This small, Delta town of 1,092 people had never seen a funeral quite like it.
People denounced only 15 years ago as "outside agitators" and "troublemakers" were here today as honored guests. And the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young, was leading a hand-clapping, foot-stomping chorus of "This Little Light of Mine."
They came to honor Fannie Lou Hamer, one of the guiding lights of the Southern civil rights movement, and the two funeral services today turned out to be a measure of how Ruleville and the rural South it is so much a part of have changed.
Mrs. Hamer, the granddaughter of a slave, was bron a sharecropper and picked cotton from the age of six. She was beaten, shot at and harrased for her civil rights efforts over 15 years but she was praised by others as a woman who insisted on standing up for her rights.
That Young, one of President Carter's closest advisers, came to deliver the energy is a measure of how far the nation has come since Mrs. Hammer was fired from the plantation where she had worked 18 years for trying to register to vote in 1962.
Outside the small, white, one-story Williams Chapel where Young and other dignitaries, white and black, were praising her life, an overflow old, stooped people who said they thought the changes Mrs. Hamer helped bring in the lives of blacks had benefited the young far more than the old - a measure of how far the nation has to go.
Fannie Lou Hamer, who died of cancer Monday at age 59, was to rest on this first day of spring in ceremonies that gathered together once again many of the veterans of the civil rights movement days, when most of the dignitaries in the chapel would not have been welcomed by the town's mayor today. Virginia Tolbert, the present mayor is white, gave a special tribute from the "the Rulesville community."
Young, a close-friend and coworker of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. from the earliest days of the Southern civil rights movement, was very much at home back in one of the churches he spent so much time in during the 1960s.
In his eulogy, he recounted the early days in 1961, 1962 and 1963, when he said, "everybody here was afraid to even to a voter registration meeting."
In a 15-minute talk that had the standing-room-only audience in the 300-seat chapel shouting "That's right!" and "Tell the story, Andy!" Young said the "seeds" of a human rights that led directly to Carter's election were "sown here in the sweat and blood of you and Mrs. Hamer."
He gestured toward former Mississippi newspaper editor Hodding Carter III, a white, who was seated with several other Carter administration officials in attendance.
Hodding Carter "was treated worse than us because he worked with us," Young said, and he "is now an assistant secretary of state."
He made similar references to the Mississippi Movement background of others there: Mary King, former women's adviser of Action, and Patricia Derian, a deputy director of Carter's campaign who is the State Department's coordinator for human rights.
"None of us would be where we are now had we not been here then," Young said.
Speaking in the rolling cadences so familiar to those who heard him preach at countless mass meetings in the 1980s, Young said, "Governors and heads of state . . . know of this humble woman from Ruleville, Miss.
"Ruleville Miss., got known even before Plains," he said, drawing an appreciative chorus of "Yes" from the audience. "In fact, if it hadn't been for Ruleville, you might never even have heard of Plains," he added.
Then he talked of a trip to Iowa Mrs. Hamer made with several other people in the summer of 1964 to visit the late Sen. Bourke Hickenlooper. That trip, Young said, helped break "the filibuster and passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and we put together the coalition of goodwill which a year later, after Selma, passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965."
At the end of his eulogy, which described Mrs. Hamer as a "woman who literally helped turn this nation around, "Young began clapping his hands and burst into "This Little Light of Mine," a song that was a favorite of hers. The audience responded with an enthusiast burst of joyous singing.
Earlier speakers, a [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of famous names from "The Movement" days had emphasized that Mrs. Hamer was an inspiration whose life was to be celebrated, not mourned.
"She is us . . . She represents the very best to us . . .," said [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Carmichael, who was an organizer in Mississippi.
Dorothy Height, head of the National Council of Negro Women, spoke of the community farms and community freezers and day-care centers that Mrs. Hamer helped start to benefit the poor.
Other speakers at both services included Rep. Charles C, Diggs Jr. (D-Mich.); longtime friend and co-worker Aaron Henry, now Democratic chairman of Mississippi; Georgia state Sen. Julian Bond; John Lewis a candidate for Young's old congressional seat; Vernon Jordan, president of the National Urban League, and ahost of others who had worked with her.