Scores of men, women and children attended the recent unveiling of a statue honoring the late civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer in her hometown of Ruleville, Miss.
Hamer, who would have been 95 on Oct. 6, is remembered the world over as a woman who was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
At the time of her death, on March 14th, 1977, Hamer was almost penniless, yet her funeral was well attended by celebrities, social activists and political leaders from all walks of life.
Mississippi State Senator Willie Simmons, who attended the unveiling ceremony and Hamer’s funeral in 1977, spoke of the lasting impression Hamer had on all she met.
“Ruleville had probably never seen [those] kinds of individuals – that number of individuals coming into it,“ he said. “But they came to pay their respect to the lady that was being put to rest on that Good Friday, and here we are again gathered at this time, to allow her to rise and continue her work. We stand to reflect and honor this great lady.”
Reena Evers-Everette, the daughter of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers, also attended the unveiling and said given the connection between Hamer and her family, there was no excuse for her not being present.
“It was very, very important for me to pay tribute to Fannie Lou Hamer because she was such an important part of our family,” Evers-Everette said. “But even more so because she was one of the greatest activists of the civil rights movement and she has touched all of our lives and she is imbedded in the hearts of the Evers’ family. And that’s why I needed to be there.”
A postage stamp honoring Hamer and Medgar Evers was released in 2009.
Hamer was born in 1917 to sharecroppers and later worked as one and as a timekeeper on a plantation in Sunflower County. She helped organize the racially diverse Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) which challenged the seating of an all-white Mississippi delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. She was also instrumental in the modification of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
In spite of growing up in the cotton fields of the Mississippi Delta and her limited education, Hamer – without question – was one of the most eloquent and dynamic speakers black America has ever seen. She is quoted often, and her passion for justice and equality could make even the strongest of men tremble.
“I first met Mrs. Hamer at the mass meeting she attended,” said civil rights advocate Lawrence Guyot, who worked with Hamer in the 1960s. “And we talked to people about going to register to vote and we asked for volunteers and Mrs. Hamer raised her hand and agreed to go. We left the next day, Mrs. Joe Ford, Fannie Lou Hamer, myself, Charles McLaurin, Hollis Watkins and 15 other people. We went by bus from Ruleville to Indianola.
When we get to Indianola, there was a hesitation of the people to get off the bus and actually go register to vote. Fannie Lou Hamer started singing and they get up and they go. She was resolved in what she was doing and she understood that it could be dangerous. She began to sing…and…people got up, walked right through the policemen and went to register. Charles McLaurin recounts that this is the day when he really became a man – when he saw these women stand up…and attempt to register to vote.”
“Fannie Lou Hamer went from being a sharecropper, born and raised in one of the most racist and bigoted areas in our country, to becoming a strong, black female who was so articulate and such an incredible motivator,” Evers-Everette said. “She changed the course of history especially in the field of politics and the Democratic Party.”
Children have often replicated Hamer’s oratorical passion, which many have said inspired them to reach for greater things.
“For the African American women all over the country who have organized for political power, our inspiration of course is Fannie Lou Hamer,” said journalist and activist Dr. Julianne Malveaux. “I did not know Fannie Lou Hamer personally, but when I was at the Democratic National Convention just a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but think about Fannie Lou Hamer. As Kamela Harris came to the stage, the state attorney general in California, I wondered what Fannie Lou Hamer would say. As Michelle Obama gave that phenomenal speech, I wondered what Fannie Lou Hamer would say. As Congresswoman Donna Edwards gave greetings, I wondered what Fannie Lou Hamer would say.