Fannie Lou Hamer’s exquisite character traits are what made her such a leader in the civil rights movement. She was a strong woman who had courage and bravery that was unmatched, Mills writes on pg. 218, “she supported her convictions with every ounce of energy that she had, and my God, that women had some energy.” Fannie knew what she believed and would fight for what was right regardless of the opposition, even if it was death. She went around fighting for those who didn’t have a voice and were up to their eyes in poverty, while at the same time she was ill and remained poor her entire life.
People followed and trusted her because of her integrity and insight into the reality of situations. On pg. 5, Mills accounts the wisdom she noticed when first meeting Fannie, “I did not realize then that she had, in just a few sentences, analyzed a major change in Mississippi”. Fannie never had very much formal education, but that doesn’t mean wasn’t a brilliant mind. Fannie wasn’t an intellectual, but she was intelligent. She had a way of seeing the heart of an issue and what was really causing all the problems. Mills explains on pg. 18, “she sought to understand, expose and destroy the root causes of oppression.” It was Fannie’s speaking ability that made her a leader. She reached people’s hearts from the way she passionately incorporated her experience into speeches and used her singing to reach their souls. On pg. 21 Fannie explains, “Singing is one of the main things that can keep us going…. I think singing is very important. It brings out the soul.” These were the characteristics that helped her stand up to oppression and change America.
These characteristics are what made her a prophetic voice in America. She never shied away from, “calling a spade a spade”, like she told Terney. She worked extensively in the area of voting rights for blacks. The whole time she never hesitated to expose all the ways blacks were being unconstitutionally and immorally being barred from voting. She was persistent to get blacks equal voting privileges as whites. She repeatedly put her life on the line to obtain these rights. She received death threats, attacks on her home, and beatings in jail to bring these rights to blacks. She was relentless in pushing the federal government to step in and intervene with these injustices that were happening in Mississippi. She took to the suing and bringing about lawsuits as a method to get the federal government informed of the injustices and forcing them to get involved. Every opportunity she had to expose the state’s discrimination against blacks she took and brought before the federal government, and when the federal government didn’t respond in ways appropriate with morality, she wasted no time to call them out and condemn their compliance with racism.
Voting rights consumed much of her career but wasn’t the only thing she gave attention. She spent a lot of time involved in education. She took a lead role in the Head Start program, and continued her usual routine of calling out the way blacks were being discriminated against and oppressed in the education system. She pointed out the quality of schooling systems for blacks in relation to whites and how black children didn’t get an equal opportunity to learn and grow the same as whites. She discussed how when blacks chose to send their children to the white schools, how the black students were marginalized and never encouraged or tended to in the same way whites were. For Fannie, education was essential to someone being able to dictate their own life, and the horrors of the education system were distributed solely to blacks to prevent them from being able to gain real power over their lives.
She made more general charges against our legal system for not punishing those who abused blacks and broke the law to keep them intimidated and oppressed. Fannie made sure to call out those we weren’t pulling their weight. She criticized black intellectuals who stood on the sidelines and watched blacks fight for their freedom instead of becoming fellow laborers. She also made it a point to charge the church to become more involved and get active in this fight that was dehumanizing and promoting the defacement of God’s image on humanity. She also was involved in the movement for women, as long as they remembered black women. She helped in starting an organization for political women called the NWPC. It’s important to recognize though that Fannie had some less feminist idea when it came to her views on the relation between the sexes and her position on abortion. Even with that, she was still a voice fighting for women to be regarded as equals with men.
If we want to get a full view of Fannie, it can’t be done without us examining her faith. It was her faith that laid in the background of everything. It was her faith that made her who she was, prompted her to act, and made her the leader she was. On pg. 18 of Mills’ biography, Fannie reveals the way she viewed her faith and how it impacted her, “Christ was a revolutionary person, out there where it was happening. That’s what God is all about, and that’s where I get my strength.” Seeing Christ as a revolutionary was a catalyst for motivating Fannie’s courage and bravery. In her attempts to become more like Christ every day, she had to be a revolutionary to be true to her worship of Jesus. This meant being bold and uncompromising when standing up for the truth and what is right.
Her deep-rooted faith made her moral sensibilities extremely sensitive and she hurt when she witnessed immorality reign and rule over the nation, “I’m not crying for myself today, but I’m crying for America. I cry that the Constitution of the United States, written down on paper, applies only to white people. But we will come back year after year until we are allowed our rights as citizens.” Her relationship with her faith demanded that all humans be treated with dignity and with respect for the humanity God bestowed on all people. Fannie’s clear understanding of this made it impossible for her to not speak up and expose the darkness when it was encroaching on and violating such a sacred belief. This understanding of humanity played a large role in her having an integrationist philosophy.
The most important and defining belief she had though was in her understanding of love and hate which came from her faith. On pg. 17, Mills writes, “Many of her religious principles she learned at home, from her mother. One of the most important lessons she was taught was that hating made one as weak as those filled with hatred.” Fannie vigorously and fiercely fought against the desire for blacks to hate whites. She thought that it wasn’t not only detrimental to blacks and ineffective in bringing blacks freedom, but that it was immoral and prohibited by a true love of God. On pg. 18 Fannie says, “Ain’t no such thing as I can hate anybody and hope to see God’s face.” Again, on pg. 98, Fannie challenges us, “How can we say we love God, and hate our brothers and sisters? We got to reach them”.
As fiery and fierce Fannie was to win equal rights for blacks, she understood that rights can’t be attained by any means necessary like Malcolm X, but that it must be pursued in love and must result with love. It went against the very core of who she was and her belief to allow hate for whites anywhere in her activism. This is why she had to be an integrationist. She couldn’t take such a strong stand on loving whites, but then suggest that blacks are to separate from whites. She would ask, “How is that loving our brother and sister?”
Upon reflecting on this biography by Kay Mills, I’ve left feeling intrigued and inspired by this incredible woman. I thought it was extremely interesting that she spent so much time working with SNCC, which wasn’t religiously affiliated, yet she was deeply religious. I was encouraged by how much she admired SNCC because it was young people going out there and working to change the world. It was fascinating to think about the contrast between her and Martin and Malcolm. She was an uneducated woman who had such raw and unrefined grammar in her speeches. While Martin and Malcolm were your quintessential intellectuals who had very sophisticated and complex systems of thoughts and philosophies that came about from hours of study and were communicated through beautiful English and pronunciation. Despite this stark difference, they all essentially had the same analysis of the issue in America and were able to get to the root of injustices and the problems at hand. Although uneducated, Fannie’s intellect was on par with anyone’s and her ability to analyze and think impressed all those who heard her speak and got to know her.
Fannie will most be remembered for her working in the voting area and working to insure protected and equal voting opportunities for blacks. But as we have already seen, her reach goes beyond this. She was active in women’s rights, education, and worked to bring relief to the relentless poverty that hunted blacks in America. It absolutely shocked me to read how involved she was in the political system by challenging the democratic party and demanding justice from the federal government through multiple lawsuits, and yet I’ve never heard of her until I read this book. I’m astounded at how much work she put in, how well known she was, how respected she was, how much authority she had, how much ground work she did for those to come, and I was oblivious to all her contributions.
The last thing that blew me away was that as this leading figure, she remained poor. She was stricken by poverty and illness, but she kept on fighting for the people, and always used her position of power and finances to help others. It also is extremely clear to me that Fannie’s faith is the driving force to making her who she is and motivating her to be such an activist. It is her deep sense of all of us being created in God’s image that spurs her on to fight for black’s rights to be equals with whites. Her commitment to love over hate is also birthed from her faith.