“No more stories about Rosa Parks!” I’m writing a children’s faith education curriculum and during a training session writers were told that Rosa’s story was so well-known it would be better to look for other civil rights heroes to feature in our lessons. That’s how I came to learn about Fannie Lou Hamer.
Fannie was raised on a Mississippi plantation with nineteen siblings and worked in the fields with her sharecropper parents from the time she was six. She quit school at age 12 and continued her employment on the plantation. She eventually married and she and her husband adopted two children. She attended her first political meeting in 1962 and became determined that she would to register to vote. This led to her losing her job and home. She persevered and become deeply involved in the civil rights movement.
Fannie was known for singing This Little Light of Mine and other hymns for her fellow protestors to encourage them on the way to meetings and marches. This reflected her strongly held belief that the struggle for civil rights was as much a spiritual movement as it was a political one. She was arrested when she and friends tried to eat at a whites only restaurant in 1963. Fannie was so brutally beaten by the police that she nearly died. Later she told the story of her arrest at the Democratic National Convention and when it was broadcast across America it convinced many new people to support the civil rights movement. Fannie worked hard to establish daycares, foodbanks, community centres and schools for marginalized people in Mississippi. “Nobody’s free till everybody’s free,” she used to say. Fannie died in 1977. A statue in Ruleville, Mississippi commemorates her contributions.