Having a Say, Part 2

Last Tuesday, we talked about Fanny Lou Hamer. The student who had researched her — everyone had someone or something different to study up on and present to the class — told us about the time Hamer was arrested and beaten nearly to death. Rajindar wanted to know what she’d done and was caught short when Zoraida said, “Nothing. They just didn’t like her because she was registering black people for voting.” “For voting? That’s crazy. What else did she do?”

So we talked about Mississippi and SNCC and poll taxes and Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner … I was happy enough to find that most students knew that black people “had it rough back in the day,” as Valerie said. Most didn’t know, however, just how ‘rough’ it had been.

We talked about the fact that people had died because the right to vote, to have a say, was that important for them. Raj looked at Jeovany. “No wonder you were so hot to vote last week,” he said. Jeovany admitted that he hadn’t known about “all this killing stuff,” but now that he did know, he was even happier that he’d had the chance to vote.

Nia, who sometimes seems to tune out during our political discussions, said, “My mother never votes.” She said it quietly, as if thinking aloud. I asked her how she felt about that. “I never thought about it at all,” she said. “What did it matter if she didn’t vote?” She shook her head, still wrapping her brain around what she’d learned. “But people died,” she said. And her mother never votes. And for the first time that had a meaning for Nia, for the first time it resonated with her.

Nia’s mother choosing, as an African American woman, not to exercise her right to vote was powerful for Nia. The whole conversation was powerful for me. It was one of those moments that make me so glad to be a teacher. I could feel them learning, could see the changes in their faces as ideas struck them, as they made connections between past and present.

“Miss, this wasn’t that long ago,” Jeovany said. “That was 1963. My father was born in the 50s. This was happening while he was alive, Miss. It’s not that long ago.”

“That is deep.” Valerie said.

It was a brief conversation but … Yeah. Deep.

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