Stockton professor donates Fannie Lou Hamer statue to Boardwalk Hall

fannie lou hamer statue
Professor Patricia Reid-Merritt stands next to the Fannie Mae Hamer statue sculpted by Brian Hanlon, at her left. Also pictured, from left to right, are Stockton President Joe Bertolino; Brian Jackson, chief operating officer of Stockton’s Atlantic City campus, and Donnetrice Allison, professor of Africana Studies and Communication Studies. (PHOTO CREDIT: Lizzie Nealis/Stockton University)

Fannie Lou Hamer made history when she spoke at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City.

Now the famed civil rights leader has a permanent place at the site of her historic speech.

A statue of Hamer was unveiled Tuesday at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, where she gave testimony in opposition of an all-white Mississippi delegation.

The statue donated by Professor Patricia Reid Merritt is part of the Atlantic City Experience historical display curated by the Atlantic City Free Public Library.

“It’s going where it belongs,” said Reid-Merritt, a distinguished professor of Africana Studies and Social Work. “For all the great things and contributions that Fannie Lou Hamer made to the civil rights struggle, what she is known for is that speech in Atlantic City. It’s a tribute to her legacy and Stockton’s efforts to uplift her legacy.”

Hamer spoke of the what she and others endured fighting for their right to vote.

“All of this is on account of we want to register, to become first-class citizens,” she said in her address to the committee. “And if the (Mississippi) Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?”

It would be later, when addressing a rally in Harlem, that she would make her famous statement: “And I’ve been tired so long, now I am sick and tired of being sick and tired, and we want a change.”

She then harkened to her speech at the convention in Atlantic City.

“And to prove just how sick it was when we was in Atlantic City challenging the National Convention, when I was testifying before the Credentials Committee, I was cut off because they hate to see what they been knowing all the time and that’s the truth,” she said.

The statue was designed by Brian Hanlon, an acclaimed master sculptor from Toms River, Ocean County.

It was erected in Hamer’s hometown of Rulevile, Miss., in 2012 by the National Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Statue Committee.

Reid-Merritt was the chair of that committee, and Hanlon felt it was fitting to donate the resin statue to her.

“This statue will both educate and inspire young people here,” Hanlon said. “They should learn more about Fannie Lou. I don’t think her story is told enough. The spirit of her as a woman in encouraging other women to get involved with politics and voter rights is very important.”

The statute is an important reminder that “Atlantic City isn’t just about celebrity, it’s about history,” said library Director Robert Rynkiewicz.

“We are honored to have the statue unveiled today in Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall,” said City Council Vice President Kaleem Shabazz, who also is president of the Atlantic City branch of the NAACP. “This is a historic occasion and marks a long, long journey for those of us who are concerned about the struggle for civil rights. … We have to make sure our younger generation knows who Fannie Lou Hamer was and the importance and significance of what she did.”

Hamer “fought for the same civil liberties that we should be fighting for today because what she fought for still isn’t won. We still need to fight for equality,” said state Assemblyman Don Guardian, who also served as the city’s first openly gay mayor.

“Fannie Lou Hamer set the tone years ago,” said Commissioner Ernest Coursey, who Mayor Marty Small’s chief of staff. “She paved the way and made it possible for all of us to stand today and be a part of history.”

State Assemblywoman Claire Swift praised Stockton University for its role in donating and erecting the statue, along with Atlantic City, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and the library.

“Let’s make Atlantic City the role model for civil rights, civil liberties and fighting for women to continue to be leaders in this country,” she said.

Stockton University has been proud to be the only university that has consistently honored and recognized Hamer’s place in history, university President Joe Bertolino said.

Stockton has hosted a Fannie Lou Hamer Human and Civil Rights Symposium for students on its Galloway campus for the past 20 years, in the even space that now bears her name.

“Her legacy aligns with Stockton’s mission of developing engaged and effective citizens who champion inclusivity, diversity and social justice,” Bertolino said. “We will always stand up for the values that Mrs. Hamer stood for. … This memorial furthers all our efforts to recognize Mrs. Hamer’s time in Atlantic City and helping to ensure that her important work is never forgotten by the millions who visit here.”

“What we do here today isn’t just to put a statue here and move on,” said California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, who was later the keynote speaker at Stockton’s Fannie Lou Hamer Symposium. “But young people will come and point to that face and point to that person and they will be inspired, and it will be a motivator for them.”