Over the last couple of posts, I’ve looked at the depiction of Fannie Lou Hamer’s 1964 speech in front of the Credentials Committee at the Democratic National Convention in John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell’s March Trilogy. Today, I want to finish up that discussion by examining what occurred after Hamer’s speech and the ways that Lewis, Aydin, and Powell depict what happened. Specifically, I want to focus on the panels with Roy Wilkins and Hubert H. Humphrey. These panels highlight what Hamer encountered within the movement and also highlight her strength and resolve to fight for the people in Mississippi. As such, they are extremely important moments within March that we need to examine and extrapolate.
Following the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party’s speeches in front of the Credentials Committee, the Democratic National Committee proposed that the MFDP, rather than become part of the Mississippi delegation in 1964 accept two at-large, non-voting seats at the convention. Hamer and others rejected this proposition, and she told everyone, “We didn’t come all the way here for no two seats.” As Lewis puts it, “The SNCC contingent did not push our point of view on the MFDP delegate. We stated our thoughts about the pros and cons, then stepped back and let people like Fannie Lou Hamer, Victoria Gray, Unita Blackwell, E.W. Steptoe, James Travis, Annie Devine–and so many others–speak for themselves and ultimately decide for themselves.” Hamer and the others lived in Mississippi. Worked in Mississippi. Knew Mississippi. As representatives of the MDFP, they had the right to decide whether or not to take the proposal.
All of the MFDP delegates “rejected the proposal,” and this drew the ire of individuals such as Civil Rights Activist Roy Wilkins. In a three panel sequence, we see Wilkins yell at Hamer and the MFDP delegates. The first panel shows Wilkins on the right, pointing his finger at Hamer and the delegates as they stand in a hall. Wilkins screams, “You people have put your pointing across!” Hamer stares at Wilkins in defiance, in the same manner she sat at the table to deliver her speech earlier. The next panel only shows Hamer’s and Wilkins. It’s a closeup of Wilkins’ face as he points a finger at Hamer’s face. He yells at her. “You don’t know anything, you’re ignorant, you don’t know anything about politics! I’ve been in the business over 20 years!” Here, we see the tensions within the movement, notably the generational conflicts but also the class and intellectual conflicts.
Keisha Blain notes that five years later, in a 1969 interview with New York Amsterdam News, Hamer talked about being “insulted and embarrassed by [her] own people” who viewed her as less than because of her education, gender, and other factors. Blain continues by noting that Wilkins’ comments, calling Hame an “ignorant woman,” point to the ways that Wilkins expressed “patriarchal condescension about her leadership capabilities and political knowledge.” March counters this by highlighting Hamer’s impact and importance. It also counters the “patriarchal condescension” by highlighting the work of Dianne Nash, Ella Baker, and more. In this sequence, we see this rebuttal through Hamer’s demeanor and pose, notably in the final panel. There, Wilkins turns away in a huff, and we see Hamer, arms folded with a stoic glare, looking at him,. To her right, we see another woman staring down Wilkins as she has her hand on her hip. The women stand up to Wilkins, again confronting the “patriarchal condescension,” the classism, and more.
Another important moment took place as the MFDP awaited the Democratic National Convention’s proposal. Senator Humbert Humphrey, who hoped that Johnson would name him as the vice presidential candidate, met with Hamer and the MFDP to discuss the “compromise” that Johnson worked up. Humphrey’s argument was self-serving; he “plead his case with Freedom Party delegates, even indicating that his chances of being added to the Johnson ticket hinged on a solution.” Humphrey’s line of reasoning highlights the political machinations at work, machinations that focused on personal success over the lives of individuals. We see this earlier, before the convention, when Johnson and Humphrey speak on the phone about what they expect to happen in Atlantic City. Humphrey had eyes on the presidency, and his positions all pointed towards that goal.
The sequence that depicts Hamer meeting with Humphrey, where he tells her that his vice presidential candidacy hinges on the solution, points out the disparities between the politics and the lived situations of individuals. In four panels, we see Hamer address Humphrey in a strong and authoritative manner that calls out his selfish hypocrisy. The first panel shows the two sitting a table, Hamer looking at Humphrey as he points at him. She says, “I been praying about you, and I bene thinking about you, and you’re a good man.” Hamer plays on her faith, a faith that sees God as in control and moving to make a better and more just world.
Hamer continues into the next panel by telling Humphrey, “The trouble is, you’re afraid to do what you know is right.” Here, we see Hamer’s perspective, looking over her shoulder at a closeup of Humphrey’s face. Humphrey looks dejected, pierced to the core at the truth in Hamer’s words. He appears to be on the verge of crying, an dthe next panel shows what appear to be tears on his face as he pleads, “But . . . but I’ve been a long-time supporter of civil rights . . . I believe–.” Hamer cuts him off, and we see the two together, Hamer holding Humphrey’s hands, as she tells him, “I’m gonna pray for you.” In this sequence, we see Hamer stand up to power, again, and fight for individuals against a system that acts as if gradual change is the only way forward, a system that thinks politics is the only way. We see Humphrey’s realization at his arrogance and selfishness, thinking merely about his own political future at the cost of the MFDP.
March leaves out a key comment from Hamer that would add more gravitas to her conversation with Humphrey. During their meeting, Hamer posed a question to the presumptive vice presidential candidate when he said that his political life hinged on the decision. She asked him, “Well, Mr. Humphrey do you mean to tell me that your position is more important to you than four hundred thousand black people’s lives?” Hamer called out Humphrey’s selfish short sightedness, directly causing him to face the lives, even in an abstract manner, the lives of those who endured racism, oppression, violence, and more. As Blain notes, “The question stung Humphrey who, according to Hamer, struggled to find the right words to respond.”
Hamer’s comments to Wilkins and Humphrey show her resolve, perseverance, and strength in the face of “patriarchal condescension,” classism, sexism, racism, and more. We see her steadfast resolve to not just fight for her own rights but for the rights of everyone in Mississippi and the word affected by these diseases. While March does not present, because it can’t, all of Hamer’s work, it shows her impact and why we must remember her name, her activism, and her impact. Blain’s Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America is a great place to start if you want to learn more.
What are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.