Stockton Professor Donates Fannie Lou Hamer Statue to A.C.
Atlantic City, N.J. — Thanks to the donation of a Stockton University professor, the legacy of civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer has been permanently enshrined in the place where she changed history.
An over-7-foot-tall resin statue of the woman who fought for voting rights for Black Americans was unveiled Oct. 10 during a ceremony at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. The hall was the site of the 1964 Democratic National Convention where Hamer made history by giving testimony in opposition to an all-white Mississippi delegation.
“It’s going where it belongs,” said Patricia Reid-Merritt, a Distinguished Professor of Africana Studies and Social Work, before the ceremony. “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.”
The statue is a resin mold of a Hamer statue designed by Brian Hanlon, an acclaimed Toms River-based master sculptor. The original statue was erected in Hamer’s hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, 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.”
It’s going where it belongs. 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.”
More than 150 people watched as the statue was unveiled as part of the Atlantic City Experience historical display created by the Atlantic City Free Public Library. Robert Rynkiewicz, the library’s director, said the statue is an important reminder that “Atlantic City isn’t just about celebrity. It’s about history.”
Rynkiewicz joined several city and state politicians at Tuesday’s ceremony to express their gratitude to Reid-Merritt for the donation and celebrate Hamer’s legacy.
“We are honored to have the statue unveiled today in Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall,” said Atlantic City Council Vice President Kaleem Shabazz, who’s also the president of the Atlantic City branch of the NAACP. “This is an 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.”
Ernest Coursey, the chief of staff for the mayor of Atlantic City, reiterated that the fight for social justice and women’s rights is still ongoing in the United States and must continue.
“Fannie Lou Hamer set the tone years ago,” he said. “She paved the way and made it possible for all of us to stand today and be a part of history.”
State Assemblyman Don Guardian noted 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.”
State Assemblywoman Claire Swift praised Stockton University for its role in donating and erecting the statue, along with the City of Atlantic City, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and the library. She added that Hamer was a trailblazer for women’s rights and civil rights.
“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, said university President Joe Bertolino. For the last 20 years, Stockton has hosted a Fannie Lou Hamer Human and Civil Rights Symposium for students on its Galloway campus in October, and the university has also named the event space at its Atlantic City campus after Hamer.
“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 of 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.”
The ceremony, which also included performances by the Atlantic City High School choir, concluded with remarks by Shirley Weber, California’s Secretary of State, and the keynote speaker at Stockton’s Fannie Lou Hamer Symposium held later in the day.
“What we do here today isn’t just to put a statue here and move on,” she said. “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.”
-- Story by Mark Melhorn, photos by Lizzie Nealis
Stockton University is ranked among the top public universities in the nation. Our more than 9,000 students can choose to live and learn on the 1,600-acre wooded main campus in the Pinelands National Reserve in South Jersey and at our coastal residential campus just steps from the beach and Boardwalk in Atlantic City. The university offers more than 160 undergraduate and graduate programs. Learn more at stockton.edu.
Galloway, N.J. – Following an emotional statue unveiling in Atlantic City, Stockton University continued paying tribute to civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer with the 20th annual Human & Civil Rights Symposium in the Performing Arts Center on Tuesday, Oct. 10.
This year’s symposium included a performance of gospel songs by the Stockton Freedom Singers, led by Beverly Vaughn, professor of Music; a video compilation of previous symposiums; poetry recitation by Stockton faculty and a keynote address by California’s first Black Secretary of State, Shirley N. Weber.
Weber’s address emphasized how much Hamer and her legacy informs how she serves the people who elected her to office. Weber, a daughter of former sharecroppers in Arkansas, said that the people who most inspired her were the people who embodied Hamer’s hope for a better tomorrow.
– Story by Loukaia Taylor