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Remember Fannie Lou Hamer

It is widely accepted that the new redistricting plan approved last week by the Maryland General Assembly will be challenged in court. Reportedly, one or more interest groups have already asked the Justice Department to step in and review the plan.

The controversy about the new plan stems from the belief the map was gerrymandered to help Democrats gain an additional seat in Congress. This upsets Republicans, of course. But it also upsets some minority groups and some public officials who believe the new map unfairly divides minority voters.

A name frequently mentioned in various news reports on the issue has been civil rights legend Fannie Lou Hamer. (Her name has also been adopted by a political action committee challenging the new map.) Hamer was born a little over 94 years ago, on Oct. 6, 1917, the youngest of 20 children in Montgomery County, Miss.

In 1962, she became a volunteer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, working to help blacks in the South meet qualifications designed to keep them from voting. She also worked as a community activist organizing protests against various discriminatory policies. For her efforts, Hamer suffered many offenses, including at one point being jailed and beaten so badly that she was permanently disabled.

A powerful speaker and singer, Hamer was known for often saying, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Her advocacy helped push the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. The legislation was the culmination of what she worked tirelessly for, prohibiting states from imposing prerequisites to voting (such as literacy tests) to keep blacks from exercising their rights.

From 1968 to 1971, Hamer was a member of the Democratic National Committee for Mississippi and, in 1972, was elected a delegate for the Democratic National Convention. Hamer died in Mississippi in 1977 due to various health problems.

As we read about redistricting in Maryland and around the country, and as various groups consider court challenges, I think it appropriate that we think about the individuals who paved the way for the rights we sometimes take for granted.

Whatever side you fall on the issue, consider everything the likes of which Fannie Lou Hamer went through: once, after being shot at, she reportedly said, “If I fall, I’ll fall 5 feet 4 inches forward in the fight for freedom.”