“In Praise of the ‘Ordinary’ Sistas”

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I remember the first time I saw her. She was a rich, dark chocolate, overweight (or what my parents used to call, “heavy set”), and wearing a flowered dress that could have been a “house dress” or passable for church. Her hair had been recently pressed but because of either the summer heat or the intensity of the press lights, her edges had already sweated out. She looked like a million other Black women I had known. I recognized her as a church mother, a cleaning lady, or a cafeteria worker. I have seen her (or someone looking exactly like her) riding city buses almost every day. She was just so ordinary and it was that ordinary-ness that made the fact that she was speaking truth to power so captivating.
That woman was Fannie Lou Hamer and I fell hopelessly in love with her as she sat before television cameras and power brokers and announced that she was Fannie Lou Hamer from Sunflower County, Mississippi and the duly elected delegate from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Yes, this ordinary woman was speaking truth to power and she was everything I ever wanted to be. She was bold. She was courageous. And, she was herself–no pretense, no fear, no playing!
I became so enamored of Fannie Lou Hamer because she was not a heroine or role model that someone else was giving to us. She was not the tragic mulatto of Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Halle Berry, or Beyonce. She was not ambiguous in her racial identity. She was not some skinny slip of a thing. She was thick and proud of it. But more important than how she looked was how she made us pay attention to what she had to say.
To this day I have found no one fiercer than Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer. She was beaten and abused because of her stand for freedom. She lost babies and suffered in jail but in the end she stood up and said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!” She uttered those words as a challenge. In other words, she did not intend to keep accepting bad treatment. She was letting nothing stand in the way of justice, freedom, and right. And, in the end for as powerful and special as she was as a leader, she was just an ordinary sista! Let’s continue to praise those ordinary sistas’ (and brothas’)!

Stay Black & Smart!

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3 thoughts on ““In Praise of the ‘Ordinary’ Sistas”

  1. This post really touched me. I have love Sister Fannie Lou Hammer from the moment I sat with my parents and watched her , delegate from Mississippi at the 1964 Democratic Convention demanding to be seated. I remember thinking she was a sharecropper, like my Grandma had been and she was now a spokeswoman for civil rights. I remember thinking how beautiful he was. I guess it was what Alice Walker once wrote, ” see yourself in the reflection of my eyes.” Yes, powerful, special, and ordinary!

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  2. I learned of Fannie Lou Hamer from Sweet Honey in the Rock, but I was too young in 1964 to appreciate her presence at the Democratic Convention. Thank you, GLB, for this post, your insights, and for the history lesson, drmstyson.

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  3. I was taking care of a white woman and living in her home that summer. The television was on and we both stopped to listen to Fannie Lou Hamer. When we turned to each other, after her speech, the woman was frowning and shaking her head. I was smiling and somewhat teary. Two white women of different generations and different reactions. After that summer I transferred from my women’s college in Massachusetts to DC to go to school so I could be more involved in the Civil Rights movement..from there it was the Montgomery march after Selma and on and on..all because of this moment. Thank you for this!

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