Today the church remembers a 20th Century saint, Saint Fannie Lou Hamer: Civil Rights Activist, Reformer, and Firebrand.
Fannie Lou was born the daughter of sharecroppers in rural Mississippi in 1917.
The Mississippi Delta was not a kind place for a poor, black woman to be born and raised, but the wetlands of the South didn’t know who they were contending with in Fannie Lou Hamer. She left school at the age of 12 to work the fields, and in 1944 had married and was a plantation timekeeper on the estate of a Mr. B.D. Marlowe. She was appointed the timekeeper of the plantation because she was the only worker who could read and write.
In 1961 St. Fannie Lou was forced to have a hysterectomy while undergoing surgery to remove a uterine tumor..
Yes, you read that correctly, she was forced to have the hysterectomy. The tumor could safely be removed without the removal of the uterus, but it was a common practice in the day to forcibly sterilize black women as a way that the powers of the world kept the black population in check. This was such a wide-spread practice that it became known as the “Mississippi appendectomy.”
This was in 1961. Some of you reading this will have memories of that year. And some wonder why we have to say Black Lives Matter…
Unable to have biological children, the Hamers adopted two daughters, and St. Fannie quickly got involved in the Civil Rights movement around voting rights. She became a leader in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and led 17 volunteers in registering at the Indianola Mississippi Courthouse.
There they were given a literacy test and, because some could “not pass it” they were denied the right to vote. On their way home the bus they rode on was stopped by law enforcement, and each individual was fined $100 because, and I quote, “the bus was too yellow.”
After successfully registering to vote in 1963, St. Fannie and some other black women were jailed for sitting in a “whites only” restaurant at a bus station in Charleston, South Carolina. They were severely beaten, and Fannie Lou would sustain injuries there that stayed with her the rest of her life.
Yet, she persisted.
In 1964 she founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party that fought the local Democratic party of the South who was trying to suppress black votes. She went to the Democratic National Convention that year, demanding they be recognized as a legitimate party. She gave a roaring speech while there, and to prevent it from being aired live, President Johnson gave his own speech at the same time. But St. Fannie Lou would have the last laugh, as her speech was aired later to wide acclaim and party shame. She spoke eloquently about continued racial discrimination in the South, and called for action.
By 1968 she was a member of Mississippi’s first integrated party delegation. Her voice was heard, by God.
She went on to found the Freedom Summer and the National Women’s Political Caucus. She became one of the first black women to speak before Congress, protesting the rigged 1964 Congressional election in Mississippi. She lobbied for aid for poor black farmers in the south and launched the Freedom Farm Cooperative to allow poor black farmers to buy land together.
After years of travel and activism, St. Fannie died in 1977 of breast cancer.
She is a reminder for me, and should be for the church, that it was not so long ago where all of the above madness was taking place, and it is not too far gone to slip back into prejudicial habits.
Indeed, many have never left, but just been under the radar.
It is also a very real reminder for me that not all heroes wear capes.
-historical pieces gleaned from https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/fannie-lou-hamer
-Icon by Kelly Latimore Icons. You can purchase her stunning work at: https://kellylatimoreicons.com/gallery/img_5297/