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Fannie Lou Hamer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Hamer 1964-08-22.jpg
Hamer in 1964
Fannie Lou Townsend

(1917-10-06)October 6, 1917
DiedMarch 14, 1977(1977-03-14) (aged 59)
Burial placeRuleville, Mississippi, U.S.
OrganizationNational Women's Political Caucus
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
National Council of Negro Women
Known forCivil rights leader
TitleVice chairwoman of Freedom Democratic Party; Co-founder of National Women's Political Caucus
Political partyFreedom Democratic Party
MovementCivil rights movement
Women's rights
Spouse(s)Perry "Pap" Hamer
AwardsInductee of the National Women's Hall of Fame

Fannie Lou Hamer (/ˈhmər/; née Townsend; October 6, 1917 – March 14, 1977) was an American voting and women's rights activist, community organizer, and a leader in the civil rights movement. She was the co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Hamer also organized Mississippi's Freedom Summer along with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She was also a co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus, an organization created to recruit, train, and support women of all races who wish to seek election to government office.[1]

Hamer began civil rights activism in 1962, continuing until her health declined nine years later. She was known for her use of spiritual hymnals and quotes and her resilience in leading the civil rights movement for black women in Mississippi. She was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by white supremacists and police while trying to register for and exercise her right to vote. She later helped and encouraged thousands of African-Americans in Mississippi to become registered voters, and helped hundreds of disenfranchised people in her area through her work in programs like the Freedom Farm Cooperative. She unsuccessfully ran for Mississippi senator in 1964 and the Mississippi State Senate in 1971. In 1970 she led legal action against the government of Sunflower County, Mississippi, for continued illegal segregation.

Hamer died on March 14, 1977 (aged 59), in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Her memorial service was widely attended and her eulogy was delivered by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Andrew Young.[2] She was posthumously inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993.

YouTube Encyclopedic

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  • ✪ Fannie Lou Hamer: Stand Up | MPB
  • ✪ Fannie Lou Hamer Tells Her Story 1963
  • ✪ Fannie Lou Hamer's ....Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired
  • ✪ "Sick & Tired of Being Sick & Tired": Hearing Fannie Lou Hamer
  • ✪ Fannie Lou Hamer Runs for Congress 1964


- [Fannie] By the time I was 10 or 12, I just wished to God I was white you know because they had food to eat, they didn't work, they had money, they had nice homes and we would nearly freeze, we never had food, we worked all the time, and didn't have nothing. (emotional music) - And we all lived on D. Marlow's plantation, and Fannie Lou worked on the D. Marlow's plantation. She worked there like 18 years. - The persons who worked on the plantations, the sharecroppers, could not leave on his or her free will. I call it neo-slavery because it was in fact slavery. - Mrs. Hamer she was 44 years old and had never lived any place but on a plantation, so she wanted to go. I mean they were hostages really. You know they couldn't leave without approval of the plantation owner, and they didn't get much money so they didn't have a lot of money to run away with. All of what they had accumulated was taken away from them by an overseer, a white overseer on the plantation who poisoned their mules and destroyed their crops, and disabled their automobiles. But Mrs. Hamer, she was a very determined person and she had been trying all her life to get away from the plantation. - [Narrator] The direction of Fannie Lou Hamer's life changed in August 1962 when the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or SNCC, held a public meeting in nearby Ruleville. - I can remember in 1962 this lady named Mary Tucker. She and my mom was best of friends, and she told my moms that they was having a mass meeting at William Chapel Church. And she asked my mom did she want to come? - [Fannie] And they talked about how it was all right that we could register to vote. And they was talking about we could vote out people that we didn't want in office. I'd never heard until 1962 that black people could register to vote. - And you can understand why you got 70% of the population of the whole county, black, and then you got nothing but white people in office. - [Fannie] So then they asked who would go down on Friday, which was the 31st to try and register. So I went down, I was one of the person that said I would go. - And people were really nervous about this trip to try and register to vote, a hostile act directed at white supremacy. - I was on the bus, and everybody on there was afraid, even myself. White men in trucks were driving by, waving guns, and yelling you know obscenities at us, and so these people on the bus were kind of upset and Fannie Lou Hamer started to sing. ♪ This little light of mine ♪ I'm gonna let it shine - She began to sing "This Little Light," and people calmed down and were ready to face whatever they had to face. ♪ This little light of mine - And just with the power of her voice, was clear that she was easing the fear. ♪ Let it shine - Well it didn't take long for the registrar and other people to shut down the circuit clerk's office where you went to register to vote. And so now people had to go back home. - When they was on their way back home they got stopped by the highway patrol, and the reason they got stopped highway patrol told 'em that the bus was too yellow. You riding a school bus, what other color it's gonna be? Before she made it home, quite naturally the registrar called D. Marlow and letting him know that Fannie Lou was down there trying to register to vote. - [Fannie] And the land owner drove up, he said you'll have to go down and withdraw your registration or you will have to leave this place. And I didn't call myself saying something smart, but I couldn't understand it and I also didn't know the way I could and told him that I didn't go down there to register for him I went down there to register for myself. - And he said that well you'll have to go, and so he pulled away and she went back into the house, and after she and her family met, had a little meeting to decide what they were gonna do, she would leave her husband and her two daughters on the plantation and that she would leave so that they could bring in the crop so that they wouldn't owe the plantation owner any money. - Daddy took Mama to Miss Mary Tucker's house. On the tenth of September of 1962, my daddy felt some kind of way that Mama wasn't safe there, so we all got together, packed up some clothes, and he got my mom and took her to Sumner, Mississippi. - [Narrator] Mr. Hamer's premonition was accurate. That very night, the Tucker house was attacked. - [Fannie] The tenth of September is when they shot in that house 16 times, you know to kill me. - [Narrator] On the bus trip to register to vote, Mrs. Hamer had caught the eye of civil rights organizers who then wanted her to attend a SNCC conference in Nashville. - Bob Moses called me and told me to go and find the lady who did the singing on the bus. I found her up in Tallahatchie County in a little shack, plantation shack, and I walk into the room there's this wingback chair with the back to the door, and a potbelly stove, coal burning red, and I said Bob Moses sent me to get Fannie Lou Hamer and she stood up and said "I'm Fannie Lou Hamer." I mean, ready to go. I mean didn't know if I was a kidnapper or what. You know, never thought about that. - She left with him, and that woman been traveling ever since. - Mrs. Hamer's presence at the 1962 SNCC conference in Nashville where you could see for the first time, you know a local person from Mississippi reflecting exactly what you wanted to find in the rural south. It becomes clear we're dealing with somebody different. This is no submissive, docile, servile, sharecropper. This is a woman of considerable strength. - When she stepped forward, I don't think anyone at SNCC realized how strong she was and she may not have realized how strong she was. - And so Fannie Lou Hamer was just what we had been looking for. 'Cause she didn't wait around. I mean she just got right to work continuously canvasing communities and encouraging people to go to the courthouse. - She said 'cause voting is your voice. You know to decide on who you want to represent you, or who you want to be your president. - [Narrator] On June 9, 1963, Fannie Lou Hamer was returning by bus from a voter registration conference in South Carolina. - They stopped in Winona, Mississippi and some of them wanted to use the bathroom, some of them wanted to get food, but at the time she was still on the bus and when she did decide, she seen 'em running out of the place and she stepped off to see what was going on and somebody told her to get back on the bus, but this highway patrol hollered at somebody else told get that one there, which was my mom and they took 'em to jail. - [Fannie] And I was beaten in jail 'til my body was just hard as metal. I'm suffering now with a blood clot in the artery to the left eye, and a permanent kidney injury on the right side. From the time that I began working, I never had a mind to stop but after that happened to me in Winona, then I knew that it wouldn't be anything would stop me other than death. - [Narrator] In 1964, as a founder of the new Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, Fannie Lou Hamer ran for Congress. - Walked into the secretary of state's office and this white lady said, "What you niggers want?" Said, we looked at her and then Mrs. Hamer said, "Well, I want to run for Congress." And she's surprised. She looked at us and then she go back in there she says, "Hey, hey y'all!" Said, "There's two niggers out here "that said they want to run for Congress." 10, 15 eyes are now on us, you know? And so we started standing there and so she come and put this pile of papers on the counter and said, "Fill these out." Fannie Lou and I go out into the corridor up there and fill out the papers, and bring them back. She says, "Okay this is okay, "but you need a cashier check $500 "made out to the Democratic Party Executive Committee." So we go out into the corridor to the phone booth, call the office in here and tell them that we need $500. They said don't move, stay there. Somebody will be there with the money, okay. Sit around a while, then a guy shows up with the check. We take the check into the office, give it to the lady, and start to leave. She said "Hold it, there's one more step." Said, "At the time the candidate qualifies, "the campaign manager has to sign these papers "and this is the last date to qualify. "It's four o'clock. "We're going to shut this down at 4:30, "and if you don't get this all in today, you're out of luck. "You won't be able to run." Fannie Lou Hamer looked at me and she said "Mac, go in there and put your name on them papers "and let's go home." I said, "Oh Mrs. Hamer, come on now you know I don't know "nothing in the world about being a campaign manager." She said, "Mac, you know as much "about being a campaign manager "as I know about running for Congress. "Put your name on the papers and let's go home." - [Narrator] In August 1964, Mrs. Hamer was a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party's delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. - Everybody knew that the state of Mississippi discriminated against black people, denied black people the right to vote. Everybody in the Democratic Party knew that the Democratic Party of Mississippi was an all white and white supremacist party. They weren't even loyal to the Democratic Party. They came to the Democratic Party's conventions supporting Barry Goldwater, the Republican. - They weren't reaching any of the black folks really, 'cause we were carrying hundreds of people. We carried over a thousand people down there to make that application to register to vote. The right to vote was our whole reason for this but we had to now, since we wasn't getting any place in Mississippi, we needed to now make the national Democratic Party put pressure on the local delegation to be democratic. Our challenge before a credentials committee was to try to deny the credentials to the regular Democratic Party. - And Mrs. Hamer spoke before the credentials committee in 1964 in Atlantic City to let the credentials committee know that the integrated delegation should be seated as opposed to the old white guard. And Mrs. Hamer was chosen to speak because of the fire that was in her spirit. Because of her articulation, and really because of her eyes. - It wasn't too long before three white men came to my cell. One of these men was a state highway patrolman, and he said we're going to make you wish you was dead. - When you looked into Mrs. Hamer's eyes, you knew she meant business, you knew that she had been through a lot, and just her very presence commanded respect. - [Fannie] I was carried out of that cell into another cell where they had two Negro prisoners. The state highway patrolman ordered the first Negro to take the blackjack. The first Negro began to beat me, and I was beat by the first Negro until he was exhausted. - I was told that there were people at that, on the credentials committee in tears when they listened to Mrs. Hamer tell her story. - After the first Negro had beat me until he was exhausted, the state highway patrolman ordered the second Negro to take the blackjack. The second Negro began to beat and I began to work my feet and the state highway patrolman ordered the first Negro had beat to sit on my feet to keep me from working my feet. I began to scream and one white man got up and began to beat me in my head and tell me to hush. All of this is on account of we want to register, to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America? The land of the free and the home of the brave? Where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hook because our lives are being threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings in America? Thank you. (applause) - We thought we had the case won. We thought that we had come here and we were gonna get these, the National Democratic Party to say okay. - With Mrs. Hamer's testimony, at that moment without knowing you know the kind of arm twisting that was going on in the background, the kind of threats being made by the White House, Lyndon Johnson's White House, it seemed as if, to me, there would be an actual vote permitted on whether or not to seat the MFDP and my feeling was that if you got that vote, a majority of the convention would vote to seat the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. - [Narrator] But behind the scenes, president Johnson and party leaders had no intention of allowing a vote by the full convention. Instead, they offered a compromise, allowing two members of the Mississippi Freedom Democrats to be recognized as delegates at large. - So they offered us what they call a compromise of two seats at large, really representing nobody. Some had wanted to accept the compromise, and most of the SNCC people were saying no, and they take us off into a little meeting where they're separating us to try to persuade us to accept this compromise, and so and then, and then Mrs. Hamer standing up and you know just saying we shouldn't do this. We are not gonna do this, and then all of us, the delegates vote with her. - So although at one level the challenge failed, that is to say that the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party was not seated, at another level you have to acknowledge that the challenge changed the Democratic Party and in a sense changed the face of Democratic Party politics in the United States. - [Narrator] Shortly after the convention, Fannie Lou Hamer joined fellow SNCC activists on a trip to Africa. - She became really proud and more statesmanlike. You know she, I think she, when she saw these African people and they way their leadership there and she just kind of, just lifted her. - [Fannie] It was just remarkable. You know I saw some of the most intelligent people, you know people because I had never in my life seen you know where black people running banks. I'd never seen nobody you know behind a counter in a bank. I had never seen nobody running, black running the government in my life so it was quite a revelation to me. You know it was, because I was really learning something for the first time because then I could feel myself never ever being ashamed of my ancestors and my background. - [Narrator] After the 1964 elections, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenged the legitimacy of Mississippi's congressional delegation. Fannie Lou Hamer was one of three women who traveled to Washington to oppose the seating of five Mississippi congressman. - For the opening vote, the black ladies are asked to stand and they gave them a seat finally in the back of the US House of Representatives. - And that challenge allowed Fannie Lou Hamer, Victoria Gray, and Annie Devine to be the first black women to be seated on the House floor while the challenge were heard. - [Narrator] Despite her role in the national civil rights movement, Fannie Lou Hamer remained active in her local community. - She starts doing the most practical kinds of things and telling people plant tomatoes. We are hungry, plant beans, plant okra. - You know back then people didn't have food. Half the time didn't have clothes, and when she would go to different areas up north she would tell them you know that people down here in the south they needed clothes, they needed food, and they would send boxes and boxes and boxes of clothes. Our front porch would be stacked up with boxes of clothes. - I'd watch this lady sit out in her front yard and peel peaches and pears and put them up in jars and give 'em away. - [Fannie] We just thought you know if we had land to grow some stuff on, then it would be a help to us because living on the farm on some plantation, they still give you a place to grow stuff, so we founded Freedom Farms in 1969 and we grew our own vegetables you know butter beans, peas, okra, potatoes, peanuts, and then a cash crop. The plan of the thing is that it can grow to produce enough that people just won't know what hunger is. - She had a component of that Freedom Farm called the pig bank, where she was able through the National Council of Negro Women, to accumulate some pigs. If a family came in and they were willing to take a piglet, and raise this piglet, and then when this piglet got grown and had pigs, they would bring a piglet back to the bank to replenish the bank so that she could give 'em to more people. - Mrs. Hamer looked out for Ruleville, for Sunflower County, and she shared whatever earnings she received so often with people in the community. - She would buy lots, so the house could be built on that lot. - She believed that a family ought to have a house. They ought to have education, and they ought to have food and a job. - [Fannie] I couldn't just afford to sit down and not do nothing, and I know something out there is happening you know, and I knew I could say something say you know this is not right and I'm going to get out here and we're going to do something about it. - Indigenous leadership. You know part of them, and you think about a person running for Congress sitting out in the yard shelling peas. - She was able to encourage us to keep on moving. She was able to inspire and encourage us from her own physical pain. - And she will go down in history as one of the greatest folk leaders that this country has ever produced. - She was an awesome person. Whether she was cooking, whether she was singing, or whether she was trying to take somebody to get somebody to go to the polls and register. But whatever she did, she did her part. And I say this, she was an awesome woman. I loved her, I still love her, I miss her. Can't get no better than that. - [Narrator] Fannie Lou Hamer died on March 14, 1977. She was 59 years old. Her good friend Charles McLaurin arranged for her burial on land she owned. - The reason she's buried where she's buried is that a few days before she passed away, and I went to visit her and she said "Mac, promise me I will not be buried on a plantation. "I've been on a plantation all my life, "and I don't want to be buried on it." We have a commitment to keep her legacy alive. The statue was one way that she'd always be standing tall in the Delta. We set it up as high as it's sitting so that people who come to the statue will be looking up at her. ♪ This little light of mine ♪ I'm gonna let it shine ♪ This little light of mine ♪ I'm gonna let it let it shine ♪ This little light of mine ♪ I'm gonna let it shine ♪ Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine ♪


Early life, family, and education

Fannie Lou Townsend was born on October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, Mississippi, the last of the 20 children of Ella and James Lee Townsend.[3] Some of their animal stock was mysteriously poisoned, Hamer suspected a local white supremacist had caused the deaths of their livestock and said of this incident: "... our stock got poisoned. We knowed [sic] this white man had done it .... That white man did it just because we, were gettin' somewhere. White people never like to see Negroes get a little success. All of this stuff is no secret in the state of Mississippi."[4] Thereafter, in 1919 the Townsends moved to Sunflower County, Mississippi to work as sharecroppers on W. D. Marlow's plantation.[5] From age six she picked cotton with her family. During the winters of 1924 through 1930 she attended the plantation's one-room school provided for the sharecroppers' children, open between picking seasons. She loved reading and excelled in spelling bees and reciting poetry, but at age 12 she had to leave school to help support her aging parents.[6][7][4] By age 13, she could pick 200–300 pounds (90 to 140 kg) of cotton daily, despite having a disfigured leg as a result of polio.[8][9][10]

Fannie continued to develop her reading and interpretation skills in Bible study at her church;[6] in later years Lawrence Guyot admired her ability to connect "the biblical exhortations for liberation and [the struggle for civil rights] any time that she wanted to and move in and out to any frames of reference."[11] In 1944, after the plantation owner discovered that she was literate, she was selected as its time and record keeper.[12] The following year she married Perry "Pap" Hamer, a tractor driver on the Marlow plantation, and they remained there for the next 18 years.[5]

We had a little money so we took care of her and raised her. She was sickly too when I got her; suffered from malnutrition. Then she got run over by a car and her leg was broken. So she's only in fourth grade now.

 —- Fannie Lou Hamer[4]

The Hamers later raised two girls, whom they decided to adopt.[3] One of the girls died of internal hemorrhaging after she was denied admission to the local hospital on account of her mother's activism.[4][13]

Hamer became interested in the civil rights movement in the 1950s.[14] She heard leaders in the local movement speak at annual Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) conferences, held in Mound Bayou, Mississippi.[14] The annual conferences discussed black voting rights and among other civil rights issues faced by black communities in the area.[12]

Civil rights activism

White supremacist attacks

In 1962, Hamer first learned about the constitutional right to vote from volunteers at the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who had visited her in Mound Bayou. She began to take direct political action in the civil rights movement. On August 31, she traveled with other activists to Indianola, Mississippi, hoping to register to vote. The registration test, crafted to keep blacks from voting, asked her to explain de facto laws. "I knowed [sic] as much about a facto law as a horse knows about Christmas Day," she recalled. Rejected, she came home to find the "boss man raisin' Cain." She had better withdraw her registration, she was told, because "we're not ready for that in Mississippi."[15]

"I didn't try to register for you," Hamer told her boss. "I tried to register for myself."[15] She was immediately fired and kicked off the plantation. Her husband was required to stay on the land until the end of the harvest.[16][3][17] Hamer moved between homes over the next several days for protection. On September 10, while staying with friend Mary Tucker, Hamer was shot at 16 times in a drive-by shooting by white supremacists.[12][18][19] No one was injured in the event.[9] The next day, Hamer and her family evacuated to nearby Tallahatchie County,[4] for fear of retaliation by the Ku Klux Klan over her attempt to vote. They remained there nearly three months.[20][14][21] On December 4, just after returning to her hometown, she went to the courthouse in Indianola to take the literacy test again, but failed and was turned away.[12] Hamer told the registrar that "You'll see me every 30 days till I pass".[4]

I guess if I'd had any sense, I'd have been a little scared — but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.

— Fannie Lou Hamer[22]

Registering to vote

On January 10, 1963, Hamer took the literacy test a third time.[12] She was successful and was informed that she was now a registered voter in the State of Mississippi. However, when she attempted to vote that fall, she discovered her registration gave her no actual power to vote as the county required voters to have two poll tax receipts.[4] This requirement had emerged in some (mostly former confederate) states after the right to vote was first given to all races by the 1870 ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[23][24] These laws along with the literacy tests and local government acts of coercion, were used against blacks and Native Americans.[25][26] Hamer later paid for and acquired the requisite poll tax receipts.[4]

We been waitin' all our lives, and still gettin' killed, still gettin' hung, still gettin' beat to death. Now we're tired waitin'!

—Fannie Lou Hamer[4]

Hamer had begun to become more involved in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee after these incidents.[4] She attended many Southern Christian Leadership Conferences (SCLC), which she at times taught classes for, and also various SNCC workshops. She traveled to gather signatures for petitions to attempt to be granted federal resources for impoverished black families across the south. She also became a field secretary for voter registration and welfare programs for the SNCC. Many of these first actions to attempt to register more black voters in Mississippi met with the same problems Hamer had had in trying to register herself.[27]

Police brutality

After becoming a field secretary for the SNCC in 1963, Hamer decided to attend a pro-citizenship conference by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in Charleston, South Carolina.[3] Travelling by bus with co-activists, the party stopped for a break in Winona, Mississippi.[4] Some of the activists went inside a local cafe, but were refused service by the waitress. Shortly after, a Mississippi State highway patrolman took out his billy club and intimidated the activists into leaving. One of the group decided to take down the officer's license plate number; while doing so the patrolman and a police chief entered the cafe and arrested the party. Hamer left the bus and inquired if they could continue their journey back to Greenwood, Mississippi.[3] At that point the officers arrested her as well.[4][16] Once in county jail, Hamer's colleagues were beaten by the police in the booking room (including 15 year old June Johnson, for not saying "sir" in her replies to the officers).[28][29] Hamer was then taken to a cell where two inmates were ordered, by the state trooper, to beat her using a blackjack.[4] The police ensured she was held down during the almost fatal beating, and when she started to scream, beat her further. Hamer was groped repeatedly by officers during the assault. When she attempted to resist, she states an officer, "walked over, took my dress, pulled it up over my shoulders, leaving my body exposed to five men."[30] Another in her group was beaten until she was unable to talk; a third, a teenager, was beaten, stomped on, and stripped.[31] An activist from the SNCC came the next day to see if they could help, but was beaten until his eyes were shut when he did not address an officer in the expected deferential manner.[9][32]

Hamer was released on June 12, 1963. She needed more than a month to recuperate from the beatings and never fully recovered.[27] Though the incident had profound physical and psychological effects, including a blood clot over her left eye and permanent damage on one of her kidneys,[33] she returned to Mississippi to organize voter registration drives, including the "Freedom Ballot Campaign", a mock election, in 1963, and the "Freedom Summer" initiative the following year. She was known to the volunteers of Freedom Summer as a motherly figure who believed that the civil rights effort should be multi-racial in nature. In addition to her "Northern" guests, Hamer played host to Tuskegee University student activists Sammy Younge Jr. and Wendell Paris.[34] Younge and Paris grew to become profound activists and organizers under Hamer's tutelage.[34] (Younge was murdered in 1966 at a Standard Oil gas station in Macon County, Alabama, for using a "whites-only" restroom.)[35]

Freedom Democratic Party and Congressional run

In 1964, Hamer helped co-found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), in an effort to prevent the regional all-white Democratic party's attempts to stifle African-American voices, and to ensure there was a party for all people that did not stand for any form of exploitation and discrimination (especially towards minorities).[36][4] Following the founding of the MFDP, Hamer and other activists traveled to the 1964 Democratic National Convention to stand as the official delegation from the state of Mississippi.[36] Hamer's televised testimony was interrupted because of a scheduled speech that President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered to thirty governors in the East Room of the White House. However, most of the major news networks broadcast her testimony later that evening to the nation, giving Hamer and the MFDP much exposure.[37]

All of this is on account we want to register, to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives are threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings in America?

— Fannie Lou Hamer[3]

Senator Hubert Humphrey tried to propose a compromise on behalf of the President that would give the Freedom Democratic Party two seats.[38] He stated this would lead to a reformed convention in 1968.[3] The MFDP rejected the compromise, with Hamer saying, "We didn't come all the way up here to compromise for no more than we'd gotten here. We didn't come all this way for no two seats when all of us is tired."[39][38] Afterwards, all of the white members from the Mississippi delegation walked out.[3]

In 1968 the MFDP was finally seated, after the Democratic Party adopted a clause which demanded equality of representation from their states' delegations.[40] In 1972, Hamer was elected as a national party delegate.[38]

Freedom Farm Cooperative and later activism

In 1964, Hamer unsuccessfully ran for a seat in the U.S. Senate.[3] She continued to work on other projects, including grassroots-level Head Start programs and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign. With the help of Julius Lester and Mary Varela, she published her autobiography in 1967.[41] She said she was "tired of all this beating" and "there's so much hate. Only God has kept the Negro sane".[4]

Hamer sought equality across all aspects of society.[42] In Hamer's view, African-Americans were not technically free if they were not afforded the same opportunities as whites, including those in the agricultural industry. Sharecropping was the most common form of post-slavery activity and income in the South.[43] The New Deal era expanded so that many blacks were physically and economically displaced due to the various projects appearing around the country. Hamer did not wish to have blacks be dependent on any group for any longer; so, she wanted to give them a voice through an agricultural movement.[44]

James Eastland, a white senator, was among the groups of people who sought to keep African-Americans disenfranchised and segregated from society.[45] His influence on the overarching agricultural industry often suppressed minority groups to keep whites as the only power force in America.[44] Hamer objected to this, and consequently pioneered the Freedom Farm Cooperative (FFC) in 1969, an attempt to redistribute economic power across groups and to solidify an economic standing amongst African-Americans.[42] In the same vein as the Freedom Farm Collective, Hamer partnered with the NCNW to establish an interracial and interregional support program called The Pig Project to provide protein for people who previously could not afford meat.[46]

Hamer made it her mission to make land more accessible to African-Americans.[42] To do this, she started a small "pig bank" with a starting donation from the National Council of Negro Women of five boars and fifty gilts.[47] Through the pig bank, a family could care for a pregnant female pig until it bore its offspring; subsequently, they would raise the piglets and use them for food and financial gain.[47][42] Within five years, thousands of pigs were available for breeding.[47] Hamer used the success of the bank to begin fundraising for the main farming corporation.[47][42] She was able to convince the then-editor of the Harvard Crimson, James Fallows, to write an article that advocated for donations to the FFC.[44] Eventually, the FFC had raised around $8,000 which allowed Hamer to purchase 40 acres of land previously owned by a black farmer who could no longer afford to occupy the land.[48] This land became the Freedom Farm.[48] The farm had three main objectives.[42] These were to establish an agricultural organization that could supplement the nutritional needs of America's most disenfranchised people; to provide acceptable housing development; and to create an entrepreneurial business incubator that would provide resources for new companies and re-training for those with limited education but manual labor experience.[49]

Over time, the FFC offered various other services such as financial counseling, a scholarship fund and a housing agency.[47] The FFC aided in securing 35 Federal Housing Administration (FHA) subsidized houses for struggling black families.[48] Through her success, Hamer managed to acquire a new home, which served as inspiration for others to begin building themselves up.[42] The FFC ultimately disbanded in 1975 due to lack of funding.[49]

In 1971 Hamer co-founded the National Women's Political Caucus. She emphasized the power women could hold by acting as a voting majority in the country regardless of race or ethnicity, saying "A white mother is no different from a black mother. The only thing is they haven't had as many problems. But we cry the same tears."[3]

Later life and death

While having surgery in 1961 to remove a tumor, 44-year-old Hamer was also given a hysterectomy without consent by a white doctor; this was a frequent occurrence under Mississippi's compulsory sterilization plan to reduce the number of poor blacks in the state.[50][51][52] Hamer is credited with coining the phrase "Mississippi appendectomy" as a euphemism for the involuntary or uninformed sterilization of black women, common in the South in the 1960s.[53] She came out of an extended period in hospital for nervous exhaustion in January 1972, and was hospitalized again in January 1974 for a nervous breakdown. By June 1974, Hamer was said to be in extremely poor health.[3] Two years later she was diagnosed with and had surgery for breast cancer.[3]

Hamer died of complications of hypertension and breast cancer on March 14, 1977, aged 59, at Taborian Hospital, Mound Bayou, Mississippi.[54] She was buried in her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi. Her tombstone is engraved with one of her famous quotes, "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."[55]

Her primary memorial service, held at a church, was completely full. An overflow service was held at Ruleville Central High School,[56] with over 1,500 people in attendance. Andrew Young, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, spoke at the RCHS service, saying "None of us would be where we are now had she not been there then".[57]

Honors and awards

A sign honoring Fannie Lou Hamer for her work in Ruleville, Mississippi.
A sign honoring Fannie Lou Hamer for her work in Ruleville, Mississippi.

Hamer received many awards both in her lifetime and posthumously. She received a Doctor of Law from Shaw University,[58] and honorary degrees from Columbia College Chicago in 1970[59] and Howard University in 1972.[60] She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993.[3]

Hamer also received the Paul Robeson Award from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority,[61] the Mary Church Terrell Award and Honorary lifetime member from Delta Sigma Theta, the National Sojourner Truth Meritorious Service Award.[62] A remembrance for her life was given in the US House of Representatives on the 100th anniversary of her birth, October 6, 2017, by Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.[14]


Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden in Ruleville, Mississippi
Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden in Ruleville, Mississippi

In 1970 Ruleville Central High School held a "Fannie Lou Hamer Day". Six years later, the City of Ruleville itself celebrated a "Fannie Lou Hamer Day".[13][63] In 1977 Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson wrote "95 South (All of the Places We've Been)", in Hamer's honor. Ta-Nehisi Coates described a 1994 live solo version of the song as "a haunting and somber ode."[64]

In 1994 the Ruleville post office was named the Fannie Lou Hamer Post Office by an act of Congress.[65] Additionally, The Fannie Lou Hamer National Institute on Citizenship and Democracy was founded in 1997 as a summer seminar and K–12 workshop program.[66] In 2014 it was merged with the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) Civil Rights Education Complex on the campus of Jackson State University, Jackson, to create the Fannie Lou Hamer Institute @ COFO: A Human and Civil Rights Interdisciplinary Education Center. The Hamer Institute @ COFO provides a research library and outreach programs.[66] There is also a Fannie Lou Hamer Public Library in Jackson.[67]

A 2012 collection of suites by trumpeter and composer Wadada Leo Smith, who grew up in segregated Mississippi, Ten Freedom Summers includes "Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, 1964" as one of its 19 suites.[68] A picture book about Hamer's life, Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, was written by Carole Boston Weatherford; it won a Coretta Scott King Award.[69] Hamer is also one of 28 civil rights icons depicted on the Buffalo, New York Freedom Wall.[70] And a quote from Hamer's speech at the 1964 Democratic National Convention is carved on one of the eleven granite columns at the Civil Rights Garden in Atlantic City, where the convention was held.[71]

In 1993 a high school was formed bearing her name with a focus on humanities and social justice. Fannie Lou Hamer freedom high school has a middle school was later opened to further Hamer's legacy.[citation needed]

The third annual Women's March, held in Atlantic City, New Jersey on January 19, 2019, was dedicated to Mrs. Hamer's life and legacy. It was attended by several hundred people representing many organizations. Several students from the Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the South Bronx, NY, attended despite a state of emergency declared by NJ Governor Murphy due to an impending snowstorm. Mrs. Hamer's courageous speech confronting the DNC 55 years earlier, demanding that her Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation be seated instead of the all-white regular delegation, was instrumental in raising the conscience of Americans in favor of voting rights for all. It can be heard on YouTube.


  • Fannie Lou Hamer, Julius Lester, and Mary Varela, Praise Our Bridges: An Autobiography, 1967[41]
  • Hamer, Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, Songs My Mother Taught Me (album), 2015[72]
  • Hamer (2011). The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer: To Tell it Like it is. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 9781604738230. Cf.
  • Lee, Chana Kai, For Freedom's Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, 2000. ISBN 9780252069369
  • Weatherford, Carole Boston, Voice of freedom. Fannie Lou Hamer: spirit of the civil rights movement. Dreamscape Media, 2016. ISBN 9781520016740

See also


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  8. ^ Mills 1997, p. 225.
  9. ^ a b c Zinn, Howard. ""Mississippi 11: Greenwood" from SNCC the New Abolitionists". p. 9.
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Further reading

  • Colman, Penny (1993). Fannie Lou Hamer and the Fight for the Vote. The Millbrook Press
  • Kling, Susan (1979). Fannie Lou Hamer: A Biography. Chicago: Women for Racial and Economic Equality.

External links

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