How Fannie Lou Hamer Created a Tool To Fight Voter Suppression Today

By Marc Elias

May 25, 2021

A geometric black-and-white collage featuring Fannie Lou Hammer and various scenes from civil rights protests

In 1964, civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer had a bold idea. A Black woman, she would run for Congress in the Democratic primary in Mississippi. Her opponent would be the pro-segregationist, white incumbent Jamie Whitten. At the time, Black citizens comprised 52.4% of the congressional district’s population, but less than 3% of its registered voters.

While she lost the primary 35,218 to 621, she set in motion one of the most consequential House election contests in history. And she may well have set the stage for the use of that process to fight voter suppression today.

After losing the primary, Hamer, along with Annie Devine and Victoria Gray, unsuccessfully sought to qualify for the November 1964 congressional ballot as third-party candidates under the banner of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Then, after the general election, Hammer, Devine, Gray and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party filed an election contest in the U.S. House challenging the seating of the Mississippi congressional delegation on the grounds that their elections were marred by voting discrimination and unconstitutional disenfranchisement of Black voters. 

The election contest was an evidentiary rout. Hamer and her team compiled 10,000 pages of witness testimony from more than 400 people. Depositions were taken in 30 Mississippi counties and hearings were held in 12 states. All of it told the story of disenfranchisement of Black voters in the 1964 elections by means of refusals to register Black voters, physical intimidation and other forms of overt, state-sponsored discrimination. The white congressmen claimed that they had no “personal knowledge” of voting discrimination taking place in Mississippi and complained bitterly of their lack of resources and inability to mount an evidentiary defense.

But what the congressmen lacked in evidence they more than made up for in the composition on the committee considering the challenge. After a 3-hour hearing — closed to the public, press and even other members of Congress — the House Administration Committee, which was dominated by southern Democrats, voted 20-5 to recommend that the House dismiss the contest. 

Among the reasons for dismissal was the fact that Hamer and the others could not show that they would have won the election even if Black citizens had been permitted to register and vote. But this issue had come up before — in the late 19th century. Between 1867 and 1901, the House decided more than 40 contests where violations of the 14th and 15th Amendments were found to be sufficient grounds for a contest to prevail, even without evidence that the election outcome would be different.

As the matter proceeded to the House floor for a vote in September 1965, some members — particularly those from the northeast — were under pressure to support the election contest. The images from Freedom Summer and the brutality of southern states towards Black citizens trying to register to vote were fresh in members’ minds. So too was the recently enacted Voting Rights Act (VRA).

It turns out that the passage of the VRA in August 1965 presented an opportunity for a “compromise” that would allow the Mississippi delegation to retain their seats. Opponents of the election contest made a two-part argument.  

First, they argued that the discriminatory conduct was only rendered illegal in 1965, nine months after the challenged elections. They noted that no court had struck down Mississippi’s voting laws as unconstitutional before the November 1964 election, even though Mississippi’s governor had accepted in 1965 that they did, in fact, violate the 15th Amendment. They further argued that the new VRA would have made illegal the tactics used in the 1964 elections to prevent Black voters from registering and voting. In other words, they argued that the new rules as of August 1965 should not be retroactively applied to 1964 elections and thus the contest should be dismissed.  

The second — and most critical — part of their argument was that, moving forward, violations of the VRA and 15th Amendment would be sufficient grounds to maintain and prevail in an election contest regardless of proof of the number of affected voters or the margin of the election.  

The majority thus sought to essentially block the challenge in 1964 by promising that from then on discriminatory voting laws and practices would be sufficient grounds to overturn an election in the House. 

As one member from New Jersey said while announcing his support to dismiss the contest: “The record of this debate…will constitute a clear precedent that the House of Representatives will no longer tolerate electoral practices in any State or district which violate the legal or constitutional rights of citizens to register, vote, or to become candidates for office.” The House will “use the power to unseat in the future, if there is corroborative evidence of the violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.” 

Ultimately the House voted in favor of permanently seating the Mississippi congressmen and against Fannie Lou Hamer and her effort by a vote of 228 to 143. The concession on future violations of the VRA and the Constitution worked.

That should not be an empty promise. 

As Republican legislatures enact new voter suppression laws, Congress should reaffirm the House’s promise in 1965 to refuse to seat, or to unseat, members who benefit from discriminatory voting laws.  It is beyond question that the House has the absolute right to adopt such a rule — since it alone is the “Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members.” So, the only barrier to this approach is the House itself and its reticence to invoke its constitutional power. 

If ever there was a need for it to do so, it is now.

Republicans in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa and Montana should be on notice now that members’ elections are subject to House contest if either a court or the House determines that the member benefitted from discriminatory voting laws. And before they pass their own discriminatory laws, states like Texas, Ohio and New Hampshire should consider that the result could be the unseating of their Republican congressional delegations.

The right to vote is under attack. The House should be reminded of Fannie Lou Hamer’s courage in 1964. She may have lost that election contest, but she won a valuable tool for fighting voter suppression that is still relevant today.

SUBSCRIBE and SUPPORT Democracy Docket and the amazing legal war he is waging against voter disenfranchisement and suppression.

The Cruelty Is the Point

“The Cruelty Is the Point: WHY TRUMP’S AMERICA ENDURES”

By Adam Serwer

BOOK OVERVIEW

“To many, our most shocking political crises appear unprecedented—un-American, even. But they are not, writes The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer in this prescient essay collection, which dissects the most devastating moments in recent memory to reveal deeply entrenched dynamics, patterns as old as the country itself. The January 6 insurrection, anti-immigrant sentiment, and American authoritarianism all have historic roots that explain their continued power with or without President Donald Trump—a fact borne out by what has happened since his departure from the White House.

Serwer argues that Trump is not the cause, he is a symptom. Serwer’s phrase “the cruelty is the point” became among the most-used descriptions of Trump’s era, but as this book demonstrates, it resonates across centuries. The essays here combine revelatory reporting, searing analysis, and a clarity that’s bracing. In this new, expanded version of his bestselling debut, Serwer elegantly dissects white supremacy’s profound influence on our political system, looking at the persistence of the Lost Cause, the past and present of police unions, the mythology of migration, and the many faces of anti-Semitism. In so doing, he offers abundant proof that our past is present and demonstrates the devastating costs of continuing to pretend it’s not. The Cruelty Is the Point dares us, the reader, to not look away.”

MORE about the book

ABOUT ADAM SERWER

Adam Serwer has been a staff writer for the Ideas section of The Atlantic since 2016, focusing on contemporary politics, often viewed through the lens of history. He is the recipient of the 2015 Sigma Delta Chi award for commentary,… More about Adam Serwer

The Conservatives Dreading—And Preparing for—Civil War – The Atlantic

A faction of the right believes America has been riven into two countries. The Claremont Institute is building the intellectual architecture for whatever comes next.

. . . As Donald Trump rose to power, the Claremont universe—which sponsors fellowships and publications, including the Claremont Review of Books and The American Mind—rose with him, publishing essays that seemed to capture why the president appealed to so many Americans and attempting to map a political philosophy onto his presidency. Williams and his cohort are on a mission to tear down and remake the right; they believe that America has been riven into two fundamentally different countries, not least because of the rise of secularism. “The Founders were pretty unanimous, with Washington leading the way, that the Constitution is really only fit for a Christian people,” Williams told me. It’s possible that violence lies ahead. “I worry about such a conflict,” Williams told me. “The Civil War was terrible. It should be the thing we try to avoid almost at all costs.”

That almost is worth noticing. “The ideal endgame would be to effect a realignment of our politics and take control of all three branches of government for a generation or two,” Williams said. Trump has left office, at least for now, but those he inspired are determined to recapture power in American politics. My conversation with Williams has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Source: The Conservatives Dreading—And Preparing for—Civil War – The Atlantic

“We’re not going to be able to hold that base”: Park Police overwhelmed hours before Capitol breach on Jan 6th

“The Capitol has been breached. Protestors have entered the building.”

Less than an hour later, the day had turned into a horror movie.

“Capitol Police is reporting a possible IED, First St., south of the Capitol by the Republicans club, uh, it’s been photographed, it’s currently being investigated this is breaking right now…it’s being described as a black pipe with wires protruding from it.”

MORE

The 10 Best Political Books of 2020 by Black Women – The Atlantic

Last year, Black women called upon themselves, made themselves heard, and shared their political talents and minds.

Source: The 10 Best Political Books of 2020 by Black Women – The Atlantic

White women’s role in white supremacy, explained – Vox

It’s tempting to think of the storming of the US Capitol on Wednesday as toxic masculinity run amok: a mob of mostly white men, carrying guns and wearing animal skins, trying to overthrow democracy on behalf of a president who once bragged about his ability to grab women “by the pussy.”

It’s even more tempting to embrace this narrative when, in a bizarre statement, that president’s campaign press secretary describes him as “the most masculine person, I think, to ever hold the White House.”

But focusing too much on masculinity obscures a crucial truth: Many women were either present at the riot or cheering on the insurrectionists from back home. There was Ashli Babbitt, the 35-year-old Air Force veteran and apparent devotee of QAnon ideology who was killed during the riot. There was the woman photographed with “zip-tie guy” Eric Munchel, now believed to be his mother. There was Martha Chansley, the mother of the widely photographed “QAnon shaman” who wore a horned hat and carried a spear to Congress. She wasn’t present at the riot but later defended her son in an interview, calling him “a great patriot, a veteran, a person who loves this country.”

And, of course, there were the women lawmakers who boosted conspiracy theories and false claims about the election being stolen, including Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a QAnon adherent who railed against Democrats and Black Lives Matter protesters in a speech on the House floor this week while wearing a mask reading “censored.” Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, meanwhile, described January 6 as “1776” before the riot began, live-tweeted from the House during the attack (including a mention that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had been removed from the chambers), and this week, refused to allow police to search her bag after it set off metal detectors outside Congress. During her campaign, Boebert promised to bring her gun with her to the House.

Many women were either present at the riot or cheering on the insurrectionists from back home.
 Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images
If we ignore the importance of women in the Capitol riot, we can’t understand white supremacy in America.
 Alex Edelman/AFP via Getty Images

White women have been part of white supremacy in America since the very beginning, experts point out, dating back to their role in slavery. “They were at the table when the system was designed,” Stephanie Jones-Rogers, a history professor at UC Berkeley and author of the book They Were Her Property: White Women as Slave Owners in the American South, told Vox. “They were co-architects of the system.”

That remained true after the Civil War, through the birth and evolution of the Ku Klux Klan, and during the civil rights movement when white women were some of the most vocal opponents of school integration. And it remains true today, when women hold a key role in spreading QAnon ideology and sustaining white nationalist groups and movements. “Like other parts of our economy and society, these movements would collapse without their labor,” Seyward Darby, author of Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism, told Vox.

And if we ignore the importance of women in the Capitol riot and the groups that backed and enabled it, we can’t understand white supremacy in America — let alone dismantle it. Trying to fight racism in America without looking at white women, Jones-Rogers said, is like “addressing only the right side of the body when the left side is still sick.”

White women have been part of white supremacy from the beginning

White women’s investment in white supremacy is older than the United States itself and goes back to their role in the economy of slavery. Though white women have been seen by some historians as passive bystanders to the brutalities of slavery, they were in fact active participants, as Jones-Rogers explains in They Were Her Property. Before the Civil War, white women had little economic or political power, with one big exception: They could buy and sell enslaved people. And they did so, using enslaved people as a way of building up wealth that would not simply be transferred to a husband in marriage.

Slavery gave white women “freedom, autonomy, and agency that they could not exercise in their lives without it, so they deeply invested in it,” Jones-Rogers said.

And after the Civil War, white women didn’t simply give up on white supremacy. Instead, as Jones-Rogers puts it, they doubled down.

For many, that meant becoming active participants in the KKK, which at one point had 1.5 million female members. Some women took leadership roles, like Elizabeth Tyler, who helped revive the Klan in the late 1910s and became its “most important propagandist,” according to Darby.

Women became especially important in the Klan once they gained the right to vote. After that, white men began to see their wives, daughters, sisters, and other women in their lives “as potential allies in the effort to politicize white supremacy,” Jones-Rogers said. “They began to see them as a voting bloc.”

Women members of the Ku Klux Klan from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, arrive in Washington, DC, for a KKK parade, circa 1920.
 Bettmann Archive via Getty Images
A group of Ku Klux Klan women next to a parade float in Miami, circa 1940.
 Frederic Lewis/Archive Photos/Getty Images

And it wasn’t just because of organizations like the Klan that white women invested in institutional racism. They also played a core role in lynching by making false allegations of sexual harassment or assault, which were used as a pretext to murder Black men. And they were key players in the fight against the integration of schools, with white women using their role as mothers to legitimize their victimization of Black children, Jones-Rogers said.

Indeed, throughout the 20th century, though white women could no longer profit from slavery, they were still deriving real benefits from white supremacy — namely, a sense of social and political power in a world still dominated by white men. “Through lynching, your words have the power of life and death over an African-descended man,” Jones-Rogers explained. “Your vote can secure a place in the state, in the government, for white supremacy.”

In essence, through white supremacy, white women came to “understand themselves as individuals who wield a certain kind of power that men have to respect,” Jones-Rogers said.

Understanding white women’s role is key to fighting racism today

And that dynamic has continued into the 21st century. The landscape of white supremacy has changed, with the Klan no longer a major player (though it still exists). Today, white nationalism is less about specific groups and more about “an ideology that people subscribe to from the comfort of their own desks,” Darby said.

Because of that, it’s hard to measure exactly how many women are involved in white nationalism. It’s easier to measure attitudes. Overall, about 20 percent of white Americans of all genders “feel a sense of discontent” over the status of white people in society, Darby writes in Sisters in Hate, drawing on the work of political scientist Ashley Jardina. And white women are actually more likely than white men to hold “exclusionary views about what it means to be American, preferring boundaries around the nation’s identity that maintain it in their image.”

And while they may not always be in front at rallies or riots, women remain important “recruiters and propagandists” for white nationalism, Darby said. Erica Alduino, for example, had a key role in organizing the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. She was the one directing traffic on messaging apps and answering mundane but important questions like whether there would be shuttle buses to the rally. She didn’t speak at the event, “but that’s not the point,” Darby said. “Whether women are seen or not seen, they are such important actors in this space.”

Women have also been central to organizing pro-Trump events that spread the false claim that the election was stolen. The group Women for America First organized a “Stop the Steal” rally of thousands in November and also received a permit for a rally at the Capitol on January 6, according to the Washington Post.

Meanwhile, women have taken an even more visible role with the rise of QAnon. An ideology that began with conspiracy theories about Trump battling a “cabal” of liberals involved in child sex trafficking, QAnon has grown to include a wider array of theories and misinformation. Last year, QAnon adherents began amplifying the hashtag #SaveTheChildren, which became a vehicle for false claims about the prevalence of child sex trafficking as well as a gateway for more extreme QAnon ideas. And many of the people posting with #SaveTheChildren — including celebrities and prominent influencers — were women.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) campaigns for Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue alongside President Trump on January 4.
 Brynn Anderson/AP

In general, QAnon has been a way to co-opt messages long targeted at women — messages about the importance of natural living or even healthy food, for example — and turn them into an indoctrination in white nationalism and xenophobia. QAnon plays into “this idea that you can cleanse yourself and your life and your family’s life of pollutants,” Darby said. Messages about avoiding genetically modified foods, for example, can slide into messages about keeping non-white children out of schools.

In the last few months, QAnon has played a key role in boosting conspiracy theories about Covid-19 restrictions and masking, and backing attempts to overturn the election. And some of the most visible proponents of QAnon have been women. Greene, for example, has been called the first QAnon member of Congress and has tweeted support for the idea of the “deep state,” a core QAnon tenet.

Meanwhile, Ashli Babbitt, the woman who was killed by police at the Capitol riot, had been posting QAnon-related content on social media for nearly a year prior to the insurrection, according to the Guardian. The day before the riot, she tweeted a defiant message full of QAnon slogans: “Nothing will stop us….they can try and try and try but the storm is here and it is descending upon DC in less than 24 hours….dark to light!”

Trump supporters arrive for the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6.
 Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Women have been central to organizing pro-Trump events that spread the false claim that the election was stolen. 
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Despite the participation of Babbitt and others, there’s been a tendency to view the riot as largely male-dominated — and, indeed, to erase the presence of women in white supremacy throughout history. “There has been a tendency, from the colonial period to the present, to frame and to position white women as perpetual victims, in spite of the evidence to the contrary,” Jones-Rogers said.

But ignoring the fact that women have long been perpetrators of white supremacy — up to and including violence — will hamper any effort to truly fight it. “When we discount these women and the often violent and brutal roles that these women play,” Jones-Rogers said, “we neglect and we negate the impact that their activities have on their victims.”

If, by contrast, we as a society can reckon with the way that white women have been not just beneficiaries but designers of the system of white supremacy, she said, we will be better able “to dismantle the system and to address the ways in which the system has really pervaded all of our lives.”

Source: White women’s role in white supremacy, explained – Vox

Martin Luther King Jr: New documentary on FBI surveillance – BBC News

Martin Luther King Jr: New documentary on FBI surveillanceMartin Luther King Jr: New documentary on FBI surveillance

CloseShortly after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr led the march on Washington in 1963, FBI agents were ordered to start following the famed civil rights leader.The extent of the surveillance shocked documentary maker Sam Pollard so much he decided to start digging. He managed to uncover FBI documents, sourced secret White House phone calls, and found long-forgotten footage of King at the peak of his career. With interviews from King’s contemporaries Clarence Jones and Andrew Young and former FBI agents, MLK/FBI paints a picture which, as Pollard tells the BBC’s Alex Stanger, mirrors today’s reality.

Watch preview here:  https://www.bbc.com/news/av-embeds/55620286/vpid/p093xfl2“>

Source: Martin Luther King Jr: New documentary on FBI surveillance – BBC News