Skip to main content

tv   National Book Festival - Author conversation on Women Leaders in Civil...  CSPAN  October 7, 2022 4:30pm-5:17pm EDT

4:30 pm
>> congratulations. [applause] >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government funded by these television companies and more including comcast. >> you think it's just the community center? it's way more than that. >> comcast partnering with 1000 community centers to create wi-fi enabled list to students from low income families can get the tools they need to be ready for anything. comcast support c-span as a public service along with these other television providers giving a front-row seat to democracy. >> good morning. an honor to be here to be here with you to established authors and who will spend the next hour almost, not enough time learninggh about two of the most unsung female heroines of the civil rights movement and it
4:31 pm
could not have been more different. one horse establishment and one was grassroots. one was evidently mobile and the other one from a background described as almost two grand. one wasn't obvious routine and another unlikely and later in lifefe. it changed the course of history and neither one were given to do. hopefully the biographieshi discussed will help change that, a dean of the grad institute, law professor and history professor at harvard university. her earlier book is to send, offense and the civil rights movement. the civil rights clean speaker. a scholar conclude meant
4:32 pm
tuckman, the kennedy daughter and the plot to kill abraham lincoln. they will talk about a biography. i will assume many of you are like me, maybe you have heard a little bit or nothing. i hope you will introduce us to the subjects of these books. yours i think is unjustly less known, tell us about who she was and why you chose her. >> happy to. thank you to all of you for being here, i am delighted to share, a legendary civil rights
4:33 pm
lawyer. i write about her because it is the case people today don't know her to theth extent they should. legendary civil rights lawyer who mitigated cases that made it possible for all of us to be together regardless of race and made it possible for me to be a law professor and to be a scholar symbolically, important to national women. three points about her achievement and addition to litigating cases like board of education, the james meredith case, the case segregated university of georgia university of alabama. molly was a a past maker and
4:34 pm
politics, first female president as well as first black female state senator in new york and cap stoned her career becoming the first black female federal judge appointed in 1966. as you can imagine she's inspired a generation of lawyers including women of color, the first black woman b appointed to faculty and harvard law school, kamala harris and ketanji brown jackson when she was introduced to the nation, she had this breaking lawyer as a role model so she'sy a person who should e well known by all of us as i said, she laid the groundwork for modern american society
4:35 pm
changing the landscape. >> she rose up to be an incredible leader during the civil rights movement in the 60s but was brought before, she had an entirely different life trajectory. it cannot be underestimated the poverty she was born into in 1917, the mississippi sharecroppers in her life defined by lack of access to healthcare, education and reached, attained a sixth grade education. the incredible violence that permeated life inn mississippi she arose out of the becircumstances as an adult to become a path breaker and change
4:36 pm
the landscape out of the earth of mississippi and was different than the elite civil rights organizers and figures we know today so well and martin luther king's of the world. rosa parks and others managing and pushing movement forward on the national level. her life was so profoundly difficult and so many things have been taken from her at a late age 40 years old she decided it was time she would make a difference. she was a deeply spiritual woman, her face was everything to her. her family meant everything to
4:37 pm
her and started her community andd that's where her activism started. her face fortified her to move forward when violence was perpetrated against her, her body and soul, she went to lead people around the country and became famous for those of you who may know or those of you who don't, 1964 the democratic national convention atlantic city she was given a platform to talk about what was happening in mississippi and african americans were not represented
4:38 pm
there and were denied the vote in mississippi. her heartfelt speech that was so powerful it shook the people in the room who heard it, men and women crying. people around the nation who saw the video later that evening august 1964 deeply moved all of them and changed people alter the course of the civil rights movement. president johnson was affected by what she said and he went to sign important legislation including 1965 voting rights legislation which has beenma powerful the past few decades and threatened today. her legacy livesy: on in the voting rights campaign around the country and i think there are people in communities today need to be recognized she was because they can make a world of difference. >> one of the things i didn't know sitting with me, it's the words on her tombstone, the term introduced into the cultural conversation, sick and tired of
4:39 pm
being sick and tired. molly, she came from west indian immigrant family who grew up in new haven. worked for school and bones and she was plucked, a wealthy white man learned, what set her on the trajectory to columbia law school? >> lety me tell you a bit about her background -- she was not a person of privilege. her working fast family, her parents immigrated from the indies.. virtually every male relative in her family worked for yale university grew up in the shadow of yale in new haven. something i note in my work is for some and imagine a
4:40 pm
working-class black person growing up in new haven, there might be resentment. for her family, there position was inspiring. her father read the privilege of young men he served at yale as a chef intogh himself. the parents thought of themselves as the father in particular, superior. they were part of the british empire and proud. they were ambitious in their own way yet she was a young girl not expected to go very far. she was incredibly intelligent and vicious and had teachers who introduced her to the work of. she decided early on she wanted
4:41 pm
to be a lawyer and when she told family and friends about this they said you must be crazy, women don't get anywhere in law yes she was able to attend college and then law school because she gave a talk at a club in new haven which happened to be attended by clarence, a graduate of yale and a wealthy man philanthropist who heard her speak and said "afterwards" why aren't you in college? you clearly should be. offered to pay for her college and law school tuition and she said it was like a fairytale that she could be plucked and that way and she was on this
4:42 pm
course she was able to be in law school and got her first job at the naacp and stayed there 20 years. most of the time she was the only woman. to say a bit about who she was as a person, she was reserved. she was graceful, elegant in her bearings and it came from the sense of being connected to the british and she was in a home where her mother god save the queen. to see her was to understand she did feel herself to be different and it was important she felt this way because when she went to the deep south to litigate cases on behalf of people in the
4:43 pm
community she was subjected to the same indignities as were her client. there were judges who wouldn't even look at her. on the other end of the spectrum there were members of the black community who just loved her and called her queen, civil rights queen because she was doing this work translating deprivation of these communities into the language of the law. it is important to write her back into history and represented marshall, the birmingham children's marchers and a colleague, surrogate marshall who thought highly of her. i believe this is historical malpractice and could not have
4:44 pm
her considered in the same way these men are. >> who was she? >> i love what you said how she translated deprivation she's experiencing discrimination and violence into the courtroom and back to the community. sandy lou hamer was the 20th child of jim and ella townsend and what i discovered in my research is seven of the children died before she was born in for of them were babies before she was born. she and her siblings talked about how it seemed she was the mother's favorite and now i know why. she lost four babies before the so she was raised in loved and
4:45 pm
cherished and protected in this horrific environment sharecroppers in mississippi so she survived childhood and has a spotty education and grows up to be a strong child taking care of her elderly parents want her siblings move on. during the great depression she struggled with them to be themselves and work and earn money and that informed her, the struggle gave a sense of strength and mobility even though she had little education and no resources, course of the poor so when she became an adult she looked around and it
4:46 pm
frustrated her so while she couldn't speak out because it meant be killed or hurt or fired her job, she found other ways to fight back and that meant picking cotton and they would weigh their cotton and underestimate how it weighed and she would change the weights. fellow sharecroppers because she was crazy because they knew she got caught she be in so much trouble but she just knew what was right and she was profoundly faithful. she married another sharecropper in 1944 and they lived on this plantation outside of mississippi making a way out of really nothing. they adopted two little girls
4:47 pm
tried to have children of their own but had difficulty conceiving or carrying a pregnancy to term. she had several miscarriages and stillbirths so they raise the children and had deep love and passion for family but it was a struggle everyday. one day she was talking with missus marlowe, the wife of the plantation owner and she told her shehe should go to the local doctor he could take care of the fibroid tumors she was suffering from and assured her it would help her get pregnant and carry a baby to term so he went ahead he sterilized her instead and she would talk about this in
4:48 pm
speeches called him mississippi appendectomy because they didis this to black women in the community. when that happened in 1961, it changed her dramatically she went through a crisis that tested her face and some women would have just receded into the home done nothing after that but it angered her and she knew she had to fight back. the doctor took something from her that he had no right to take and there was no recourse because she was a black woman in mississippi and could not sue a white doctor. she became involved in the civil rights movement. when the student nonviolent coordinating committee arrived in rural specific, bob moses, a young activist dedicated and a
4:49 pm
group of young students and people came and asked the people there, what do they want the civil rights meant to do for them and help them with? they wanted to vote and it became the cause. sandy was eventually able to register to vote and pass the voting rights test and kept fighting for the rights of everyone to be able to vote because once she registered to vote the plantation owner evicted her that night so she was determined to not let it let her down. she was afraid that white supremacist will become brittle
4:50 pm
and tried to kill them which they did do, people fired shotgun blast of the house in timeeighborhood all the she had had enough. after she was arrested for her role in the movement and brutally beaten and raped in the jail in june of 1963 she faced another crossroad in later said they've been trying to kill me my whole life. they might as well but i'm not going to stop fighting for equal rights. as i said earlier in my comment she went on to fight and fight from the grassroots level and young people in the nonviolent correlating committee was so loud by her, she is 20 years older than them but they looked up to her as an inspiring leader and she was inspired by them. she once said those students,
4:51 pm
more christianity and those people than any other church church she attended so they inspired her to risk her life and she inspired them and she went on to mobilize change from the ground grassroots and challenge elites as well as white supremacists that would circle her house everyday threatening her. her legacy is so powerful today for the people who knew her as a new generation needs to get to know her and no you can come from the most obscure circumstances in the most difficult places and rise up and be a leader and create change. >> she was born and raised in
4:52 pm
her activism mississippi. mississippi is where molly had one of her most extraordinary legal battles. describe her role. >> it is true in many ways human opposition but also the case both of them and something i admire, they both have e.tremendous courage, when she litigated in alabama and mississippi, she did under threat of her life and she
4:53 pm
traveled 22 times in the span of 18 months with her son at home and her husband in the apartment and imagine doing that. you only do that if you bought yourself on a mission. she did it because marshall signed the case to her and they received a letter from james meredith who said he wanted to challenge segregation in his home state and marshall said this man has got to be crazy. that's your case and it was
4:54 pm
because of the violence in mississippi, the stranglehold of white supremacy of people of the state and nevertheless she went to mississippi and represented james meredith, a terribly difficult case for all sorts of reasons. the fear and anxiety provoked by being a black person coming from new york, daring to come to the courtroom and the stood nearly 6 feet tall and claimed a black man should be allowed to enter the university of mississippi.
4:55 pm
she did that and did it despite hostility from her cocounsel who refused to recognize her. he called her that woman and molly challenged it and she said to the judge himself as a segregationist but on the spectrum, even he knew that was wrong so he acknowledged the opposing counsel when molly said he should call me by my name, missus molly, at least call her the woman from new york is what he ended up calling her. another thing i want to say the ways in which it was a difficult case, evers, the main naacp operative in mississippi would pick her up from the airport and
4:56 pm
he would travel and take her to the courthouse and they were really herni community feeding r and they experienced the terror mississippi to the so when they wereth traveling to the courthoe for the one time, it was said to her look, don't look back. we are being followed and state police are trailing them as they are driving down the highway in mississippi and says to her but the legal pad inside new york times because you don't want to be stopped and have evidence you are doing this civil rights work and happened time and time
4:57 pm
again. she said once when she was staying in her house there were hedges close to the house and said you need to cut those down because someone could harmex yo. i'm from behind the hedges and harm you and that is what happened, assassinated. a few months after leaving mississippi for the last time after battling the court, she would win positions in court and the court of appeals would not count what was inevitable. ultimately after being in court time and time again meredith was able to enter but hardly in the the story because he met a riot when he entered two people were
4:58 pm
killed. trying to enter so it was quite a child. there were times where he didn't have enough. they brought them out of the state into thedo apartment where they have freedom and she got him through that. it illustrates how she not only was working in the courtroom but outside of the courtroom helping her clients continue in this perilous fight. >> there's a great moment in the story, incredibly rich research. little details he was admitted into university of mississippi, two bedrooms, room because his bodyguard had their own room and
4:59 pm
there is incredibleit story how there was fear, incredible not only did they all survive physically but mentally. he needs to take a break and visit i need to go dancing. [laughter] >> that's right. he brought him up to the apartment and stayed with her and openly said he needed to be with his friends and not feel like a soldier everyday which is what was required part of these cases. >> can you tell us a bit about how she challenged the civil rights in the end whether or not titans of the civil rights movement crossed paths? >> i don't think they did,
5:00 pm
certainly she would've been aware of molly, especially with her work in mississippi and humor you evers. she was aware of things going on in the movement. i think she probably paid much attention because another woman was in the trenches fighting like she was. ... she did try to get people to sign up for the naacp.
5:01 pm
but it was the elite middle-class men that ran both of these chapters in mississippi. other places. she tangled with some of the elites in the movement once she became nationally known and she was in atlantic city with martin luther king and ralph abernathy and that group around king. they disrespected her because she was not well-educated. she had a fairly strong mississippi delta accent. she was very poor so her clothing didn't meet their standards and they said that directly to her, that she was an embarrassment to them. look what you were wearing, you should go home and you are going to -- you wouldn't say that to fannie blue hamer. she was so grassroot she couldn't lead to the elites in the movement and martin luther king could not relate to her despite how we all think of him
5:02 pm
as this grassroots organizer. all the people under him ending communities across the country that were the organizers and he was an inspiring leader that he and hamer talked past each other. in fact in atlantic city hamer was there with a group of people from mississippi challenging the rights of the mississippi all democratic party to be seated on the convention floor and to vote for president johnson as the nominee of the democratic party that year. she belonged to a more diverse group of people that wanted to represent mississippi so they have this challenge. martin luther king was there to support them but he didn't have a feel for the people that he inspired people and he spoke eloquently when he read a speech before he and hamer would get up on stage and she was the one
5:03 pm
that wowed everybody personally. and the press followed king around until they heard hamer speak and then they could not get enough of fannie lou hamer because she spoke to people across the country that were living in circumstances like her. and some of those most laymen mostly around king felt threatened by her rising power. they didn't want her to have a strong voice that she had. but there was no denying fannie lou hamer of the nation responded to her she also had this amazing voice. and she used it as part of her rhetoric in speeches in her presence and people felt connected to her when she would start to sing. she had the qualities that many of those men did not have saray there was a bigtw divide.
5:04 pm
the leaders wraps when necessary. >> if i could piggyback on that comment -- talk about martin's relationship. he was one of them and some of the things that she did were consistent with the attitude the university of alabama case one was offering notes and the other was colleen meyer who was instigating the case and was a good friend. polly and meyer ran into trouble when the university found out that she had been pregnant
5:05 pm
before she was married. and her husband had some run-ins with the law. on the basis of morals they said she was not qualified to be there much less attend the university of alabama and the naacp including motley and the local lawyers and obstruct jars, there was no effort made to stand up for polly meyer and the reason was endlessly cute cases in particular they needed to be the best in the community as was understood. the politics of respectability which motley certainly believed in were very relevant to the types of plaintiffs who were
5:06 pm
chosen and who could be successful. so in the university of georgia case one of the plaintiffs were charlayne hunter-gault who had done well in school and she was very beautiful and she was easier i guess you would say for some to assess both the thing about motley she also had trouble with some of the men and the naacp establishment. in fact after she had litigated her first case in mississippi which was half of teachers in the salary case she said in the thurgood marshall case she said she wasn't being. what she thought she should be. she didn't have the title that she deserved and he eventually did give her a raise and she was
5:07 pm
working with the naacp national in making those decisions but was not an easy way for her at all. one of the deepest valleys in her life occurred in 1951 when she passed over for thurgood marshall's job when she was appointed to the federal court. hehe wanted her in counsel and e felt she deserved it. she did get it and it went to jackley and burke who was a terrific lawyer and supporter of the civil rights movement and he also was a man and motley thought both race and gender had to do with why she was passed over. and so there are two sides of the coin they are. and all kinds of gradations and i love this story because it shows the texture of the movement and the differentho
5:08 pm
experiences and house gender is very relevant to historical memory of the movement and also whom we should understand as leaders of the movement. it wasn't just the man who were giving the speeches and rallying the crowds. as important as it was it wasn't just thurgoodit marshall who famously was extroverted and charming and the alpha male, it was also these women. motley astl i said she was not trying to put herself out in front. she was still in front and it's important to appreciate both parts of the spectrum. >> we have been a few minutes for questions if anybody has any.
5:09 pm
>> between ms. motley and miss polly murray was that during the time of the lds and the issue but you brought up about leadership at the time. >> they did know each other. they were friends. they supported one another. at the same time motley was able to go farther within the context of the naacp's establishment and the legal establishment to be received better than polly murray was. as you know polly murray had a hard time getting her legal theory accepted by the men of the naacp although as they thought about it they decided they would use it because it was so, great. they did know each other and they loved each other.
5:10 pm
when motley was appointed to the court polly murray sent her a note saying hooray for our side. we finally done it. they thought it would be so great for her. thank you for thatt question. >> as a footnote of history a young yale law student helped her get out of prison and she was in there with lawrence diaz who is a well-known community organizer. those injury she had were with her for her life. >> they contributed to her early death. she died of breast cancerr in 1977 that she hadce been sufferg kidneyy disease, not disease fr the damage kidney from the beatings she took in jail at the people around her were quite amazing and eleanor holmes
5:11 pm
norton was very close to hamer and later when hamer had a mess that to me norton helped her get -- because hamer couldn't afford to do that and she did that for hamer. she was that young lawyer that helped bail her out of jail in june of 1963. >> how old was hamer which he died? >> she was 59 years old. >> first of all and happy that you mentioned gender and the civil rights movement when you were discussing the two wonderful t women. in my research with the movement we talk about how even if you are fighting for thet same thing you might not agree how to fight for it so i'm happy to hear you talklk about that. but also sometimes women in particular feel a special burden
5:12 pm
to bring women's issues to the forefront. they represent two constituencies in a fight for anyone at all times. could you talk a little bit about whether or not either of these women felt af special burden because of their gender? >> well i can tell you that motley and she became a new york city politician said when people called her a feminist that she was not so she made a choice publicly to put some distance between herself and the women's movement both because she didn't think that it was necessarily representative of her and the experiences of other women but also because in the context of politics in particular when ciardi had so much against her frankly she wasn't going to take
5:13 pm
on feminism to and yet as i said before in reference to myself and kate and many other women she was an important symbol of change. when she joined the corgi diet decided quite the cases that open the door to law firms for women and journalists it opened opportunities there so she had to be supportive of women's issues but in a way that enabled her to move in these circles that she was moving. >> i have to say the same thing about fannie lou hamer. she would not have described herself as a feminist and she belonged to the national organization of women and she helped organize the black women's caucus and she was colleagues with surely chose owned and. for dam and merrily ebbers but
5:14 pm
she was a very conservative -- they would have called her conservative feminist because she was antiabortion which is interesting because before she was sterilized she had helped other women access to abortion services in mississippi. 's in the late 1 60s and 70s it was like what you mean like she was very conservatives andi don't think she looked at gender is a burden. it was that she was and she was fighting for herself and for everybody and she was particularly protective of black men because she watched the violence that was disproportionately visited upon black man in mississippi so she was very protective of her
5:15 pm
husband andth other men in the community. >> i'mit so sorry the rest of te questions will have to be addressed to the authors as they signed books after this session. i just wanted to say at the moment when white supremacy feels on the rise in the politically -- political climate feels old daunting i wanted to thank you for bringing both of these heroines into 2022. thank you. [applause]
5:16 pm


info Stream Only

Uploaded by TV Archive on