I grew up in rural southeastern Minnesota immersed in the rich “country” colloquialisms that permeated our conversations in the 1950s and 1960s. It seemed to me as a child that one stood out and was used far too often! It incessantly showed up when someone spoke in absolute certainties or thought they were “so smart,” the colloquialism was often directed towards a teenager! In that moment, I knew I was going to hear AGAIN, “Mama always said if you don’t learn something new today, you might as well stay in bed!”
Early in the New Millennium, I was introduced to Kay Mill’s book, This Little Light of Mine: the Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, which examines the life of MS Hamer, a powerful African American woman from Mississippi, who was a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), in 1964 she helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party which strongly influenced the 1968 Democratic Convention, was active in civil disobedience (and as a result savagely raped beaten for her commitment) and registered countless people to vote. “This Little Light of Mine” opened my eyes to the powerful ways strong, powerful African American women leaders were central figures in the Civil Rights Movement and made me want to know more!
In 2011, Joänne Tromiczak-Neid, Justice Coordinator and I went to Alabama to participate in the 40th Anniversary celebration of the Southern Poverty Law Center and to take a self-guided Civil Rights tour while we were there. All along the way, in Birmingham and in Selma, I kept looking for more about the history of women in the Civil Rights Movement. I was really simply looking to find more about Fannie Lou Hamer. Each time I came away disappointed. Nothing on Fannie Lou Hamer, though there was some information about Rosa Parks.
As I drove over the Edmund Pettus Bridge to return to Montgomery for the opening of the 40th Anniversary celebration on that quiet sunny mid-April morning, I found I could not drive the speed limit, “we both felt the power of the march and the marchers” as we left Selma. We pulled over several times to reflect on the experience. Halfway back to Montgomery we found the Lowndes Interpretive Center which opened earlier that year to tell the story of the March on Montgomery and the Loundes County Tent City which for two years became home to many Black Americans and sharecroppers who were evicted because they had exercised their constitutional right as citizens to register and to vote.
There on the counter I discovered Hands on the Freedom Plow, an unprecedented women’s history of the Civil Rights Movement, from sit-ins to Black Power prominently displayed. It is now in the Justice Resource Room Library and powerfully tells the stories of women who worked, more often than not, behind the scenes keeping the wheels Civil Rights Movement moving forward! Though Fannie Lou Hamer died March 17, 1977, her story is included and told by the powerful women leaders who worked alongside of her.
Well, here I am on August 27, 2013, reading the St. Paul Pioneer Press. My eye was drawn to the William P. Jones opinion piece titled “Content, coverage, effect: 5 Myths about the March on Washington.” The intriguing title drew me in immediately.
Jones, a history professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the author of The March on Washington: Jobs, Freedom, and the Forgotten History of Civil Rights, this morning opened my eyes and changed my perceptions on several fronts.
As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington tomorrow, Jones writes “The National Council of Negro Women also supported the march,” but the male leaders “refused to include its president, Dorothy Height, in the official leadership. Despite vigorous protest from black women, they insisted that women could be represented by men.”
As we commemorate the March on Washington, federal laws protecting the right of all citizens to vote, I encourage you to take the time to read Jones column, and the other resources I have linked to in this blog post.
Once again, “mama” was right! There are lots of great reasons to get out of bed, including but not limited to, learning more about the world, changing my perceptions and being reminded again and again that “the more I know, the more I know I don’t know!”
Posted by: Ginger K. Hedstrom, Justice Associate
Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and Consociates, Saint Paul Province