Annapolis, MD–Six trailblazing women will be honored Oct. 2 at the 21st annual Fannie Lou Hamer Awards Reception for the lasting contributions they’ve made to Anne Arundel county and the city of Annapolis.
The legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977), an American voting rights activist, civil rights leader, and philanthropist is being celebrated and remembered this year by honoring Marthena Cowart, Gordenia Henson, Kashonna Holland Peters, Scotti Preston, and Sandra Wallace for their outstanding service to the community.
“Mrs. Hamer was a feminist and a civil rights heroine,” said Carl Snowden, chair of the Annapolis-based Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee, Inc. “Each year, on the eve of her birthday, Marylanders pause to honor this Mississippian, a sharecropper, who shared a passion for economic and social justice.”
The awards that bear her name recognize women from various racial backgrounds who, while not necessarily household names, have excelled in their chosen field while working to improve the civil and human rights in the region.
The honorees were selected by a committee of community residents charged to identify six outstanding women who, while not necessarily be household names, have excelled in their chosen field while diligently to improve civil and human rights in the region.
Fannie Lou Hamer was the last of 20 children born to Mississippi sharecropper parents. She was instrumental in organizing Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and later became the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, attending the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, N.J., in that capacity.
Her plainspoken manner and fervent belief in the Biblical righteousness of her cause gained her a reputation as an electrifying speaker. She ran for Congress in 1964 and 1965, and was seated as a member of Mississippi’s official delegation to the Democratic National Convention of 1968, where she was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War.
Hamer also worked on other projects, including grassroots-level Head Start programs, the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Sunflower County, and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign.
Hamer died at the age of 57. One of her famous quotes, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired” is engraved on her tombstone.
This year’s honorees join the ranks of more than 100 notable women, including Sen, Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Administrative Law Judge Tracey Warren Parker, and former Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer.
“We are living right now in a world that is fighting for change on many levels, from social unrest in our cities, to expansive international crises,” said Sen. Mikulski, a 2009 Hamer honoree. “And while the news may seem grim, there is inspiration every day around the world as people come together to bring about peaceful change.”
The awards reception is sponsored by the Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Anne Arundel County and St. John’s College and will include musical performances by Antonette Maddox and Randi Roberts. as well as the Annapolis debut of This Little Light of Mine: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Legacy, a documentary film on Hamer’s life by Robin Hamilton, a freelance journalist and owner of Around Robin, production company.
The proceeds from this events is being used to pay off the debt incurred by building the Civil Rights Foot Soldiers Memorial. Tiffany Mason contributed to this story.
The women honored this year have and are now carrying Fannie Lou Hamer’s torch of service so that she can continue to rest in peace.
President and CEO of Simply Kashonna, Holland is being honored for unabashedly spreading the message of of “bold, fearless, and courageous living” through her work as an author, speaker, and life coach. Through Holland’s book, workshops, talk shows, and events, the Jessup, Md. native is able to assist those struggling to find meaning and direction in life. Holland also serves as ambassador for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women, encouraging women to live heart healthy.
At 16, Paula Peters, of Annapolis, commenced a long career as an advocate for civil, LGBT, and women’s rights in her community. Having served as a political activist, she volunteered for presidential nominee John Kerry, President Barack Obama, and the Hillary Clinton campaign. Peters iss a commissioner on the Anne Arundel County judicial nominating commission.
Gordenia “Deni” Henson’s greatest legacy may be motherhood. A mother of two biological daughters, she balanced a career the film and media industries while fostering 16 children. An Annapolis native, Henson serves as the executive director of the Hoppy Adams Foundation, a nonprofit honoring the legendary disc-jockey Hoppy Adams through philanthropic work. She is also the President of the Peerless Rens Club, a local African American social club established in 1948 that serves the Annapolis community.
Having served in high-profile positions in the federal government for decades, Marthena Cowart, a certified master gardener, spends her days directing the implementation of the landscaping plans she designed for the Civil Rights Foot Soldiers Memorial in downtown Annapolis. Cowart also serves as a board member for the Friends of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra.
Scotti Preston of Glen Burnie has played an integral part of the preservation Historic Annapolis, where she spearheads groundbreaking outreach programs that explore African American history through interpretation and living history. Preston’s extensive volunteerism includes work with Black History Month events, arts programs, educational organizations, local heritage festivals, and the Anne Arundel County school system.
Sandra Wallace lived the Civil Rights movement, attending the first integrated class of Annapolis High School and serving as one of the county’s first African American nurses. After graduating in 1968, the Annapolis native, participated in an equal opportunity professional program for African Americans, becoming the first African American nurse at Crownsville State Hospital in Anne Arundel County.