My thoughts went back to Ms. Hamer when I read that two new biographies of her have just been published. (More on that below.) Those publications strike me as especially timely. We are living in an age when many people in power—from state legislators to Supreme Court justices—are determined to roll back the voting rights advances of the 1960s. Chances are, many of their efforts will be successful.
What that will inevitably provoke, of course, is a new era of civil rights where people who are being denied their right to vote and those who are sympathetic with them will take to the streets—real or virtual—and demand that those rights be restored and expanded. Biographies of people like Fannie Lou Hamer will be instructive on how to get that done.
Have a wonderful and literate weekend.
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Fannie Lou Hamer: Sick and tired of being sick and tired
Fannie Lou Hamer woke up from undergoing an operation for a uterine tumor with her life completely changed. It was 1961, and she was 44 years old, a Black woman from a poor family in Mississippi.
Without her consent, the white doctor who performed the operation had also given her a hysterectomy. It was not an uncommon practice in Mississippi in those days, part of the state’s forced sterilization efforts to limit the number of children born to poor families.
Hamer had become interested in the civil rights activity occurring at the time in Mississippi, and she decided to join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee at her church in 1962 after learning that she had the right to vote. She began organizing groups of citizens to register to vote, and that got her into a lot of trouble with the authorities. She was arrested, beaten, and sexually assaulted, but those experiences only gave her a more powerful voice.
She organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and headed a delegation that traveled to Atlantic City, where the 1964 Democratic National Convention was being held. The delegation applied to be seated as the official delegation representing Mississippi, replacing the all-white delegation sent by the old-line Democratic establishment. The application was not successful, but Hamer’s forceful voice put her in front of television cameras, and she reached a national audience for her compelling arguments.
As Jill Watts writes in her NYT review of two recently published biographies of Hamer, Walk With Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer by Kate Clifford Larson and Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America by Keisha N. Blain:
After the convention, she returned to Mississippi to continue her fight to register Black Americans as well as to battle against all forms of discrimination. Plain-spoken, with only a sixth-grade education, Hamer was charismatic and a brilliant grass-roots organizer. Over time, she successfully pushed Mississippi to open up voting to Black people, transforming local, state and national politics, a process made a little easier after the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
Nonetheless, Hamer remains largely unacknowledged in popular narratives of the civil rights movement, which still train most of the spotlight on its male leaders. Source: The Enduring Influence of Fannie Lou Hamer, Civil Rights Advocate – The New York Times
Hamer continued her organizing efforts in Mississippi for the next decade, using the power of her physical voice, her experience as a front-line civil rights warrior, and her deep religious convictions to move her state solidly into the vortex of voting rights. Her efforts were cut tragically short in 1977 when she died of complications from breast cancer and hypertension.
Hamer was born into a family of 20 children. As a child, she picked cotton and battled polio. She loved reading, reciting poetry, and participating in spelling bees. Her favorite book was the Bible, and her speeches in later life reflected a strong scriptural influence. Despite the hysterectomy, she and her husband, Perry “Pap” Hamer, adopted two children. One of them died because white hospital officials would not admit her because of her mother’s civil rights work.
In 1967, she published To Praise Our Bridges: An Autobiography, co-written with Julius Lester and Mary Varela.
Her gravestone carries one of her most famous quotes: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
From the archives: The first Roosevelt America heard after Pearl Harbor wasn’t Franklin
When Japanese warplanes bombed Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941, news of the event filtered into the American psyche and conversation throughout the afternoon.
It was, by any measure, a momentous, life-changing occurrence.
Yet, during the afternoon and into the evening there was a silence from the White House. News bulletins were issued, but President Franklin Roosevelt stayed in the Oval Office, meeting with his cabinet, talking with aides and officials, gathering information and news, and working on the speech he would deliver to Congress on the next day. That Roosevelt said nothing to America that day seems to us today unusual, but no one thought much about it then.
Across the hall in the White House, Eleanor Roosevelt, the president’s wife, was re-writing the remarks she would make on the radio that evening. Eleanor had a regularly-scheduled radio show on Sunday evenings.
In fact, the first Roosevelt Americans heard from that day was Eleanor, the president’s wife. It was 6:45 p.m. Eastern when she spoke these words:
“Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I’m speaking to you at a very serious moment in our history,” she said, explaining that meetings were occurring in the White House and elsewhere in preparation for war.
In the meantime we, the people, are already prepared for action. For months now, the knowledge that something of this kind might happen has been hanging over our heads. And yet it seemed impossible to believe, impossible to drop the everyday things of life and feel that there was only one thing which was important: preparation to meet an enemy, no matter where he struck. That is all over now and there is no more uncertainty. We know what we have to face and we know that we are ready to face it.
I should like to say just a word to the women in the country tonight. I have a boy at sea on a destroyer. For all I know he may be on his way to the Pacific. Two of my children are in coast cities on the Pacific. Many of you all over this country have boys in the services who will now be called upon to go into action. You have friends and families in what has suddenly become a danger zone. You cannot escape anxiety. You cannot escape a clutch of fear at your heart. And yet I hope that the certainty of what we have to meet will make you rise above these fears.
We must go about our daily business more determined than ever to do the ordinary things as well as we can. And when we find a way to do anything more in our communities to help others to build morale, to give a feeling of security, we must do it. Whatever is asked of us, I am sure we can accomplish it. We are the free and unconquerable people of the United States of America.
It was a stirring speech with words that Americans undoubtedly wanted to hear.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Baroque composers: Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre
The names that dominate Baroque music (readers will know that this is one of my favorite genres) are all male: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederick Handel, Antonio Vivaldi, Georg Philipp Telemann, etc. But not every composer in that genre or era (1600-1750) was male. Not by a long shot. This post is part of a short series that will introduce baroque music composers, both male and female.
Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre (1665-1729) was possibly the most famous and well-regarded female composer of her day.
Born into a family of prominent French musicians, instructors, masons, composers, and musical instrument makers, Jacquet de La Guerre showed talent and inclination toward the family heritage early by performing before and impressing King Louis XIV at the age of five. She was taken into the king’s court as a teenager and was able to develop her talents for playing, performing, and composing music.
She composed music in a variety of forms—sonatas, cantatas, concertos—and in both vocal and instrumental formats. She wrote what is thought to be the first opera written by a woman in France. Much of her music was published, which added to her international fame.
She was certainly not the only female in the musical world at the time. As Mary Cyr writes in an assessment of her career and her music:
Jacquet de La Guerre distinguished herself from her contemporaries, such as François Couperin and Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, by composing and publishing in many different genres and was duly admired for it. In a highly laudatory summary of Jacquet de La Guerre’s contributions, Pierre-Louis d’Aquin de Château-Lyon praises her vocal music highly as well as her performances as harpsichordist. His account singles out the ‘fertility of her genius’, which may be the highest tribute of all, since it refers to the originality of her compositions in all of the genres in which she wrote.
Cyr, M. (2008). Elisabeth jacquet de la guerre: Myth or marvel? seeking the composer’s individuality. Musical Times, 149, 79-87, 2. Retrieved from https://utk.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://www.proquest.com/scholarly-journals/elisabeth-jacquet-de-la-guerre-myth-marvel/docview/1129574/se-2?accountid=14766
Here is a performance of one of her sonatas on YouTube: https://youtu.be/WJvFUeyQYZE
This week’s bandsaw box: The rich cedar kid
This bandsaw box is all beautiful, sweet-smelling cedar—all cut from trees in East Tennessee—and is “rich” because it has one deep pocket. The draw in this box will hold a ton of stuff, and it will sit elegantly on someone’s desk or bureau on its own curved legs. Simplicity is the word for this box. The finish is Danish oil to deepen the color and lacquer to make it shine. This box will never be in the poorhouse.
Phyllis P.: I am proud to be a reader of banned books. Stamped is VERY good. I hope people read it out of curiosity and become accidentally educated. And GAWD, are the banners ever gon’ leave Harper Lee and Toni Morrison be?
Elizabeth F.: Good issue! I imagine those who read this newsletter are glad to say as I am that I have read most of these “banned” books.
I always use audiobooks for road trips. Painting and house cleaning chores. Many a fine day has been spent somewhere else such as the race tracks of Dick Francis while finishing such tasks. I have listened to more lofty tomes as well, and always appreciate it when the author reads the book aloud for me. A favorite was a biographical work about Milton Erickson written by his student. Audio or not, a book is a book no matter where we find it. Did you ever think so many of us would read or listen to books and have the world’s libraries accessible on our cell phones??
Sandra G.: I totally agree with the lady about audiobooks! We painted inside our home to Americans in Paris & drove to the beach & back with President’s Wives from your library. They have their place & are enjoyed with someone. When we first moved to Blount County, I still worked in Oak Ridge—long commute! Audiobooks & music helped pass the time. Love your bandsaw boxes!!
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor: On the same page
Best quote of the week:
A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and in all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably with the circumstances of life, knowing that in this world no one is all knowing and therefore all of us need both love and charity. Eleanor Roosevelt, diplomat and writer (1884-1962)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Meeting St. Louis, the spy and the dirty diaper, banned books, and bandsaw boxes: newsletter, October 8, 2021
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