I remember the first time I saw her. She was a rich, dark chocolate, overweight (or what my parents used to call, “heavy set”), and wearing a flowered dress that could have been a “house dress” or passable for church. Her hair had been recently pressed but because of either the summer heat or the intensity of the press lights, her edges had already sweated out. She looked like a million other Black women I had known. I recognized her as a church mother, a cleaning lady, or a cafeteria worker. I have seen her (or someone looking exactly like her) riding city buses almost every day. She was just so ordinary and it was that ordinary-ness that made the fact that she was speaking truth to power so captivating.
That woman was Fannie Lou Hamer and I fell hopelessly in love with her as she sat before television cameras and power brokers and announced that she was Fannie Lou Hamer from Sunflower County, Mississippi and the duly elected delegate from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Yes, this ordinary woman was speaking truth to power and she was everything I ever wanted to be. She was bold. She was courageous. And, she was herself–no pretense, no fear, no playing!
I became so enamored of Fannie Lou Hamer because she was not a heroine or role model that someone else was giving to us. She was not the tragic mulatto of Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horne, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys, Halle Berry, or Beyonce. She was not ambiguous in her racial identity. She was not some skinny slip of a thing. She was thick and proud of it. But more important than how she looked was how she made us pay attention to what she had to say.
To this day I have found no one fiercer than Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer. She was beaten and abused because of her stand for freedom. She lost babies and suffered in jail but in the end she stood up and said, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired!” She uttered those words as a challenge. In other words, she did not intend to keep accepting bad treatment. She was letting nothing stand in the way of justice, freedom, and right. And, in the end for as powerful and special as she was as a leader, she was just an ordinary sista! Let’s continue to praise those ordinary sistas’ (and brothas’)!
Stay Black & Smart!