WHEN ONE THINKS of Mississippi as it was a little more than a decade ago, one thinks of the expression: several civil rights workers were lynched practically in broad daylight, most Negroes could not [WORD ILLEGIBLE] and the rigid segregation of the races was the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of the day. Of the many forces that came together to alter those conditions, none was more impressive than the poor black people themselves. They are in righteous but peaceable anger and demanded to be free. And when thinking of them, it is impossible not to think of Fannie Lou Hamer, a stout [WORD ILLEGIBLE] sharecropper, born of that soil, who fought against all odds for a better tomorrow. She died Tuesday near her Ruleville home at the age of 59 after suffering from diabetes, breast cancer and heart trouble.
The Mississippi Mrs. Hamer leaves behind is [WORD ILLEGIBLE] in great measure because of the strength and leadership she gave to sharecroppers like herself to earned subsistence wages under conditions that [WORD ILLEGIBLE] more to slavery than to the Declaration of Independence or the Bill of Rights. Indeed, it was their pursuit of happiness that threatened their lives time [WORD ILLEGIBLE] again. Many of the outsiders who came to Mississippi to help those impoverished farmers either were well-known when they arrived or became famous in the process - Martin Luther King, Andrew J. Young, Stokeley Carmichael and John Lewis, among others.
There was little fame and celebrity for the local blacks. They stayed on long after the celebrities left and finished the job as best they could, helping as Mrs. Hamer did to unify the Mississippi Democratic Party and working in other ways to heal their society and seek justice. Their names are mostly forgotten, but the image of Fannie Lou Hamer, her voice thunderous, pleading to be seated at the Democratic National Convention in 1964, will remain fixed for many of those who heard her simple, powerful eloquence. And anyone who ever heard Fannie Lou Hamer sing "O, Freedom," will have little difficulty remembering her.
She had been beaten and jailed many times, but she said she could not hate anybody "and hope to see God's face." Her special brand of courage, a courage equal to the demand of her time, is best summarized in the story of how she came to leave the plantation. She knew that if she continued her civil rights works, she would be thrown off and separated from her livelihood. She came to church one day and reported on the consequences of her persistence. "They kicked me off the plantation," she said. "They set me free. It's the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people." Except she worked for more than her people. She worked for all of us.