Ruby Sales ~ From My Front Porch 7/25/20

It is night, and the nation endured anoth­er day of Trump’s slaugh­ter of democ­ra­cy and his takeover of cities with storm troop­ers who are ter­ror­iz­ing pro-democ­ra­cy groups. As much as the guardians of White male his­to­ry try to hide it, state sanc­tioned ter­ror­ism on the streets of America against pro-democ­ra­cy groups is not new. It was the order of the day dur­ing the Southern Freedom Movement.

Today I woke up with the mem­o­ries of the brav­ery of my SNCC sis­ters who faced tor­ture, death, gen­der vio­lence and psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare from White south­ern vig­i­lantes and state sanc­tioned mur­der­ers dur­ing the Southern Freedom Movement. Here is their sto­ry. Let us remem­ber and cel­e­brate the brav­ery of Black girls and women! Let us not for­get that our free­dom was writ­ten in their blood. Here are the imprints!

Historians tell us that in a Mississippi jail dur­ing the Southern Freedom Movement Fannie Lou Hamer, Annelle Ponder and sev­en­teen year old June Johnson were tor­tured. White police forced Black male pris­on­ers to invade and degrade their bodies.

These White men who would hang a Black man for sim­ply look­ing at their daugh­ters, sis­ters, wives and neigh­bors beat sev­en­teen year old June Johnson so bad­ly in the face until they popped out one of her eyes.

These White men who lynched Black boys or men for sim­ply look­ing direct­ly at a White woman exposed and gawked erot­i­cal­ly at Ms Hamer’s  bare black body. There are oth­er reports that they beat Ms. Hamer on her vagi­na.  These White men who killed Black men in the name of racial puri­ty and the pro­tec­tion of White wom­an­hood could not con­tain their sadis­tic lust for the bod­ies of Black women. According to Ms. Hamer, one of the White men became ” hot and both­ered” from wit­ness­ing and par­tic­i­pat­ing in this act of sex­u­al sadism and oth­er forms of tor­ture of her Black woman’s body.

When the sto­ry final­ly made the rounds, White Mississippians did not stand up and defend her virtue and hon­or. Nor did the White wives, sis­ters or moth­ers. They did not break rank with these White men. Instead they either turned their heads or, as was their sor­did his­to­ry, blamed Annelle Ponder, June Johnson and Ms. Hamer. To these White women, Black women were not women as were they. Instead they were dirty whores who got what they deserved for chal­leng­ing the way of life that their hus­bands gave them off the backs of Black people.

Nor was Annelle Ponder’s body sacred. Rather these White male war crim­i­nals saw her body as their ter­ri­to­ry to invade, tor­ture and degrade. They put all of their male strength and fury into the hose pipe with which they pound­ed her body until she could only raise her fist and say free­dom now to their demands that she call them sir. She would rather have died than call them sir. Rather she raised her bat­tered arms and whis­pered free­dom now through bloody and swollen lips.

Blow after blow in a Mississippi jail two Black women and a girl did as their female ances­tors. They endured and resist­ed with a soul force that was more pow­er­ful than the sadis­tic tor­ture of White men who like their fathers feared this force.

Annelle Ponder, June Johnson and Ms.Fannie Lou Hamer were not alone. Rather, they were part of a band of young Black women across the South who worked in SNCC in sites of White Supremacist ter­ror dur­ing the Southern Freedom Movement. Many of these young Black women came from cities, coun­ties and towns through­out the South. They came from com­mu­ni­ties that loved, claimed and pro­tect­ed them. A large num­ber of them were high per­form­ing col­lege stu­dents who put the Southern Black Freedom/ Civil Rights Movement above their careers. They dropped out of his­tor­i­cal­ly Black col­leges such as Tugaloo, Spelman, Albany State, Tuskegee University and Alabama State.

Dorie Ladner was one such young SNCC woman who emerged from the bloody bat­tle­field as a leader and hero. She was not alone. Throughout the South Black young women such as Bernice Johnson Reagon, Jean Smith, Gwendolyn Patton, Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Joyce Ladner, Martha Prescott, Judy Richardson, Ruby Doris Robinson, Diane Nash and many more too numer­ous to name here left col­leges to live in free­dom hous­es where they became one with Black local peo­ple. They sang and meant “Oh free­dom over me, over me—before I be a slave, I will be buried in my grave and go home to my Lord and be free.”

Movement nar­ra­tives often leave out the sto­ries of Black women although they were the sow­ers that grew and sus­tained it. Tonight I invite us to remem­ber to call the names of these sis­ters who faced guns, psy­cho­log­i­cal ter­ror, jails and yes even death to par­tic­i­pate in com­mu­ni­ty for free­dom. To them we owe both hon­or and apolo­gies for eras­ing them from his­to­ry. In their hon­or, let us put our bod­ies and our­selves on the line to pre­serve the tat­tered threads of democ­ra­cy as Trump sews fas­cism into the fab­ric of our nation.


Ruby Sales is the founder and direc­tor of the Spirit House Project, a non-prof­it that works towards racial, eco­nom­ic, and social jus­tice. As a teenag­er at Tuskegee University in the 1960s, she joined the Student Nonviolent Coördinating Committee (SNCC) and went to work as a stu­dent free­dom fight­er in Lowndes County, Alabama. A social activist, schol­ar, pub­lic the­olo­gian, and edu­ca­tor, Sales has preached around the coun­try on race, class, gen­der and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. She has degrees from Tuskegee Institute, Manhattanville College, and Princeton University. She also received a Masters of Divinity from the Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) in 1998.