Imprisoned, Hamer and her colleagues were savagely beaten by the police, almost to the point of death. Released three days later, Hamer needed more than a month to recover from the ordeal.
A year earlier Hamer accepted a challenge to register to vote by the Rev. James Bevel, an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and associate of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
She traveled on a rented bus to Indianola along with others who had heard Bevel speak. Returning to Ruleville, a highway patrolman stopped the bus and wrote out a ticket for $32 because they were riding “on a bus too yellow.”
In an effort to boost the group’s morale, Hamer started singing such Christian hymns as “This Little Light of Mine” and “Go Tell It on The Mountain.” The next day Hamer was fired from her job on a plantation east of Ruleville.
Even so, she continued her fight against racism, injustice and poverty until her death in 1977.
Wednesday, almost a half century later, a group of admirers gathered at the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden in Ruleville as the Mississippi Development Authority’s Tourism Division unveiled a marker honoring the courageous civil rights leader. It was one of the first five markers on the Mississippi Freedom Trail.
The outspoken Hamer not only helped change our state, she helped change the nation as well.
In the summer of 1964 the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was organized in a bid to challenge Mississippi’s all-white, anti-civil rights delegation at the Democratic National Convention. Hamer was picked as vice chair of the group.
The Freedom Democrats’ efforts quickly drew national attention to the plight of African-Americans in Mississippi. The group sought to confront President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was attempting to win the Democratic Party’s nomination for president. Hamer’s hymn-singing enabled her to garner quite a bit of attention from the media, and that enraged Johnson, who referred to her in speaking to his advisors as “that illiterate woman.”
Hamer, along with the rest of the Freedom Democrats’ officers, were invited to address the Conventions Credentials Committee, where she recounted the problems she had encountered in registration, and the horror of the jail experience in Winona.
When Hubert Humphrey, who was campaigning for the Democratic vice presidential nomination, tried to get the Freedom Democrats to accept two non-voting convention seats in exchange for other concessions and mentioned his position on the ticket was at stake if he didn’t succeed, Hamer rebuked the politician.
“Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than 400,000 black people’s lives? Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people inMississippi who have lost their jobs trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County, Mississippi.
“Now if you lose this job of vice president because you do what is right, because you help the MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take (the nomination) this way, why you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk about.
“Senator Humphrey, I’m going to pray to Jesus for you.”
Not long after the Democratic convention Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed discriminatory voting practices that had been responsible for widespread disenfranchisement of African Americans.
The nation has since issued a stamp honoring Hamer.
Is it any wonder that our state this week made her among the first to be honored on its newly created Freedom Trial?