Fannie Lou Hamer

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Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was an African-America civil rights worker whose efforts were crucial to organizing Freedom Summer in Mississippi in 1964. From the age of six, Hamer spent long days in the field picking cotton with her family; later, she and her husband became sharecroppers on a large cotton plantation. In 1962, she attended a meeting at the Williams Chapel Church in Ruleville, Mississippi, where she heard James Bevel preach on Matthew 16, which encouraged his listeners to discern the signs of the times: that God was ready to help African-Americans to become full-fledged, voting citizens of the the United States. From that point, Hamer became involved in the push for voting rights in Mississippi, a commitment to activism that earned her jail time, beatings, death threats, and economic hardship. In all of this, Hamer found hope in gospel message she had imbibed from the black church, particularly in the form of spirituals. “People need to be serious about their faith in the Lord,” she said at one recruitment meeting attended by black ministers who had not yet thrown their support behind the Civil Rights Movement. “It’s all too easy to say, ‘Sure, I’m a Christian,’ and talk a big game. But if you are not putting that claim to the test, where the rubber meets the road, then it’s high time to stop talking about being a Christian.” Hamer’s testimony at the 1964 Democratic National Convention is viewed as a key step toward the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

Submitted by David Weaver-Zercher

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