Thanks to the work of a Mississippi Valley State University professor and one of her students, a historical marker commemorating civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer will be placed in front of the Sunflower County Courthouse, where Hamer took her stand to register African Americans to vote.
Dr. C. Sade Turnipseed, an associate professor of history at MVSU, and 17-year-old Nigerian native Brian Diyaolu, a student of Turnipseed’s, recently received approval from the Sunflower County Board of Supervisors to place the Hamer sign in front of the courthouse. It will be unveiled during a ceremony on March 27, beginning at 1 p.m.
Turnipseed said the plan is to invite everyone from former President Barack Obama to Gov. Tate Reeves to the ceremony.
Hamer was born in Montgomery County to two sharecroppers on Oct. 6, 1917. She worked in the fields beginning the age of 6 and later learned to read and write.
In October 1962, Hamer, escorted by Charles McLaurin and other members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, made her first attempt to register to vote at the Sunflower County Courthouse. At the time, Mississippi and other states had roadblocks, such as literacy tests, to prevent African Americans from voting.
In 1964, at the Democratic National Convention, on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Hamer gave testimony to the push-back she and others faced for their fight to register African Americans to vote. She famously said she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
A year later, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting. Hamer passed away in Mound Bayou in 1977 at the age of 59.
“She was a beacon of light,” Turnipseed said. “Because of her fight, it enabled all Americans the right to register to vote. That’s why we’re putting the marker there — because it took so much courage for a woman to do this.”
Students in Turnipseed’s public history course are assigned a historical topic and tasked with bringing it to life tangibly through a project.
Diyaolu, who took the public history course in the fall, the first time the course was offered at MVSU, was assigned to do a project on Hamer. He said he went through three drafts of the historical marker’s narrative before pitching the idea to the county supervisors in a meeting last year. He said other students in the class helped him with the editing of the narrative as well as his presentation to the supervisors.
“He presented flawlessly,” Turnipseed said. “It was a beautiful day.”
McLaurin, the SNCC member, also accompanied Diyaolu and the other MVSU students to lend his support.
Now the MVSU group is tasked with raising $5,500 to purchase and install the sign. The group has already received a $3,000 commitment from the Board of Supervisors and is now asking civic groups, churches and other organizations to contribute.
Gbenga Ojo, a student in Turnipseed’s public history course this semester, will now handle the Fannie Lou Hamer sign marker project.
Ojo will order the sign, get it installed and help with the ceremony, including reaching out to prominent people to attend and helping design materials to promote the event, Turnipseed said.
For more information, contact Turnipseed at 662-347-8198 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
•Contact Gerard Edic at 581-7239 or email@example.com.