( 1917-1977), champion of the poor, civil rights warrior, visionary
BERNICE PRICE AND ANNIE PEARLE MARKHAM
The civil rights movement was, without question, part of one of the most turbulent periods in recent U.S. history. No one suffered more deeply from the violence spawned by resistance to the movement than black Americans and their sympathizers living in the deep South, because it was in the South that the movement officially sprang to life, when blacks, exhausted by the oppression they had suffered at the hands of whites for over four hundred years, stood up and dared to expose the nation's duplicity. On the surface, an "ideal" America shone brightly as a country that welcomed and tolerated all people; however, that ideal existed only in pledges of allegiance, the National Anthem, and Fourth of July celebrations. Beneath the facade lay the "real" America, hostile and hypocritical, wherein "the land of the free" described an existence enjoyed fully only by those born privileged, white, and male. With the South serving as the battleground, the civil rights movement challenged the citizenry to transform the "real" into the "ideal." Slowly, and at great cost in human lives, the movement succeeded in changing the way Americans regarded blacks and the poor, primarily through the efforts of ordinary people who summoned from within the courage and strength necessary to lead others in extraordinary circumstances.
Few could have foreseen that a squat, plain, ordinary woman with a limp and little formal education would emerge from the Mississippi Delta to become a nationally recognized leader and visionary of the civil rights movement. Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer's career as a civil rights advocate lasted only fifteen years; yet with her simple words, her unflinching belief that all humankind was equal in the eyes of God, and her perseverance, she galvanized the poor in Mississippi. She lifted her voice in song to rally disenfranchised Americans to join with her in protest of their unfair treatment. Indeed, she understood all too well that a fragmented America, divided and fighting against itself, would surely fall. For her efforts, she was threatened, shot at, ridiculed, and severely beaten;