Recently Linda and I went to Atlantic City to visit this resin mold statue of Fannie Lou Hamer—civil rights, women’s rights, anti-poverty fierce activist, and co-founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). The statue was dedicated on October 10, 2023, in Convention Hall, Atlantic City, New Jersey, where Fannie Lou Hamer gave her iconic “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” speech in protest of the all-white Mississippi delegation to the 1964 Democratic Convention.
(The year before, Fannie Lou and several other women who had attended a voter-registration workshop were badly beaten in a police station in Winona, Mississippi. An all-white jury let the police go free.)
The original bronze statue by Brian Hanlon was dedicated in 2012 in Ruleville, Mississippi, in Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Park. Linda took the photograph of me while I was in conversation with the security guard, Jim, who showed us around. (Top image, click to enlarge)
The people in the display (next image) are: clockwise from the left are Stokely Carmichael, Martin Luther King, Jr. with posters behind him of Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Mickey Schwerner, three civil rights works murdered in Mississippi on June 21, 1964; Victoria Gray Adam, and two male protesters.
A powerful orator, one of Fannie Lou Hamer’s quotes is printed above her image. (She is also famously remembered for stating “ . . . nobody’s free until everybody’s free” and “I am sick and tired to being sick and tired.”) The smaller images are left to right: Fannie Lou Hamer and Bob Moses, empty seats from a walk-out by the all-white Mississippi delegates, Aaron Henry, MFDP protesters on the boardwalk outside the Convention Hall.
That same year, 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer ran for Congress, receiving 33,000 votes. Four years later, 1968, at the Democratic Convention she received a standing ovation when she finally took her seat as a delegate from he Mississippi Loyalist Democratic Party, an offshoot of the MFDP. In 1969, she bought forty acres of farmland in Mississippi and started the Freedom Farm Cooperative. Her dream was to build a community where poor people—black and white—could grow crops and build decent houses for themselves. “Hunger has not color line,” she used to say. In 1976, white and black people together in Ruleville gathered to celebrate her on Fannie Lou Hamer Day. A year later she died of cancer at the age of fifty-nine.
There were two funerals for her: one for family and close friends, the other for dignitaries and ordinary people who came from all over Mississippi and America to honor her. At both services, there was lots of singing.
Many years ago, I wrote a brief biography, Fannie Lou Hamer and the Fight for the Vote, while listening to recordings of her empowering speaking and singing voice, a deeply moving writing experience. Here is an excerpt: “Fannie Lou Hamer sang from deep inside herself. The power of her voice gave people hope and courage. She sang all the time, at mass meetings, and in churches, at the Democratic National Convention, at protest meetings and demonstrations, and on long bus rides. Her favorite song was:
This little light of mine.
I’m going to let it shine,
Let is shine,
Let it shine,
Let it shine.