ATLANTIC CITY — Juanita J. High was a teacher in Atlantic City when Fannie Lou Hamer made her famous remarks during the 1964 Democratic National Convention at Boardwalk Hall.
“It was a very exciting time,” High said Thursday as Stockton University dedicated the event space at the new Atlantic City campus in Hamer’s honor.
Now, future generations will learn more about that historic appearance by the civil rights activist from Mississippi, speakers said during the dedication ceremony, which included a proclamation and resolution from the city and the unveiling of a plaque.
“This room is going to be the hub of Stockton A.C., and so many people will be exposed to this name,” said Stockton Board of Trustees President Leo Schoffer.
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Hamer was a major figure in the Civil Rights Movement, fighting for voting rights for African Americans nationally and mounting a run for Congress. Her phrase “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” was a rallying cry for the movement.
On Aug. 22, 1964, Hamer testified at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in opposition to the seating of an all-white Mississippi delegation. Although her efforts were defeated, her testimony was broadcast nationally. One year later, the Voting Rights Act was passed.
Stockton’s Board of Trustees approved the naming of the event space in December. The proposal was developed by Distinguished Professor of Social Work and Africana Studies Patricia Reid-Merritt and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Religion Joseph Walsh.
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High, who worked for many years as executive assistant to former Stockton President Vera King Farris and is now a member of the Stockton Foundation Board, said she thinks the college is playing a leadership role in highlighting Hamer's efforts.
City Councilman Kaleem Shabazz, who filled in for Mayor Frank Gilliam, said he was also at the 1964 convention, protesting outside on a soapbox at the age of 16. After the dedication, Shabazz said he didn’t know at the time that history was taking place.
“This is a good day. Fannie Lou Hamer is someone we need to continue to lift up,” Shabazz said. “That fight that Fannie Lou Hamer led, we are still fighting and we have to continue to fight.”
The dedication included a musical performance by Stockton Professor of Music Beverly Vaughn, who said the dedication was significant for the college and for Atlantic City.
“For Stockton to take a stand, I think that’s sending out a message,” she said.
The event included a video message from Hamer’s daughter, Jackie Hamer Flakes.
“My mother would have loved to be here for this occasion,” she said. “That is a huge blessing because when she was growing up she didn’t have a chance to get the education that is afforded to our young people these days.”
Stockton President Harvey Kesselman said the university previously had not named an event space for someone who was not affiliated with the university.
“And who better ought we begin that tradition with,” Kesselman said.
He said he hopes Stockton will stand for the same principles as Hamer.