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A Representative Objects to the Swearing-in of Five Mississippi Members

January 04, 1965
A Representative Objects to the Swearing-in of Five Mississippi Members Image courtesy of Library of Congress A World War II veteran, William Fitts Ryan was an assistant district attorney before his election to Congress.
On this date, New York Representative William Fitts Ryan stood in the House Chamber during the 89th Congress (1965–1967) opening proceedings, and objected to the swearing-in of the five-Member Mississippi delegation to protest the systematic disfranchisement of African-American voters in their state. At a press conference a short while earlier, Ryan and a handful of other Members announced their plan, promising instead to try to seat candidates who ran on the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) ticket. The MFDP was established in 1964 as a way for black and white Mississippians to challenge segregationists in the Democratic Party while still voting Democrat. Hoping their effort would showcase the state’s continued voting discrimination, the MFDP held a concurrent election in November, even though the votes would not be counted in the statewide election totals. The MFDP wanted three of its candidates—Fannie Lou Hamer, Annie Devine, and Victoria Gray—to be seated in the U.S. House of Representatives in lieu of three Mississippi Members-elect. Although the Capitol Police blocked Hamer, Devine, and Gray from the chamber that morning, the three women joined other MFDP supporters outside the Capitol for a silent vigil. In keeping with House precedent, Congressman Ryan’s objection excluded the Mississippi delegation from taking the initial oath of office. Majority Leader Carl Albert of Oklahoma then introduced H. Res. 1, resolving that the Speaker had the authority to swear in the Mississippi Members given that they had “certificates of election in due form on file with the Clerk of the House of Representatives just as all other Members of the House.” The House agreed to move forward on the question of whether to seat the Members, 276 to 149. A few moments later, the resolution was agreed to by voice vote to formally seat the Members. Leader Albert swore in Representatives Thomas Abernethy, Jamie Whitten, Prentiss Walker, John Williams, and William Colmer. When asked about the votes in support of the MFDP candidates, Fannie Lou Hamer said, “That is great. It shows that some people in America are concerned about democracy.”

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