Fannie Lou Hamer is probably not a name you grew up hearing.
When it comes to Freedom fighters, we’re used to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, and many of the other figures used to create polarizing views of the Civil Rights Movement. For me, though, Fannie Lou Hamer represents the actual movement of the movement. Her approach to educating folks about voting rights, registration and the candidates of the time was quite the grassroots effort. Having barely a 6th grade education, Fannie Lou Hamer went from share cropping with her family to attending protest meetings to eventually organizing Freedom Summer 1964. Her entire life was completely juxtaposed with the illusion of an educated, polished, respectable movement many still subscribe to.
So, as what would’ve been her 98th birthday comes and goes, I’m reminded of the spirit Fannie Lou Hamer carried with her– the same spirit many of us channel in speaking out and acting out against the social issues that plague us today. She embodied what it meant to be fed up– “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired”– and taught us what to do after we reached that point. She was known for many things, but what Fannie Lou did not do was hold her tongue. That fact, coupled with her determination, got her beaten, fired, and discounted on several occasions. But she never, ever backed down. If folks like Rosa and Dr. King are the face of the movement, then folks like Fannie Lou Hamer, Claudette Colvin and Amelia Boynton Robinson have got to be its heart and soul. They’ve got to be the legs and hands, the boots on the ground for the movement. The quotes below are just a handful of reasons why I think she’s so dope and so important to remember, among the pantehon of the more illustrious members of the Civil Rights Movement.
“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
“When they asked for those to raise their hands who’d go down to the courthouse the next day, I raised mine. Had it high up as I could get it. I guess if I’d had any sense I’d been a little scared, but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do to me was kill me and it seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time ever since I could remember.”
On how she survived threats against her: “I’ll tell you why. I keep a shotgun in every corner of my bedroom and the first cracker even look like he wants to throw some dynamite on my porch won’t write his mama again.”
On respectability: “We have got to stop the nervous Nellies and the Toms from going to the Man’s place. I don’t believe in killing, but a good whipping behind the bushes wouldn’t hurt them…. These bourgeoisie Negroes aren’t helping. It’s the ghetto Negroes who are leading the way.”
“You can pray until you faint, but unless you get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.”
Fannie Lou Hamer inspires me, specifically by way of her resilience and tenacity. She was a servant leader in every sense of the phrase, and was intent on making sure every Black person in Mississippi had access to their rights as American people. I hope she inspires you as well, to do what matters and to do what is difficult, because, now more than ever, it’s the difficult things that matter.