'God Is Not Going to Put It in Your Lap.' What Made Fannie Lou Hamer’s Message on Civil Rights So Radical—And So EnduringRoundup
tags: civil rights, Fannie Lou Hamer
Keisha N. Blain is an Associate Professor of History at the University of Pittsburgh and President of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). She is the author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom.
In recent years, amid increasing white supremacist violence and a disturbing run of mass shootings, “thoughts and prayers” have been offered again and again. They may well soothe hearts and minds. But activists have also pushed back against the idea that they provide any solution.
That same idea was powerfully articulated more than half a century ago by Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist born on Oct. 6, 1917.
“You can pray until you faint, but if you don’t get up and try to do something, God is not going to put it in your lap.” With characteristic aplomb, Hamer delivered these powerful words at a mass meeting in Indianola, Miss., in September 1964.
Hamer’s bold message—that each of us has the responsibility to work toward the just and equal society we envision—left a lasting impression on those in attendance that evening at Indianola’s Negro Baptist Church. The fact that Hamer would tell a room filled with religious people that prayer only went so far revealed the depth of her fearless activism.
A woman of faith, Hamer believed that God was on her side and favored everyone fighting for the rights and equality of black people. But she also understood that faith alone could not bring an end to racial injustice in this country. And faith alone could not dismantle white supremacy.
Hamer’s bold message to “get up and try to do something” was one that all Americans committed to change needed to hear in 1964.