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Dark River Singalong

Fannie Lou Hamer

the Unquenchable Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

by Janice D. Hamlet, Northern Illinois University

She was not some ethereal being who lived unscathed amid poverty. Her health and formal education were severely stunted by her surroundings; her penetrating analysis of society was at times dismissed by those who picked apart her unlettered grammar or could hear only her Delta dialect. She was thoroughly human: she snored, she cracked earthly jokes, she mimicked bigoted people. She understood the fears held by violent whites--suffered as a result of them--but she did not hate them for she was a true Christian. She often was undiplomatic: she could flay a public official or those less resolute than she on a moment's notice. She was not perfect, but she was, to many who worked with her, the most inspirational person they ever knew. They drew from her and Mississippians like her a self-confidence that helped them later in facing their own difficulties, achieving their own successes.
 — Mills (1993, p. 3)


Fannie Lou Hamer was a poor, stocky, uneducated woman who had spent most of her life as a sharecropper in rural Mississippi. She was 45 years old when civil rights workers came to her town in 1962 to encourage African Americans to register to vote. Although she was aware that any African Americans who attempted to register would be doing so at a tremendous risk to themselves and their families, she was among the first to volunteer. The experience changed her life. Consequently, she spent the remaining 15 years of her life as a civil rights activist and emerged as one of the most compelling spokespersons in the civil rights movement.

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