Members of Casino Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union in Atlantic City march for recognition and monument for 1960’s Mississippi Civil Rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer in Atlantic City, NJ. Photo by PressofAtlanticCity.com August 28, 2020
For the past two months, leaders in Atlantic City’s black community have be holding events to honor Fannie Lou Hamer, a Civil Rights activist in Mississippi in the 1960’s. They want to build a monument for her on the Atlantic City Boardwalk in front of Boardwalk Hall, the old Convention Hall.
Meanwhile, there have been no efforts to honor Sara Spencer Washington, a remarkable business and civil rights leader who live here entire adult life in Atlantic City.
Fannie Lou Hamer was born in rural Mississippi in 1917 to a family of sharecroppers. She left school at age 12 to pick cotton, when her aging parents were too old to work. However, she excelled in reading, Bible study, and poetry, and later was hired to keep records at the large cotton farm where she worked.
In 1962 at age 45, Fannie Lou Hamer became active in the Civil Rights movement when she was denied the right to vote. Although fully literate, she repeatedly failed rigged literacy tests administered by white Democrats in rural Mississippi. For the next nine years, Hamer worked to register herself and thousands of other blacks to vote in Mississippi. During this time, she was threatened, shot at, wrongfully arrested, beaten, and fired from her job in retaliation.
Although a genuine hero in Mississippi, Fanny Lou Hamer had a very limited connection to Atlantic City. In 1964, she helped form a separate “Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party”. She sought to have that organization instead of the all-white establishment Democratic Party represent Mississippi at the 1964 Democratic Party Convention in Atlantic City.
President Lyndon Johnson and other Democratic Party leaders tried to work out a compromise between the two delegations. However, both sides rejected it. That was when Fannie Lou Hamer made her famous statement: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired”.
That statement is engraved on one of the eleven granite columns in the Civil Rights Garden located at Martin Luther King Blvd. (Illinois Ave.) and Pacific Avenues in Atlantic City.
Four years later, at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in `968, Fannie Lou Hamer’s delegation was recognized as the official Democratic Party organization in Mississippi.
Fannie Lou Hamer became ill and retired in 1971. She died in Mississippi six years later in 1977.
Sarah Spencer Washington, also a black woman, opened a beauty parlor on Baltic Ave in Atlantic City in 1913. Within eight years, Washington studied chemistry at Columbia University and created her own line of beauty products. She then built Apex, a national multimillion dollar beauty supply company and magazine to market her products. For the next 40 years, Sara Spencer Washington used her wealth and marketing skills to overcome political, social, and economic discrimination against blacks throughout America. She did it through charity, education, the promotion of positive images for black Americans, and economic power.
She integrated Starn’s Restaurant and the Boardwalk Easter Parade in Atlantic City. When she could not persuade local country clubs to accept black golfers, she built the Apex Golf Course (now the Pomona Golf Course) in Galloway Township.
Fannie Lou Hamer and Sara Spencer Washington were black women who were smart and successful achievers, leaders, and role models. However, the two had completely different visions for improving the lives of black Americans.
Fannie Lou Hamer relied on voting, politics, government, and the Democratic Party. Since 1965, that vision brought black Americans political control of almost every major city in America. However, that political power has brought violence, poverty, illiteracy, and hopelessness to far too many blacks living there.
Sarah Spencer Washington relied on education, skills, saving, business ownership and wealth building for blacks. Her vision helped create and maintain good schools, safe and clean neighborhoods, thriving businesses, and home ownership for most blacks in Atlantic City.
Which vision offers blacks in Atlantic City today the most hope and opportunity?
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