Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer was born on October 6th, 1917, in Mississippi, and lived under the harsh reality of the Jim Crow South. Through years of courage and challenge, she became a legendary figure within the Civil Rights Movement.
“Sometimes,” she said, “it seems like to tell the truth today is to run the risk of being killed. But if I fall, I’ll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I’m not backing off.”
On August 23, 1962, Rev. James Bevel, an organizer for Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) gave a sermon in Ruleville, MI, and issued an appeal to those gathered to register to vote. Despite the very real threat of lynching, beating, and job loss, Hamer was the first to volunteer. She later said, “I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scared — but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”
On August 31, she traveled with others to register to vote, singing hymns to bolster their confidence. When she returned home, she was fired from her recordkeeping and accounting job at the plantation where she worked. Fortunately, SNCC organizer Bob Moses had already tasked people to “find the lady who sings the hymns”. By the early part of 1963, SNCC hired her as a field secretary. Fannie Lou Hamer began traveling the South, organizing people to vote.
On June 9th, after one such trip, she was arrested along with other organizers, taken to jail, and beaten with a police blackjack by a pair of prisoners who had been ordered by the white guards to beat her within an inch of her life. It took Hamer more than a month to recover, and she suffered lifelong health challenges due to this event.
In 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party decided to send a delegation to challenge the state’s all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention. Hamer was elected Vice-Chair. On the night she was to speak on national television about the injustice they faced, President Johnson called an impromptu press conference to co-opt her airtime and silence her. Her speech was recorded, however, and aired later that evening. The Mississippi Freedom Democrats made progress, but success would not come for another four years, when the DNC finally passed a clause requiring equality of representation from the delegate groups. In 1972, Hamer was elected as a national party delegate.
Fannie Lou Hamer’s work extended far and wide, including powerful anti-poverty and self-reliance programs for local communities in Mississippi, never losing sight of the connections between education, jobs, and political influence. She died in 1977 and hundreds of people attended her funeral. A memorial service nearby drew 1500 people wishing to pay their respects. Her tombstone is engraved with one of her favorite sayings, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Learn more about Fannie Lou Hamer here: http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/51/fannie-lou-hamer-civil-rights-activist
This article is from Rivera Sun’s book of nonviolent histories that have made our world. Click here for more information.
Rivera Sun is a change-maker, a cultural creative, a protest novelist, and an advocate for nonviolence and social justice. She’s a love-based revolutionary and the author of The Dandelion Insurrection, The Way Between and ten other fiction, non-fiction and poetry books. Her essays and writings are syndicated by Peace Voice, and have appeared in over a hundred journals nationwide. Rivera Sun speaks and facilitates workshops in strategy for nonviolent change across the country and around the world. She connects the dots between the issues, shares solutionary ideas, and inspires people to step up to the challenge of being a part of the story of change in our times. www.riverasun.com