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RULEVILLE – Among the dozens of memories that were shared on what would have been Fannie Lou Hamer’s 100th birthday, one theme remained constant: her courage.
“Being around her — the courage she had — I just admired the daylights out of her,” said Ruby White, who was in her 20s when she met the civil rights icon.
“She [Hamer] always left me with, ‘Baby, don’t lose sight of your goals,’” White recalled.
White and nearly 100 others gathered Friday morning at the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden here to celebrate Hamer’s life, accomplishments and legacy. This event was sponsored by the Fannie Lou Hamer Garden & Museum Foundation, the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, and the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO).
Hamer gained acclaim during the civil rights movement as she fought for African-Americans to obtain equal rights.
Hamer, Ruleville native, was born on Oct. 6, 1917, the youngest of 20 children. She had minimal education and worked as a sharecropper, alongside her husband Perry “Pap” Hamer, whom she married in the 1940s. But a 1962 meeting with Student Nonviolent Coordinating Commitee (SNCC) organizers ignited a passion that burned until her death in 1977.
She worked to help others register to vote, organized Mississippi’s Freedom Summer for the SNCC, gave a blistering speech at the Democratic National Convention, and suffered greatly until her death on March 14, 1977 for doing so. Read more about Hamer in an earlier article published by Mississippi Today here.
Although she was beaten, harassed, arrested and shot at, her bravery did not waver.
“The courage I witnessed in Mrs. Hamer and others during my time in Mississippi has helped me so many times throughout the rest of my professional career and personal life. When I would feel overwhelmed or powerless, I’d say to myself, ‘If Mrs. Hamer could keep on keeping on, Linda, so can you,’” said Linda Davis, who worked under Hamer in Mississippi during the civil rights era.
Others testified to Hamer’s character at the ceremony, some sang her favorite songs, State Sen. Willie Simmons, D-Cleveland, read a proclamation in her honor on behalf of the city of Ruleville, the city of Greenville, the Mississippi House of Representatives and the Sunflower County Board of Supervisors.
Some attended the event to learn more about Hamer.
Kierre Rimmer, CEO of F.L.Y. Zone, said he wanted to show his respect to Hamer and her legacy. He said it was important for him to attend to “be informed and inspired by all of the great many things that Mrs. Hamer did during her life.”
Kali French, an Etta, Miss. native, said she attended to learn more about Hamer, and interview people to learn more about Black history.
At the end of the tribute, family members placed a wreath next to Hamer’s grave. Engraved in stone where she lays in rest, her epitaph bears the words she spoke so frequently: I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.
It speaks to her endurance that prevailed through her lifetime and beyond.
“We know that mama had a purpose in life,” said Jackie Hamer Flakes, Fannie Lou’s
daughter. “She carried out that purpose.”