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.
[Fannie Lou Hamer] had the audacity to stand down not only the Mississippi Democratic Party but actually the National Democratic Party. She had the audacity to put her finger in Herbert Humphrey’s face and say we will not accept a compromise. We want all of what is due to us. And she had the temerity to stand up to some of her own [race] who said let’s take the little two seats when we were due 64. You know change comes slowly, but not with Fannie Lou Hamer. She wanted all for us, the best for us.”
Malveaux was one of the speakers at the ceremony in Ruleville where a bronze statue, sculpted by Brian Hanlon, was unveiled. The pose is one for which Hamer is famous, stirring the crowd to action by singing into a megaphone during a political rally.
The $85,000 needed for the statue was raised by private donations and the statue rests on a 4-foot marble foundation. The statue bears three photographs of Hamer throughout her struggle, and three of her quotes, including the one which inspired the statue: “I’m never sure when I leave home whether I’ll make it back or not…but if I fall, I’ll fall five feet and four inches forward for freedom and I’m not backing off it!”
Those words speak to the kind of person Hamer was before and after she became involved in civil rights.
“The unveiling and dedication of the Fannie Lou Hamer statue represents the cumulative efforts of folks all across the nation,” said Dr. Maegan P. Brooks, a member of the statue committee. “The statue itself is a symbol of people banding together in memory of Mrs. Hamer and in support of what she stood for: namely, the idea that all people deserve to be full citizens of our nation and that all people should strive to participate in the democratic decision-making process, which affects all of our daily lives. I think Mrs. Hamer would have been truly touched to see so many school children at the ceremony–as she said, ‘We ain’t free yet, the kids need to know their mission.’”
“We still hear her, over and over again, and all of her words have inspired us and we still repeat the mantra, ‘I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.’ Fannie Lou Hamer epitomizes strength, passion and purpose,” Evers-Everette said.
Hamer’s penchant for justice was echoed throughout the unveiling ceremony as speaker after speaker lauded her for her work.
Dr. Malveaux reminded the more than 500 in attendance that Fannie Lou Hamer is one of only three African American women to have a free standing statue in their name, Sojourner Truth and Mary McLeod-Bethune being the other two.
Hamer’s statue was placed in the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden in Ruleville where a Mississippi Freedom Trail Marker honoring Hamer was placed in August 2011.
Hamer and her husband, Perry “Pap” Hamer are buried in the park.
“When I walked into the garden and saw the graves,” Malveaux said. “I almost came to tears. This is a peaceful place. This is a restful place. This is a reflective place. It’s a wonderful place to sit in and soak in the power of Fannie Lou Hamer.”
Others on the program included Hamer’s oldest daughter, Vergie Hamer Faulkner, who sang and spoke of the unity of her adoptive parents.
“One thing I can say about Pap,” she said. “He did what he wanted to do. He said what he wanted to say. But he stood by Fannie Lou all the way.”
Evers-Everette, who was just 8 years old when her father was killed on June 12, 1963, has since moved back to Mississippi and is now the executive director of the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute at Alcorn University.
She said this week that she is working with other organizations in promoting the 50th anniversary of her father’s assassination in 2013, as well as keeping the memory of others activists alive for future generations.
“We’re promoting, not so much his death, but my dad’s life and his life lessons and that of other foot soldiers of the civil rights movement that need to be honored. People need to know all the stories and the contributions of the known and the lesser known freedom fighters. And seeing the support of those who came for this unveiling, brings for me, such an intense feeling of gratitude and an overwhelming respect for those fallen heroes, my dad being one, Fannie Lou being another, Dr. King being another and it’s really about time. It’s needed.
And especially so for our youth, because they will go farther than we will. So, they need to bring all of that wisdom forward in order for us to continue to strive down the right path.”
article by Monica Land via thegrio.com