Koinonia Farm’s vision statement is “love through service to others, joy through generous hospitality, peace through reconciliation.” All of our guest rooms are named after people who have come before us and embodied these ideas. These peacemakers are from all over the world and from all different periods of history. This “great cloud of witnesses” and their stories encourage us to keep pursuing love, joy, and peace in our life and work.
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was a Civil Rights activist who used her Christian faith as a foundation for her fight for Black voting rights. Hamer was born the youngest of 20 children to sharecropper parents in Mississippi. She began picking cotton with her parents at the age of 6 and dropped out of school by the time she was in third grade. At 16 years old, she contracted polio which made her unable to work in the fields. She began working as a record-keeper on the plantation because she could read and write. She married Perry “Pap” Hamer in 1945. Hamer was unable to have children because a white doctor performed a hysterectomy on her without her knowledge or consent. She and Pap adopted two children.
In 1962, she attended a meeting of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She joined the fight for Black people to earn the right to vote. Hamer quickly became known for her use of hymns and spirituals to encourage those around her. Her first attempt to register to vote came in Indianola, Mississippi with 17 others. They were denied the right to vote because they failed the literacy test. This attempt to register caused her and her family to lose their place as sharecroppers on the Marlowe Plantation where they had worked at since 1944. In 1963, Hamer passed the literacy test on her third attempt and registered to vote. In June of that same year, she was arrested, jailed, and brutally beaten in Winona, Mississippi for attempting to register other African-Americans to vote. She bore physical and emotional scars of this beating for the rest of her life.
The only thing they could do was to kill me and it seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit a time ever since I could remember.
The summer of 1964 was a critical one in the fight for voting rights in Mississippi. Fannie Lou Hamer helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). This party stood as the only challenge to the all-white delegation from Mississippi at the Democratic National Convention. In August 1964, Hamer recounted her horrendous experience in the Winona jail in front of the DNC and a television audience. Ultimately, the MFDP was unsuccessful in their 1964 attempt at the DNC. Their efforts eventually did help to bring about the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Hamer continued to fight for voting rights for African-Americans and continued to work in the political system. She ran for Mississippi State Senate in 1971 and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1972.
Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?
In her later life, Hamer fought against pervasive poverty and maintained a strong anti-Vietnam War stance. She worked in Sunflower County with programs such as Head Start and Poor People’s Campaign. In 1969, she created the Freedom Farm Cooperative to help the Black farmers of Sunflower County. She died of breast cancer in 1977. Her songs of freedom gave voice to a movement.
I’m on my way to the freedom land/ If you don’t go, don’t hinder me,
I’m on my way, praise God, I’m on my way.