Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 of a series The E-T has compiled commemorating 55 years since Freedom Summer 1964. Freedom Summer represented a turning point in the Civil Rights Movement and many of the battles fought for equality were waged right here in Sunflower County.
Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimonies about the black experience in rural Mississippi caught the attention of America.
She faced unique triumphs of the Jim Crow South with resilience and courage. Hamer had a light that shone across the Mississippi Delta and far beyond.
She fought for freedom through organized activism including voting and literacy drives while co-founding the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Hamer dedicated her life to the fight for freedom and was instrumental during the plight of Freedom Summer.
“She was just an incredible person with lots of drive and a tremendous amount of common sense, a tremendous amount of caring in spite of the fact that she had been brutally treated and beaten.” said Chris Hexter, a freedom school teacher in Sunflower County during 1964.
Hamer gave detailed accounts of the terror she experienced alongside other activists while jailed in 1963.
She acquired a blood clot over her left eye and permanent kidney damage during the jailhouse beating.
Despite her injuries and traumatic experience, Hamer became heavily involved in the Freedom Summer initiative the following year.
Opposition did not stop her.
“She was so smart and so willing to take risks, and so willing to try and push people to take risks, that she just goes down in history as a great person” said Hextar. Hamer’s grit was inspirational to those around her.
Linda Davis came to Mississippi for Freedom Summer and stayed eighteen months. Davis became witness to the strife black Mississippians faced. The bravery of people like Fannie Lou Hamer left an everlasting mark on Davis.
“I think it’s rare in anybody’s life to spend time with a courageous person, she was always a great inspiration to me,” said Davis. “She herself endured so much and she was absolutely certain about the rightness of her cause and she kept on keeping on.”
Charles McLaurin was part of Hamer’s civil rights journey from beginning to end.
McLaurin and Hamer came together through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's (SNCC) efforts in organizing voter registration in the Mississippi Delta.
“SNCC leadership saw in her , what Ella Baker had told us to find, and that was local leadership” said McLaurin. “Our whole aim was to develop local leadership in the various communities because we were going back home.”
McLaurin was one of the many Freedom Summer volunteers who worked with Hamer.
He spent a lot of time with Hamer as her campaign manager during her run for Congress with the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. They continued to join forces against political and economic issues through the 1970s until Hamer’s passing in 1977.
“Fannie Lou Hamer believed that a family should have a house, a job, access to healthcare, and they should be able to get a good education,” said McLaurin.
Hamer knew that by liberating others, she liberated herself. She allowed her actions to speak louder than her words and her legacy lives on through her activism.