Sunflower – Places

Parchman, Mississippi State Penitentiary

Parchman is the Mississippi State Penitentiary. During the Freedom Rides in 1961, Freedom Riders were arrested in Jackson for challenging segregation on public buses. Twenty-seven riders rode from Montgomery, Alabama to Jackson on May 24, 1961. As soon as they got off the bus, they were immediately arrested. After they were sentenced to jail, more and more Freedom Rides took place, often ending in Jackson where they were arrested. More than 300 Freedom Riders were arrested, and many of them were sent to Parchman. Freedom Riders were kept in poor conditions–given clothes that did not fit, not allowed to exercise or leave their cells, and often served inedible food–and ridiculed by prison officials. When the prisoners refused to stop singing freedom songs, their mattresses were taken away. However, the jail also served another purpose. According to Raymond Arsenault in Freedom Riders, “In effect, the Freedom Riders turned a prison into an unruly but ultimately enlightening laboratory where competing theories of nonviolent struggle could be discussed and tested. In the darkest corners of Parchman, where prison authorities had hoped to break the Riders’ spirit, a remarkable mix of personal and political education became the basis of individual and collective survival” (352).

To explore the University of Mississippi’s Freedom Riders archive of video interviews conducted at the 40th anniversary of the Freedom Rides in 2001, visit their website at http://clio.lib.olemiss.edu/archives/freedom_riders.php.

See also: Freedom Rides and Former Site of Trailways Busway Station.

Videos about Parchman:

The videos can also be viewed here.

Sources:

Arsenault, Raymond. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. Oxford, MS: Oxford UP, 2006.

“Mississippi State Penitentiary.” Wikipedia. 1 Dec. 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mississippi_State_Penitentiary>.

Williams, Juan. “Down Freedom’s Main Line.” Eyes on the Prize: America‚Äôs Civil Rights Years, 1954-1965. New York: Penguin, 1987. 

Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Park

Byron Street
Fannie Lou Hamer is buried here, and thetombstone contains her oft-quoted phrase, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Sources:

Olson, Lynne. Freedom’s Daughters: The Unsung Heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970. New York and London: Scribner, 2001.

Fannie Lou Hamer Speech before the Credentials Committee, 22 July 1964, http://www.calvin.edu/academic/cas/programs/pauleyg/voices/fhamer.htm.

http://www.fannielouhamer.info/fannie_lou_hamer.html

William Chapel M.B. Church

Amzie Moore, an African American businessman from nearby Cleveland, brought workers from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committe (SNCC) to Sunday morning services here on August 9, 1962. They met Joe and Rebecca McDonald, leaders in the curch who opened their home to the young Civil Rights workers. Two weeks later, the SNCC staffers held the first of many mass meetings to be hosted at this site. Fannie Lou Hamer attended this meeting and got involved with SNCC’s efforts to organize a voter registration initiative. Her participation in a trip to the Sunflower County courthouse in Indianola on August 31 was the beginning of her rise to prominence in the Mississippi Movement.

William Chapel suffered several repercussions for supporting Civil Rights activites. The mayor revoked their free water and tax exemptions since the building was no longer being used exclusively for worship. The church was fire-bombed by night riders on June 25, 1964.

It was the women of the church–deaconesses like Rebecca McDonald and Mrs. Hamer–who pressured the pastor and deacons to keep William Chapel open to Civil Rights activities. As historian J. Todd Moye notes,”[Charles] McLaurin, Hamer, and the women of the church continued to use the pulpit on Sundays to cajole fearful congregants into attempting to register at the county courthouse.”
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The next site described in this guide is on private property outside Ruleville. Please read the text on the next page, then follow the directions at the bottom of the page to stop number 2 on the tour.

Sources:

“Ruleville Civil Rights Driving Tour”

Marlow Plantation

Note: This site is located on private property outside Ruleville and is included here only to provide historical context.

In the early 1960s, Fannie Lou Hamer worked as a timekeeper on the Marlow Plantation. In late August of 1962, SNCC workers James Bevel and Bob Moses persuaded 18 Ruleville residents to go to the county courthouse in Indianola and attempt to register to vote. Mrs. Hamer was a part of this group which made a first unsuccessful attempt on August 31. Upon returning home, Hamer received an ultimatum from W.D. Marlow: stop trying to register to vote or get off the plantation. Hamer had no intention of giving up the struggle for civil rights. She left the Marlow plantation and stayed wit Mary Tucker, a friend living in Ruleville.
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At the intersection of OB Avenue and Elisha and Everrett Langdon Street near William Chapel Missionary Baptist Church, turn right and proceed east a few hundred yards to a vacant lot on the right side of the road (look for the curb cut).

Sources:

“Ruleville Civil Rights Driving Tour”

Mary Tucker Home Site

This vacant lot on what was formerly known as Byron Street was the location of Mary Tucker’s home. Area whites knew that Fannie Lou Hamer had moved here after leaving the Marlow plantation. When Hamer learned that her friend’s home was in danger because of her presence, she moved north, staying with a niece in Tallahatchie County. On September 10, 1962, night riders fired shots into several homes in Ruleville, including Mary Tucker’s. As historian J. Todd Moye notes in his book Let the People Decide, “At Tucker’s home, shots went through one wall at about the point where Hamer’s head would have been had she still been sleeping there.”
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Proceed east on Elisha and Everett Langdon Street (aka Byron Street) to the intersection of L.F. Packer Drive. The next stop is the house on the southeast corner of this intersection, across the street on your right.

Sources:

“Ruleville Civil Rights Driving Tour”

Home of Herman & Hattie Sisson

Night riders were a very real danger to supporters of the Civil Rights Movement, especially so in the autumn of 1962. On the night of September 10, they fired multiple gunshots into the Sisson’s home. Mr. and Mrs. Sisson were being visited by their granddaughter, Vivian Hillet and her friend, Marylene Burks, both of whom were on their way to Jackson State University in Mississippi’s capital city. As historian John Dittmer notes in his book, Local People, “Burks was shot in the head; Hillet was wounded in the arms and legs.” According to Dittmer, when SNCC worker Charlie Cobb went to the hospital to visit the young women he was arrested by Ruleville mayor, Charles Dorrough, who claimed that Cobb “shot into the home as a publicity stunt to raise money for SNCC.”
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Continue east on Elisha and Everett Langdon Street for two blocks. Turn right onto Center Avenue. At the next intersection, turn left onto Elma Nash Boulevard (formerly Reden Street). The next stop on the tour is located where a two-car garage now stands, attached to the home at 911 Elma Nash Boulevard.

Sources:

“Ruleville Civil Rights Driving Tour”

McDonald Home Site

Although it no longer exists, Joe & Rebecca McDonald’s home once was located on this site (formerly 909 Reden Street). The McDonalds were active throughout the Civil Rights Movement regardless of the personal cost. They were the first to open their home to SNCC workers, taking in Charles McLaurin and Charlie Cobb, Jr. in August of 1962. McLaurin remembers: “Many times the mayor told Mr. Joe to get us out of his house or he would have real trouble, but Mr. Joe stood his ground.” McDonald continued to support the Civil Rights Movement even after losing his job because of it. Rebecca McDonald was an active leader at William Chapel, and threw her support behind the movement despite opposition from several church members.
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Turn around and proceed west on Elma Nash Boulevard two blocks back to the intersection with L.F. Packer Drive. Turn right, followed by a quick left onto Lafayette Street. Stop #5 is on the right side of the street near a large pecan tree.

Fannie Lou Hamer Home Site

From her niece’s home in the community of Cascilla, Mississippi, SNCC worker Charles McLaurin took Mrs. Hamer to Tougaloo College in Jackson, Mississippi in the fall of 1962. At Tougaloo they joined a group of SNCC field workers heading to an organizing conference in Nashville, Tennessee. Following the conference, Mrs. Hamer went on a speaking tour, then returned to Sunflower County.

In late 1962, Mrs. Hamer’s husband left the Marlow Plantation. He rented a house that formerly stood on this site in the shade of the pecan tree. The first group of “Freedom Summer” volunteers met Mrs. Hamer on this site in 1964.
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Continue west on Lafayette. Turn left on OB Aveue. At the end of the block, turn left onto Quiver Street/ State Highway 8. At the first right, turn right onto L.F. Packer Drive. Proceed south two blocks to Fannie Lou Hamer Drive. Turn left; the next stop is on the right, just past the intersection wit Carlton Street.

Home of Fannie Lou Hamer

In 1969, the Hamers moved to this location. The lot was purchased by Charles McLaurin and Joe Harris (manager of the Freedom Farm, an agricultural cooperative launched by Mrs. Hamer). The Freedom Farm organization purchased the lot, but the small, two-bedroom shotgun house that was moved to the site was purchased elsewhere by Mrs. Hamer. The original structure is the portion of the current house that is farthest from the garage. Several additions were made, and eventually the entire structure was given a brick exterior.

During her time in this home, Mrs. Hamer was seated as a delegate at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. She was active in running the Freedom Farm, continued to organize boycotts and file civil rights lawsuits, and ran unsuccessfully for the Mississippi State Senate. An attempt to fire-bomb the home was made on January 28, 1971. An FBI investigation followed, but no one was ever prosecuted for the attack. Mrs. Hamer’s Civil Rights work continued, undeterred.

Fannie Lou and Perry “Pap”Hamer lived here until their deaths in 1977 and 1992, respectively. The home is still owned by several of her relatives.
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Continue east on Fannie Lou Hamer Drive to the intesection with Center Avenue. Turn left onto Center. Cross Quiver Street/State Highway 8, and proceed two blocks to Elisha and Everett Langdon Street. Turn right; the final stop on the tour is near the end of the road on the left side.

Sources:

“Ruleville Civil Rights Driving Tour”

Grave Site of Fannie Lou Hamer

In 1969, Fannie Lou Hamer bought 40 acres of land to use as a cooperative “Freedom Farm.” The co-op allowed area families to receive vegetables from the farm for a modest one-dollar membership fee. The co-op ultimately went bankrupt, possibly because Mrs. Hamer–always compassionate to the poor surrounding her–allowed hundreds of families who could not afford the membership fee to share in the farm’s prooduce.

Suffering from breast cancer, diabetes, heart problems, and the physical disabilities that resulted from the brutal beating she received in jail in 1963, Mrs. Hamer passed away on March 14, 1977 at the age of 59. Her grave site (and that of her husband Perry “Pap” Hamer) is located on a portion of the Freedom Farm land. The city of Ruleville began construction on the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden in 2005 to honor the Civil Rights warrior known by many as “the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement.”