Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer was born in Montgomery County, MS, the 20th child to her parents who were sharecroppers. After finishing sixth grade she began picking cotton. Eventually she was employed on a Sunflower County cotton plantation as a timekeeper.
In 1961 Mrs. Hamer attended a SNCC voter registration meeting. As a result of her activism, she was fired from her job and kicked out of her home on the plantation. Ms. Hamer became a SNCC field secretary and started her voter registration work in Indianola, MS. The Hamers relocated to Ruleville, MS.
In June 1963, after attending a voter registration program in Charleston, South Carolina, Hamer and several other Black women were arrested for sitting in a “whites-only” bus station restaurant in Winona, Mississippi. At the Winona jailhouse, she and several of the women were brutally beaten, leaving Hamer with lifelong injuries from a blood clot in her eye, kidney damage, and leg damage.
Ms. Hamer was a key organizer of 1964 Freedom Summer, and of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She spoke for the seating of the MFDP delegation at the National Democratic Convention in Atlanta City, NJ in August 1964. ”When Hamer testified before the Credentials Committee, calling for mandatory integrated state delegations, President Lyndon Johnson held a televised press conference so she would not get any television airtime. But her speech, with its poignant descriptions of racial prejudice in the South, was televised later that night. By 1968, Hamer’s vision for racial parity in delegations had become a reality and Hamer was a member of Mississippi’s first integrated delegation.
Ms. Hamer, Victoria Gray, and Annie Devine became the first Black women to stand in the U.S. Congress when they unsuccessfully protested the Mississippi House election of 1964. Mrs. Hamer traveled extensively, giving influential speeches on behalf of civil rights. In 1971, Hamer helped to found the National Women’s Political Caucus.
Mrs. Hamer was lauded as a powerful singer, and tireless organizer.