Unnoticed, Yet Significant

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Drive through the Mississippi Delta and what do you see? Flat, barren fields stretching for miles and miles. You won't find tourist spots here. Instead, hunting is the religion, and hunters from across the country come to experience the one-of-a-kind water-fowl population. That's exactly how I ended up in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. But in the neighboring town of Sunflower, I kept spotting signs along the blacktop honoring a Fannie Lou Hamer. A little research revealed her story.

When thinking of honorable African-Americans, names like Martin Luther King Jr., Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass often come to mind. But frequently, significant people go unnoticed, despite their huge sacrifices. Fannie Lou is one of those people. Few people probably noticed when she was born in 1917, the youngest of 20 children, or when she moved to Sunflower, Mississippi at age two. Few people probably cared that like most blacks in Mississippi, poverty was abundant and crops scarce, or that because of this unending poverty, she was obligated to drop out of school and help her family sharecrop. Perhaps the only time she was noticed in her small community was through humiliation by whites.

At 45, she quit sharecropping, wanting to do something significant. With 17 others, she responded to the requests of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to go to the court house to register to vote. However, due to literacy tests, she couldn't register. On the return home, her bus was stopped. Looking for a reason to harass them, the officer told them their bus was too close to the color of a school bus and they were jailed. There, she was severely beaten, then released. Her injuries resulted in a limp, kidney damage, and partial blindness. After that, she was kicked off the plantation where she lived.
Actions like these were not uncommon for blacks in the South. Although protected by the 13th amendment, whites still found ways to discriminate against them. But she wasn't discouraged. She continued to improve her home state, sometimes at great expense to her. She worked relentlessly for civil rights, traveling throughout the South giving powerful, arousing speeches. She joined the SNCC and worked on civil- rights, welfare, and voter-registration. She helped create the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and was a delegate. They challenged the all-white Mississippi delegation, receiving two delegate seats. She gave other blacks courage to stand up for their rights. She became famous for her saying , I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.

It is through courageous African-Americans like her that blacks eventually found their freedom. While Martin Luther King Jr. was colossal, it was inspirational people like Fannie Lou that helped his dream and theirs come true. Fannie Lou died at 59 of cancer in the Mound Bayou Hospital, but would be proud to know her dedicated work and leadership resulted in much more for African-Americans than it did in her short lifetime.
Her struggle to be treated as a human-being is now an American ideal. Andrew Young, who spoke at her funeral said, Women were the spine of our movement. It was women going door-to-door, speaking with their neighbors, meeting in voter-registration classes together, organizing through their churches that gave the vital momentum and energy to the movement. Mrs. Hamer was special but she was also representative She shook the foundations of this nation."





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