MLK 50: Fannie Lou Hamer statue stands tall so ‘nobody can look down’ at her

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RULEVILLE, Miss. -- Out of the cotton fields of a rural Mississippi town, a heroine emerged during the 1960s at the height of the fight for Civil Rights.

This woman shepherded young men and women in the Student Non-Violent Coordination Committee to lead a new generation of blacks to the voting booths. Her name was Fannie Lou Hamer.

Hamer's story is one of many News with a Twist is telling as part of MLK 50, a yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination.

On her first day working as an activist for voting rights, the mayor of the small Mississippi town arrested Hamer and others -- taking them to jail at gunpoint.

Charles Mclaurin was in his 20s in 1962 when he was recruited to an assignment in the Delta Project Committee. There, he met Hamer while taking her to the polls to register to vote, then wound up sticking around for 15 years.

When Hamer decided to run for Congress, she asked Mclaurin to be her campaign manager.

"We walked up to the Secretary of State's Office, walked up to the desk and told the lady she wanted to run for Congress. The white lady bucked her eyes and then went to the back and said, 'Hey y'all, there are two ******* here who want to run for Congress,'" he recalled.

Sit-ins and freedom rides organized by Hamer and others got the nation's attention and helped to get a disenfranchised population of Americans to vote. The price was high.

"We are going to make you wish you were dead, said the state highway patrolman," Hamer recalled in a radio interview. "In the time he was beating, I began to wet my feet and I began to scream to where I couldn't control it, and then the white man got up and began to beat me in my head."

Hamer and her group within the SNCC were working on behalf of Americans who had not voted since Reconstruction.

"We felt now, that those bad white folks that had been running around shooting and murdering our folk...if they wanted to stay in office, then they are going to have to change from their racist and violent ways. In 1962 when Fannie Lou Hamer went to the courthouse to register to vote, there was not a single black- elected official in the whole state of Mississippi. Today we have the largest number of African American office holders of any state in the nation," Mclaurin said.

Now, the woman who lived all her life on a Ruleville plantation rests, her statue strategically placed up high.

"They got to look up at her. Nobody can look down at Fannie Lou Hamer," Mclaurin said.