Fannie Lou Hamer

Quick Look At Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer played an important role in Black history. She was one of many who continually fought for Civil and voters’ rights. She was one of the major advocates and sources of change in these movements.

Early Life

Hamer was born October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, Mississippi. She was the youngest of twenty children to Lou Ella and James Townsend. Whoowee, that’s a lot of kids! Hamer's parents both worked as sharecroppers, and their family lived in poverty. By the time she was six, she was working in the field, picking cotton along with the rest of her family. Knowing her family did not have a lot of money, therefore, neither did she, Hamer left school when she was just twelve to work and didn't return to school after that.

Adult Life

In 1944, she married Perry Hamer, and she continued to work as a sharecropper. Unfortunately, Hamer couldn't have children of her own, so she and her husband adopted two girls. Fannie Lou Hamer and Perry Hamer both worked as sharecroppers for B.D. Marlow until 1962, and Hamer being the only one working on the plantation who could read, was also their timekeeper. In the summer of 1962, she made the decision to attend a meeting near her, held by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee that encouraged African Americans to exercise their right to vote. Little did she know, this meeting would lay the foundation for her career. Hamer was enraged in hearing about efforts that were being made to suppress Black voters. On August 31, 1962, she, along with 17 other people went to their county's courthouse in Indianola to register to vote. Along the way, the group was stopped by law enforcement, and only Hamer and one other person out of the 17 of them were allowed to fill out an application due to an unfair literacy test required for someone to register. On their way back, Hamer's group was stopped again by the police, and fined $100 because "their bus was too yellow!" Wait, what? Yes, you read that right, their bus was too yellow. Simply because of her decision to register to vote, she was fired by B.D. Marlow and forced to leave the plantation that she had lived on for nearly two decades!


The result of Hamer's bravery was disappointing, but it was only a reminder of why she needed to continue fighting for what she believed in. During an interview with the New York Times, she said "They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It's the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people." After this, Hamer began to fight to win other African Americans the right to vote. In June of 1963, she and several others sat in a "Whites only" section of a restaurant and were arrested and badly beaten. This left Hamer with kidney damage and a blood clot in her left eye. In 1964, Hamer co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), in wake of the efforts from the local Democratic Party to block Black participants. At the Democratic Convention of 1964, Hamer announced her bid for Congress. Although she lost and was not able to host a national congress, in her speech and debate she was able to bring the nation's attention to the Civil Rights struggle of Mississippi. The following year, in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voter Rights Act of 1965 into law. This was likely assurance to everyone who was fighting for equal voting rights that their efforts were not in vain, most especially Fannie Lou Hamer, as she was at the forefront of this Voter Rights movement. Hamer continued to fight for Civil Rights, but in 1971, she shifted her focuses toward increasing opportunities for minorities by helping to found the National Women's Political Caucus.

In 1976, Fannie Lou Hamer was diagnosed with breast cancer. Still, she continued her fight for Civil Rights and economic improvement in the Black community. On March 14, 1977, Hamer died of cancer, but her legacy lives on to this very day. She was buried in the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden, and on her tombstone lies one of her most famous quotes; "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." Fannie Lou Hamer continued to fight for what she believed in no matter what hardships she faced. Without her, many of us would likely not have the right to vote to this day. Hamer was not only an activist but a hero and a legend.