On this dayJun 09, 1963

Fannie Lou Hamer Arrested and Beaten in Winona, Mississippi

Image | Associated Press 

On June 9, 1963, while returning from a voter registration workshop in South Carolina, Fannie Lou Hamer and other civil rights activists were arrested in Winona, Mississippi. Ms. Hamer and the other activists had been traveling in the "white" section of a Greyhound bus despite threats from the driver that he planned to notify local police at the next stop. When the bus arrived at the Winona bus depot, the activists sat at the "white only" lunch counter inside the terminal.

Winona Police Chief Thomas Herrod ordered the group to go to the "colored" side of the depot and arrested them when one of the activists tried to write down his patrol car license number. In August 1964, while testifying at the Democratic National Convention to urge party bosses to seat a group of black Mississippi voters seated as delegates, Mrs. Hamer recalled the abuse she endured that night at the county jail.

"It wasn't too long before three white men came to my cell," she said. "One of these men was a State Highway Patrolman and he asked me where I was from. I told him Ruleville and he said, 'We are going to check this.' They left my cell and it wasn't too long before they came back. He said, 'You are from Ruleville all right,' and he used a curse word. And he said, 'We are going to make you wish you was dead.'"

The white officers then forced two African American prisoners to brutally beat Ms. Hamer with loaded blackjacks; she was nearly killed. As Mrs. Hamer regained consciousness, she overheard one of the white officers propose, "We could put them SOBs in [the] Big Black [River] and nobody would ever find them."

Ms. Hamer never fully recovered from the attack; she lost vision in one of her eyes and suffered permanent kidney damage, which contributed to her death in 1977 at age 59. Lawyers with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) filed suit against the Winona police who brutalized the activists, but an all-white jury acquitted them. Despite the trauma she experienced, Ms. Hamer returned to Mississippi to continue organizing voter registration drives and remained active in civil rights causes until her death.

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