Church Communication Hero: Fannie Lou Hamer

Church Communication Hero: Fannie Lou Hamer

August 14, 2019 by

“All my life I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” -Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)

A poor black sharecropper in Jim Crow Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer loomed as a 5-foot- 4-inch giant of the civil rights movement. She spoke truth to power, whether it was klansmen or presidents. And she paid the price. Hamer suffered a nearly fatal beating—yet the next day she sang hymns.

The gospel message of freedom inspired Fannie Lou Hamer’s civil rights activism. The songs, message, and spirit of the church fueled her work and encouraged her in the darkest moments—of which there were many.

Suffering for the Cause

Simply living poor and black in Mississippi in the era of segregation wrought its own damage. Hamer started picking cotton at the age of 6 and was forced to leave school at 12. Hamer was denied the possibility of being a birth mother by an involuntary hysterectomy she didn’t know about until it was over.

But the suffering only increased when Hamer attempted to register to vote. She was fired, evicted, harassed, threatened, shot at, groped, beaten, and more. And Hamer wasn’t the only target. In 1964, someone threw a Molotov cocktail at her church. In 1967, while seeking medical care for her daughter, Hamer was turned away from the local hospital for her activism. Her daughter died from internal hemorrhaging on the way to a Memphis hospital.

“Sometimes it seems like to tell the truth today is to run the risk of being killed. But if I fall, I’ll fall five feet, four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I’m not backing off.”

Singing in the Dark

In 1962 she joined a busload of black church members inspired to register to vote. They faced intimidation and a literacy test, ultimately failing to register. On the way home, discouraged and disheartened, a white highway patrolman pulled the bus over and arrested the driver.

They sat on the bus on a Mississippi road, wondering if they’d be next, sinking into despair. But then Fannie Hamer began to sing: “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine… Oh, this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”

Everyone joined her in song. The driver was eventually released and they all made it home—only to face more consequences for challenging the status quo.

“A city that’s set on a hill cannot be hid. And I don’t mind my light shining; I don’t hide that I’m fighting for freedom, because Christ died to set us free.” -Fannie Lou Hamer

Hope in Song

There’s one especially brutal incident when Fannie Lou Hamer was arrested and jailed for no reason. After seeing her companions beaten, the police officers turned to Hamer. Instead of beating her themselves, the white officers forced black inmates to beat her. She suffered severe kidney damage and the loss of vision in one eye.

The next day, instead of giving into hate and despair, she somehow found her voice and sang hymns. Her jailed companions joined her, an impromptu church service of tortured prisoners.

More than singing songs, Fannie Lou Hamer directly challenged her oppressors. When offered a cup of water by the wife of one of her jailers, Hamer pointed the woman to Proverbs 26:26 and Acts 17:26. When released from jail, she asked the police officer who directed her beating, “Do you people ever think or wonder how you’ll feel when the time comes you’ll have to meet God?”

She took that challenge all the way to the president, addressing the 1964 Democratic National Convention and demanding to be heard.

“When you’re in a brick cell, locked up, and haven’t done anything to anybody but still you’re locked up there, well sometimes words just begin to come to you and you begin to sing.” -Fannie Lou Hamer

A Well of Faith

Rooted in her Christian faith and inspired by her church, Fannie Lou Hamer led the charge for justice in Mississippi.

“When Hamer hit bottom in her pursuit of justice, the sweet water of faith welled up in her soul,” says Jemar Tisby.

That deep well of faith started with the local church.

Consider who might be coming to your church, and how the songs, the inspiration, the truth shared in your church can compel people when they go out the door and into the world. Hamer fought for civil rights, but the cause could be anything that advances the hope of the gospel.

Our job as church communicators is not simply to prepare next week’s bulletin and design sermon graphics. We’re communicating the gospel. We’re giving hope and purpose and voice to change the world.

“Christianity is being concerned about [others], not building a million-dollar church while people are starving right around the corner. Christ was a revolutionary person, out there where it was happening.” -Fannie Lou Hamer


Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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