Prophet of Freedom (1917-1977)
by Robert Ellsberg
Baal Shem TovWe don't often associate gratitude with being sick and tired. And yet bone-weary exhaustion was exactly what inspired Fannie Lou Hamer to risk her life and well-being to help bring an end to sharecropping and segregation. In later years her unflagging efforts grew beyond civil rights as she tackled grave problems of poverty and war. "Sometimes it seems to tell the truth today is to run the risk of being killed," she admitted. "But if I fall, I’ll fall five-feet four-inches forward in the fight for freedom." - Patricia Carlson
“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Fannie Lou Hamer was born the daughter of sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta, a poor black woman in the poorest region of America. And yet she rose up from obscurity to challenge the mighty rulers of her day, a towering prophet whose eloquence and courage helped guide and inspire the struggle for freedom.
Until 1962 her life was little different from other poor black women in rural Mississippi. One of twenty children in her family, she was educated to the fourth grade and, like her parents before her, fell into the life of sharecropping. This system allowed poor farmers to work a piece of the plantation owner's land in exchange for payment of a share of their crop. In practice, it was a system of debt slavery that combined with segregation and brute force to keep the black population poor and powerless. Looking back on her own twenty years of sharecropping, Hamer later said, "Sometimes I be working in the fields and I get so tired, I say to the people picking cotton with us, 'Hard as we have to work for nothing, there must be some way we can change this.'"
The way opened up for Hamer when she attended a civil rights rally in 1962 and heard a preacher issue a call for blacks to register to vote. At the age of forty-five Hamer answered the call, though it meant overcoming numerous threats and obstacles and...