The Midterms Aren't Over in Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer's State.
Updated: Dec 5, 2018
November 19, 2018
After frustrating loses in Florida and Georgia, racial justice voters nationwide may have thought the 2018 elections were over. But citizens in Mississippi aren't done—in fact they're poised to make civil rights history, again.
That is, if enough voters go to back to the polls on November 27 and elect Mike Espy.
Espy, in 1986, was the first Black Mississippian to win a congressional seat since Reconstruction. The Democrat could match that next week as the first Black Mississippi senator elected since Reconstruction. When the polls are reopened for a runoff between he and incumbent Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican, since neither they or Chris McDaniel, a Trump endorsed Republican, received a majority of votes on November 6th.
The good news is that McDaniel is out of the running. The bad news, however, is that Smith is likely to get most of his votes. Though she seems to be helping as much as hurting Espy’s chances with numerous racist innuendos (at least) coming out of her mouth and campaign.
Still, an Espy win won't be easy. It will require a larger percentage of voters coming to the polls on the 27th to vote for him then he got two weeks ago. Not easy, but, far from impossible.
Honoring a Harrowing History
If that happens Mississippians will be doing a lot more than electing him. They will also be honoring the harrowing history and hard work of their state’s civil rights heroes who paved the way for him—and all.
Like Medgar Evers, born in rural Decatur when Jim Crow Laws were effectively replicating the suffocating post-Civil War "Black Codes." At 17 years old he volunteered for the segregrated U.S. Army. Only after fighting to end the racist evils of the Holocaust, he returned in 1945 to an unwelcoming irony. He and fellow Black veterans were blocked and threatened by white men when they tried to register to vote.
Irony of Vets Fighting the Same War at Home
"We fought during the war for America, Mississippi included. Now, after the Germans and Japanese hadn't killed us, it looked as though the white Mississippians would."
The intimidation continued unabated for the rest of life as he engaged, often leading, some of the first and most vivid efforts of the U.S. Civil Rights movement. Until, fulfilling his prediction, Mississippi's white supremacists finally succeeded in stopping him, in 1963.
"I think this proves that we still have a long long ways to go," said a shaken Martin Luther King Jr. upon learning of Evers assassination, noting that just a few hours earlier
President John F. Kennedy made his first public address on racial justice—laying out the reality of Black citizens and appealing for racist violence to end.
Grieving Evers’ loss, King used it to mobilize even more efforts. "I am sure,” he said, that "the movement in Mississippi will go on with a new determination."
The Power To Preempt a U.S. President
Mississippi's Fannie Lou Hamer—a leader who’s speeches and power nearly rivaled Kings—was already on the task.
As she told attendees at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, in a speech he knew would be so catalytic that President Lyndon B. Johnson tried to preempt it. After listing a breathtaking litany of obstacles, humiliation, losses, bogus fines and arrests, threats, beatings and assassination attempts she’d faced in just the previous two years, Hamer choked up: "I was in jail when Medgar Evers was murdered.” And echoed the very same themes Evers had illuminated more than twenty years earlier. “All of this is on account of we want to register. To become first-class citizens.”
Like Medgar Evers, Hamer’s work didn’t stop there. And like Mike Espy, Fannie Lou Hamer, too, ran for senator.
It's a fact that is deeply interwoven with Epsy’s political aspirations. After deciding to run, he says he first called his wife, then drove to visit Hamer at her gravesite in Ruleville. “She realized she would not be elected. She only did it to serve as that beacon to shine the light on justice and voting rights for those who had been oppressed and suppressed,” Espy explains. “She knew it would put her at great risk of harm and physical danger, but yet she did it.”
Of course, none of this is news to Black Mississippians. All too often, they must still to this day overcome racist obstacles and despair just to get out and vote. Though that has been a factor well before Trump, it doesn't help that he's planning on stumping for Hyde-Smith, too.
Needed: Votes Against Racism, from White Voters
It will take more than Mississippi's Black citizens alone for Espy to win on the 27th. And, if elected, Espy says he’ll be serving not only them, but, the many White Mississippians who feel stereotyped “defamed, dismissed and disrespected,” as well.
To all, he says: “It’s time to show the nation just how far we’ve come.” No doubt Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer would heartily agree.
For information on what Mississippi voters will need to vote on November 24th, click HERE.
--Andrea Morisette Grazzini, founder and organizer at Me to We Racial Healing.