Dr. Maulana Karenga, professor and chair, department of Africana Studies, California State University Long Beach, welcomes guests to the Fannie Lou Hamer 100th Birthday Celebration and Commemoration. (Photo Courtesy: Charlene Muhammad)

A litany of distinguished community leaders, artists, and politicians gathered at the African American Cultural Center (Organization Us) Oct. 8 to celebrate and commemorate the 100th birthday of voting, human and civil rights champion, Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer.

Speakers who addressed her legacy and the ongoing Black Freedom Movement, were, professor and chair, Department of Africana Studies, California State University Long Beach-CSULB, Greg Akili, director, Fannie Lou Hamer Institute, Danny Crumble, former vice-chair, Africana Studies Student Association, CSULB; Robert Farrell, Freedom Rider and former L.A. City Councilman, 8th District; Yvonne Farrow, actress/activist, Carolyn Fowler, New Frontier Democratic Club, Ronisha Haden, Reacher’s Club; Jan Perry, general manager, L.A. Economic and Workforce Development Department, Amen Rahh, professor emeritus, Department of Africana Studies, CSULB; Dr. Kamili Sartin, professor, Department of English, Cerritos College, and Rev. Thembekila Smart, pastor, Christ Liberation Ministries.

They hailed the 1960s freedom fighter, who was born the youngest of 20 children to sharecropper parents in Fayetteville, Mississippi, in 1917.  They reflected on her marriage to Perry “Pap” Hamer in 1944, her life in Rujeville, and when she learned during a SNCC meeting in 1962 that Blacks had the right to vote. That set her on a journey to freedom.

Hamer was beaten, shot, and endured other atrocities in her sacrifice to register Blacks to vote.  For that and more, a standing-room-only audience filled the African American Cultural Center to honor and praise Hamer, who made her transition in 1977.

Chimbuko Tembo and Tulivu Jadi (Organization Us co-vice chairs), conduct traditional African ceremony honoring ancestors. (Photo Courtesy: Charlene Muhammad)

“One of the things I want you to do, when you talk about Fannie Lou Hamer, is don’t lift her out of the culture of her people,” said Karenga.  “Keep in mind. Fannie Lou Hamer is not a woman by herself.  It’s the same thing about (Dr. Martin Luther) King … they want King lifted out of his people, but King is a great man because his people are a great people,” he stated.

“They didn’t come from Switzerland or Sweden.  They came from Black people, and we are second to none,” Karenga said, as he continued.

“To do that which is of value, the sacred Husia (wisdom from ancient Egypt) said, is for eternity, and people called forth or a person called forth by her work does not die, for her name is raised and remembered because of it,” said Karenga.

He noted people urged Hamer to leave Mississippi in fear for her life, but what would that say to others, she replied.  “What would that say to the children that are looking to me for an answer, and looking to me to be a model of strength and resistance,” Karenga said, echoing Hamer.

Robert Farrell, Freedom Rider and former L.A. City Councilman, 8th District. (Photo Courtesy: Charlene Muhammad)

Most of the speakers recited quotes by Hamer.  “Never to forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over,” the gathers said often and in unity.

“You can pray until you faint, but unless you get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap,” said Perry.

“You’ve got to fight. Every step of the way, you’ve got to fight,” repeated Jadi during program transitions.

“Mrs. Hamer literally walked off the plantation in Mississippi to lead a voter registration drive, to confront the murderous Jim Crow laws of America, and to expand the realm of freedom and justice in this country,” stated Chimbuko Tembo, Us co-vice chair in a press release.

Tembo’s invite further detailed why the stellar line-up of presenters and many worldwide, uplift and honor Hamer every day:

  • Hamer was a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC);
  • She co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative and numerous other institutions she established to benefit Black and other poor people of Mississippi; and,
  • She made international headlines with her testimony at the 1964 Democratic National Convention before the credentials committee, where she challenged the seating of the all-White segregated Mississippi delegation and exposed the racist brutality and hypocrisy of America to the world.

After a mental, physical and spirit-filled opening, with African drumming, and song, Tembo and Tulivu Jadi (Us co-vice chairs) proceeded with a traditional African ceremony honoring ancestors.    Tembo asked what would Hamer say about today’s struggles, as they facilitated the dialogue.

Pastor Thembekila, Smart of Christ Liberation Ministries (Photo Courtesy: Charlene Muhammad)

Sartin detailed Hamer’s biographical history.  Rahh thanked Karenga and Us for spearheading the tribute to Hamer, and before breaking into a rendition of ‘This Little Light of Mine’, Watson noted the freedom fighter loved singing.

Yvonne Farrow offered a powerful dramatic reading of Hamer’s monumental, historic testimony of injustices including harassment, beatings, arrests, and eviction, before the Credentials Committee, Democratic National Convention in 1964.

“All of this is on account of we want to register, to become first-class citizens. And if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America,” said Farrow, as she channeled Hamer.

“Hamer’s contribution to us is her courage,” among other things, said Akili.  “Find the Fannie Lou Hamer in yourselves … She is there,” he encouraged.

Actress and activist, Yvonne Farrow (Photo Courtesy: Charlene Muhammad)

Farrell emphasized the importance of the everyday working man, woman, and community organizations and churches as support for Hamer and the Civil Rights Movement.  They were the grassroots, from Mississippi to Los Angeles, ready to receive and welcome a heroine, he said.

Smart said Hamer is where Christendom meets consciousness and praise meets politics.  She asked celebrants to bring Hamer alive by supporting a new campaign to help secure benefits for Black ex-offenders who work hard for scrappy pay.  “This is some 1917 stuff!  They get no benefits.  They get nothing, and if they don’t show up, they get replaced,” Smart stated.

Crumble expressed that he was the first in his family to attend college; he was ready to give up in his first semester due to an unfriendly atmosphere and a feeling of disconnect, until an African Studies class in womanism introduced him to Hamer.

Danny Crumble (former vice-chair, Africana Studies Student Association, CSULB) )Photo Courtesy: Charlene Muhammad)

He felt at home, knew the purpose then, met Karenga, and started to excel, he shared.

“I found out about Fannie Lou Hamer, and how she used the obstructions of voting and that unfair process, and it fueled her resistance with the struggle.  And I knew if I gave up in that moment, in that first semester, how many people were looking at me to succeed, and to be a catalyst,” Crumble stated.

Guests were treated to a mini preview of the new Fannie Lou Hamer documentary, and invited to return for an entire viewing on Oct. 15.