Silence fell over the old Mount Moriah Church at the Banneker-Douglass Museum as actress Billie Jean Young got down on her knees and sang an old hymn that Fannie Lou Hamer voiced often during her struggles in the 1960s to bring voting rights to blacks in Winona, Miss.
"Pass me not, O gentle savior, hear my humble cry. While on others thou art calling, do not pass me by! . . . I ain't gonna let nobody turn me round, turn me round, turn me round. I ain't gonna let nobody turn me around . . . 'cause I'm walking toward freedom-land."
Young's performance was part of the 10th annual Fannie Lou Hamer Awards reception at the museum Oct. 6, attended by politicians, business leaders and community leaders.
"It is so emotional. It is so important to see people wanting to come together," said Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Nancy Davis-Loomis, one of six women honored for excellence in the community.
The event was held on what would have been Hamer's 88th birthday. She died March 14, 1977, of cancer. Also receiving awards were Del.Virginia P. Clagett (D-Anne Arundel); Edith M. McDougald, a second-grade teacher at Hilltop Elementary School in Glen Burnie; DeMorris D.C. Palmer, a retired nurse; the Rev. LaReesa Smith, pastor of Metropolitan United Methodist Church; and Ann Marie Wood, catering manager for La Fontaine Bleu in Glen Burnie.
"I accept this award with a deep since of humility," McDougald said. "I have done my best to [serve] my community as best I could."
Carl O. Snowden, chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Committee, said each year the panel selects three blackwomen and three white women who are not only leaders in their field but who exude the qualities that Hamer stood for in her life.
"Anne Arundel County is one of the only jurisdictions in the county and certainly in the state of Maryland that celebrates the birthday of Fannie Lou Hamer," Snowden said.
"We do this because most people know Fannie Lou Hamer's contemporaries, like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X or Adam Clayton Powell or Rosa Parks. However, people like Fannie Lou Hamer were foot soldiers and the backbone of the civil rights movement.
"Like Hamer, some of these women are not household names," Snowden said. "It was the ordinary people who made up the civil rights movement. She was a Mississippi sharecropper -- not a minister, not a celebrity -- who said she was sick and tired of being sick and tired."
During the awards program, Young spoke of the testimony Hamer gave in 1964 at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, when she and others tried to integrate the Mississippi delegation. Hamer spoke that day because Lawrence Guyot, head of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, was in jail.
"It was a good thing that I was in jail, because there is no way that I could have matched the speech given by Fannie Lou Hamer," said Guyot, 66, who now lives in the District of Columbia.
"While residents in Maryland's capital city have a vote in Congress, I am leading the fight for residents in the nation's capital to get full voting representation in Congress. The fight continues."