In 1964, Mississippi’s Fannie Lou Hamer became famous for challenging her state’s all-white delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention, held at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
Her testimony to the Credentials Committee, seen by millions on television news, described how she was thrown off the plantation where she had sharecropped for 18 years, for registering to vote; and how she was beaten by police for running a voter registration drive for blacks.
“This person came out of the cotton field ... came up on a bus to the Atlantic City convention and challenged all those Democrats,” said Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Social Work and Africana Studies professor Patricia Reid-Merritt, who led a national committee to raise $125,000 for an eight-foot bronze statue of Hamer, to be placed in her hometown of Ruleville, Miss.
“People shouldn't be able to get out of school if they don't know who she is,” Reid-Merritt said.
Reid-Merritt has been championing Hamer for almost a decade, since being asked by then New Jersey Secretary of State Regena Thomas, of Hamilton Township, to arrange a conference at Stockton marking the 45th anniversary of Hamer’s DNC appearance. It became an annual event, and this year’s is Oct. 9.
Hamer died in 1977 at age 59. Her statue, by Toms River sculptor Brian Hanlon, will be unveiled Oct. 5 at The Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden in Ruleville, Miss. Reid-Merritt hopes someday a duplicate will be installed in front of Boardwalk Hall.
Bill Elliott, the recently retired head of the Shore Medical Center Foundation, hopes the speakers won’t go too easy on him when he’s roasted by the Ocean City Regional Chamber of Commerce.
“The invitation is a riot,” Elliott said, for the Sept. 20 dinner at Sandi Pointe in Somers Point. It shows an ad he created about 30 years ago, early in his public relations career.
“I got this kookie idea to get all dressed up as a doctor and offer to ‘cure your publicity ills,’” he said. He had a list of ailments, like “anonymity nervosa, the fear of being unknown,” he said.
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