California Secretary of State delivers keynote at celebration of voting rights giant Fannie Lou Hamer

California Secretary of State Shirley N. Weber, Ph.D., paid tribute to civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer at the 20th annual Human and Civil Rights Symposium at Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey.

Secretary Weber at the unveiling of a statue of Fannie Lou Hamer at the Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The hall was the site of the 1964 Democratic National Convention where Hamer made history by giving testimony in opposition to an all-white Mississippi delegation. Photos by Stockton University

The tribute began with the dedication of a 7-foot-tall resin statue of Hamer at a ceremony at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The hall was the site of the 1964 Democratic National Convention where Hamer made history by giving testimony in opposition to an all-white Mississippi delegation.

Weber, California’s first African American Secretary of State, later delivered the keynote address at Stockton University’s Galloway New Jersey campus at the Human and Civil Rights Symposium presented by the Africana Studies Program and the Unified Black Students Society of Stockton University.

Secretary Weber gave the keynote address paying tribute to the legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer at the 20th annual Human & Civil Rights Symposium at Stockton University in Galloway, New Jersey.

Weber’s address emphasized how much Hamer and her legacy informs how she serves the people who elected her to office. Weber, a daughter of former sharecroppers in Arkansas, said that the people who most inspired her were the people who embodied Hamer’s hope for a better tomorrow.

“So often, I’m asked by so many people, ‘Who motivated you? I give them famous names sometimes, but most of the time, I don’t: I give them the names of people who helped me, folks that they would never meet who remind me of the Fannie Lou Hamers of the world.

Weber, who serves as California’s top elections official, said voting is the “American equalizer” that Hamer dedicated her life to fighting for.

“Everything that she had was riding on this right to vote: her justice, her dignity, her life. But she kept standing, and she kept fighting with those who believed in her. As a result, we have a legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer that is second to none.”

Fannie Lou Hamer was a sharecropper who, despite humble beginnings, became one of the most persistent, influential and effective voting and civil rights champions. Beatings, arrests, and threats against her life did not deter her from pursuing voting rights for African Americans in the Jim Crow South.

Hamer’s fight for equal voting rights was a long and hard battle, and Weber said she hopes to see students keep her tenacious spirit alive by being as persistent as Hamer was in the face of challenges.

“And so, as we fight these battles, I have to remind people of Fannie Lou Hamer. Listen, Fannie Lou went down there several times to take the (literacy test) before they said she could have her right to vote. Even if they put a barrier on you and say, ‘We’re not going to let you have water,’ bring your own water bottle. And if somebody says, ‘Bring your own chair if you want to sit down,’ be prepared to stay and wait. Whatever the issue is, don’t leave. Vote. Fannie Lou Hamer should be a motivation to each and every one of us in this room.”