Voice of Calm

In the summer of 1962, I volunteered to work for SNCC in Ruleville setting up voter registration drives. We started by knocking on doors, trying to get people to go and register at the courthouse in Indianola, which was 26 miles away. After about a week of knocking on doors, we had only gotten about six people to try to register, so we decided to have a big mass rally to stimulate some interest in the community. We had the rally, and people from the plantations around Ruleville came. We told them that we were going to take a busload of people to the courthouse the following weekend.

On the day we had set to go to the courthouse, 18 people showed up. But when we got there most of the people were afraid to get off the bus. Then this one little stocky lady just stepped off the bus and went right on up to the courthouse and into the circuit clerk's office. I didn't know this was Fannie Lou Hamer.

The people on that bus knew her because she lived on the plantation around where they did. She went in and took the literacy test, and then the rest of the people went through one by one. When everybody had taken the test, we got in the bus and headed home.

But just as we left the city limits a police car flagged us down and told the driver that he was under arrest for driving a bus the color of a school bus. They carried him to jail, and while he was away everybody on the bus was shaking with fear. They didn't know whether they were going to have to sit out there on the road or whether in a few minutes the police were going to come back and put everybody in jail.

Then this voice singing church songs just came out of the crowd and began to calm everybody on the bus. It was then that I learned that Fannie Lou Hamer was on the bus. Somebody said, "That's Fannie Lou, she know how to sing."

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