The body of civil rights worker Fannie Lou Hamer was threatened with exhumation until Howard University was asked last month to devise a plan to improve the grave site in Ruleville, Miss.
A contest to pick a good plan was held by the Howard School of Architecture and Planning after receiving a request to improve the grave site from the Fannie Lou Hamer Living Memorial Fund. Howard was chosen because the late civil rights worker received an honorary degree from the university in 1972.
The winner of the Howard competition; chosen by a selection committee from the Hamer Fund, was Outram Hussey. Hussey, a 24-year-old junior who enrolled at Howard last month after arriving here from Jamaica, won a $100 cash prize donated by Howard's architecture school.
Hamer, who died in 1977, was a founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. The party was set up in 1964 after the Democratic Party in Mississippi refused to let blacks join. Hamer also coined the phrase: "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."
Hamer's grave site is on a large parcel of undeveloped land in Ruleville, a small town north of Jackson and four miles east of where the civil rights worker was raised.
The site, recently vandalized, had been marked by a bronze plaque and marble slab. Now, it has only a cement block with a white picket fence surrounding it. If no improvements had been made by March, Ruleville would have had the right to take over the land and exhume the body, a Howard spokesman said.
The winning entry in the Howard contest includes a landscaped memorial park with four geometric shapes symbolizing hands and an abstract bust of Hamer.
"I used hands because they provide a stronge image," winner Hussey said.
"I tried to create a relationship between the hills and valleys and streams planned for the park. I wanted to create a sense of freedom."
The winning plan was conceived, Husssey said, after he spent a weekend writing poetry about Hamer and her contributions.
"I want people to sense that Lou's work is still being done; that there is a relationship between the land and the people," he said.
The plan will cost an estimated $100,000 to execute. Thomas Heggans Jr., dean of Howard's School of Architecture and Planning, said efforts are already under way to raise the money. He plans to set up a bank account in Mississippi so that contributions can be sent there.
"I have recently talked to the Ruleville mayor," he said, "He says he will not claim the land now that improvements are planned for the site."