She Shall Overcome: Chrysler's Newest Addition Shines a light on Unsung Civil Rights Heroes

On August 31, 1962, Fannie Lou Hamer went to her county courthouse to register to vote. After failing a literacy test reserved for black voters like countless others of her time, she was fired from her job, and evicted from her house.  Striving for a basic American right and being rejected, spurred Hamer to become a civil rights activist.

The black- and- white photo of Hamer  is a commemoration to her struggle, as a black woman surrounded by hateful, dangerous prejudice, said Alex Mann, the Chrysler Museum of Art’s Brock Curator of American Art.  Mann developed the “Women and the Civil Rights Movement” exhibit , as an ode to the women and girls who fought for the right to vote, take their children to integrated schools and to eat at integrated restaurants.

The exhibit primarily includes photos ranging from the 1930s to the mid 1980s.  Viewers can also examine the more intimate, nuanced looks at the conditions that black women in the south faced, such as substandard health care, minimal public services and harassment everywhere from the local diner to the swimming pool.

Eugene Smith’s 1951 photo of black midwife Maude Callen shows her cradling a crying newborn baby in her arms.  Her weathered face is illuminated by the light of a single lamp.  The caption states that she was the only health-care provider for a 400 square-mile area.  Her story was one among many others that depicted a second battlefront of the civil rights era:  the fight to keep communities alive. Behind the bloody protests were the volunteers with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who staged demonstrations such as  in front of a whites-only private pool and encouraged Hamer, since she dropped out of school to support  her family like so many other black women of her time.

The exhibit will be on display until the end of October, on the eve of the November elections, and stand as a point of discussion with some of the same social justice issues being debated today.  

According to Mann, Hamer’s rejection was a catalyst for her political involvement and she later ran for a senate seat and became a public voice until the end of her life. However, she was propelled to action mainly by her exacerbation.  “I’m sick and tired,” said Hamer, “of being sick and tired.”