Historic Williams Chapel Church in Ruleville will once again ring withsounds of freedom on Saturday, Oct. 7 with a recreation of a 1960s mass meeting in conjunction with the celebration of Fannie Lou Hamer’s 100th birthday.
Williams Chapel made history in the 1960s as the first location in Sunflower County of mass meetings for minority voting rights when organizers with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) could find no other location in the county to host them due to fears of reprisal by the staunchly and aggressively segregationist white power structure. It is where Mrs. Hamer assumed her leadership role that eventually brought her to international prominence as a human rights activist and which was a grass-roots catalyst for the creation of the modern Democratic Party.
The event, sponsored by the Sunflower County Democratic Executive Committee, will start at 2 p.m. at the church, located on the southeast corner of Langdon and O.B. Streets. Although its primary focus will be for the education of young people, the public is invited to the free event. It will feature freedom songs led by the youth group Young Steppers of Indianola.
Leading the rally will be Charles McLaurin of Indianola, SNCC’s Sunflower County Field Director who organized the Freedom Movement in the 1960s in Sunflower County. Other veterans of the movement also may attend.
David Rushing, chairman of the Sunflower County Democratic Executive Committee, said the event is being hosted with the cooperation of the Mississippi Young Democratsand the Fannie Lou Hamer Garden and Museum Foundation. He said while it is sponsored by Democrats for the benefit of young political activists, it is open to anyone.
“It will not be a partisan political rally but a celebration of political freedom and a chance for young people of voting age to hear the wisdom of veterans who risked everything, even their lives, for the right to vote,” Rushing said. “Though we hope to recreate the spirit of the original rallies, this is not the re-enactment of a historical event because it’s not about history — it is about the future because the ideal of inclusive democracy and equal rights under the law remain under threat. Despite the progress we have seen, the struggle is not over.”
As part of the celebration, the Fannie Lou Hamer Museum located at 710 Byron St. in Ruleville Byron Street (one block east of Williams Chapel) will open at noon on Saturday, Oct. 7 so visitors can learn more about the life of Mrs. Hamer and the history of the local movement. Visitors also may drop by the adjacent Fannie Lou Hamer Gravesite and Memorial Garden.
The meeting will be a subsidiary event of the Fannie Lou Hamer Centennial Celebration set for Friday, Oct. 6 with activities scheduled to start at 10 a.m. at the Memorial Garden and a commemorative program starting at noon at the nearby Hamer Complex. For more information about this centennial event, call 662-588-1556 or e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I would like to thank the Hamer committee for allowing us to tag along with their important event, but special thanks go to the congregation of Williams Chapel for allowing us to use their historic church for this celebration,” Rushing said.