Visitors from across the United States joined local residents in celebrating the inaugural Fannie Lou Hamer Day event on June 9 in Winona.
The celebratory day of healing was extended to four days, beginning with a program of remembrance and remarks from Jacquelyn Hamer Flakes, Euvestor Simpson and others at Sacred Heart Catholic Church.
Flakes descriptively gave an account of what her mother, Fannie Lou Hamer, had told her about being arrested for trying to integrate a segregated lunch counter at a bus station in Winona in June 1963.
Flakes told the congregation of Caucasian and African American listeners about the screams her mother heard from fellow protestors and the officers who beat them inside the jail that once stood at the intersection of Sterling Avenue and Oak Drive.
Flakes described how an officer beat her mother with a night stick until he was tired, and then another would beat her until he was tired. After which, they forced an inmate to beat her.
The audience listened in amazement as many tried to hold back tears.
Simpson also gave her personal account of being arrested at the bus station and later beaten at the jail.
“It was a day of reconning in getting things out in the air. There were many people in our community who were unaware,” said event organizer Vickie Roberts-Ratliff of remarks and testimonies given at the church. “This helped get the information out there.”
She said, “None of this would have been done without the approval and support of Sacred Heart Catholic Church.”
After the program, the congregation left the church and sang while walking to the still covered Fannie Lou Hamer marker, where a host of onlookers eagerly awaited the continuation of the program and the unveiling.
Flakes and Simpson shared their appreciation of the efforts of Winona and Montgomery County citizens to memorialize the site where Hamer, Simpson and other protestors were brutalized.
“[Hamer] came with the spirit of healing,” said Roberts-Ratliff. “The way Winona treated her was above and beyond.”
Together, they removed the cloth from the marker amid cheers from the crowd.
Mayor Aaron Dees read a proclamation, which was signed by the Winona Board of Aldermen earlier this spring, making June 9 Fannie Lou Hamer Day.
Dees read from the proclamation, “Fannie Lou Hamer in the summer of 1962 made a life-changing decision to attend a protest meeting and began her journey to fight for civil rights for African Americans against racial segregation and injustice in the South through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; and whereas, Fannie Lou Hamer and other civil rights activists were arrested and beaten in the Winona, Mississippi jail on June 09, 1963, while returning from a workshop in South Carolina…”
He later read, “Now therefore be it resolved that in an effort to acknowledge the importance of Fannie Lou Hamer, I, Aaron Dees, by virtue of the authority vested in me as mayor of the City of Winona do hereby proclaim the day of June 09, 2022, and annually as Fannie Lou Hamer Day in Winona, Mississippi, and urge all our citizens to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities.”
Phillip Gunn, speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, signed a proclamation recognizing Fannie Lou Hamer Day and the unveiling of the historical marker as a four-day event from June 9 to 12, 2022.
United States Representative Bennie Thompson also signed a proclamation, acknowledging the importance of Fannie Lou Hamer Day and achievements of African Americans across the nation.
“As a Mississippian, I felt so proud to receive the proclamation from the mayor, the proclamation from Bennie Thompson and from the Speaker of the House,” said Roberts-Ratliff.
The afternoon of June 9 was a joyous occasion with children playing on bouncy castles and people from across the country sharing their experiences of the Civil Rights Movement.
Roberts-Ratliff and Alisa L. Oglesby, Landowner Summit facilitator, said visitors came from Florida, California, Oregon, Missouri, New York, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and Washington, D.C. were in attendance throughout the weekend.
“Every day was a combination of new people and the same people,” said Roberts-Ratliff.
“A lot of people were smiling, and I could tell they were proud this was happening right here in Winona,” said Oglesby.
On June 10, Winona Baptist Church hosted the Landowners’ Summit, where people from across the nation gathered to learn how to be good stewards of their land.
Gwendolyn Pratt, of Winston County, shared her experiences of growing up on a farm and how her family fought to keep their more than 500 acres after her father died in 1961, leaving her mother with a $4,000 debt.
She encouraged the group to actively protect their land by knowing its boundaries, informing family members about the land and attending county meetings.
Ramona Taylor-Williams, of Duck Hill, said Hamer set a model for landowners.
“She was brave. She was bold, and she was brilliant,” said Taylor-Williams. “It begins at the grassroots level. It begins with the people.”
Taylor-Williams discussed effective community development and sustainability.
“Community development helps to build community capacity in order to address issues and take advantage of opportunities, find common ground and balance competing interests,” said Taylor-Williams. “It doesn’t just happen. Capacity building requires both a conscious and a conscientious effort to do something, or many things, to improve the community.”
She also shared how her late husband Bobby Ray Williams, who died on May 15, designed Duck Hill’s new drainage system that recently has prevented flooding in town.
Darrell Tennie, of agriculture tax and accounting firm The Tennie Group, spoke on proper financial accounting that coincides with land ownership.
Speakers for the day also included Liz Smith-Incer, Mississippi Field Service director of the National Park Service; Thaddeus Fairley, state executive director of United States Department of Agriculture (UDSA) Farm Service Agency; Vivian Dickson, director of Racial Equity and Justice for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; and Wesley Wofford of Wofford Sculpture Studio in North Carolina.
Wofford exhibited a replica of his traveling nine-foot-tall bronze monument of Harriet Tubman during the unveiling of the marker on June 9 and the Landowner Summit on June 10.