School of Communication Professor Commemorates a Major Event in Civil Rights History

On June 9th, 1963, Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights and women’s rights activist, and six of her colleagues were brutally beaten inside Winona Jail. Nearly sixty years later, this tragic event and the historic federal investigation that followed were remembered with the unveiling of a sign to honor the people affected by this injustice.

In attendance at the unveiling was none other than Fannie Lou Hamer Professor of Rhetorical Studies Dr. Davis Houck. An expert on the life and legacy of Hamer, Houck provided some background on the significance of the events surrounding the incident at Winona Jail.

Dr. Davis Houck (left) with Fannie Lou Hamer’s daughter Jacqueline Hamer Flakes (right).

“Hamer and Annell Ponder immediately went to DC once they were bailed out on June 12th,” said Houck. “They wanted the Department of Justice to interview them and the FBI to take pictures. The evidence was so overwhelming that the Department of Justice pressed charges against the 5 police officers who did it. The federal case was held in Oxford, MS, in December of ’63. They lost the case (because it was 12 all white all male jurors) and the cops perjured themselves. But the larger point was that the feds were coming to Mississippi and the racists best beware!”

Today, the story of Hamer and her colleagues continues to resonate with a new generation of Americans who are eager for change.

“The national implications are several,” said Houck. “Civil rights activists are being commemorated for their bravery in the face of brutal Jim Crow violence; communities are speaking back against the void of forgetting, which still persists in many southern communities; Congress recently passed the Emmett Till Antilynching Bill, and President Biden signed it. This event is of a piece with that, insofar as we are marking and remembering the victims of violence. The events in Winona recall that history and hold its members, past and present, to account.”

A team of students and alumni have been working with Houck to continue the story of Fannie Lou Hamer and the events of June 9th, 1963. MA students Clarence Fowler and Caylee Wilson have been supporting social media efforts, while alumnus Dr. Pablo Correa designed the Bridging Winona logo. To learn more about their work, follow them on Instagram @bridgingwinona.

You can also learn more about the event in a recent article by The Washington Post.