By Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
"I am sick and tired of being sick and tired." - Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Hamer was a central figure in the African American civil rights movement. She was the founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and later the National Women's Political Caucus. The courage she demonstrated in working to secure the right of African Americans to vote and to end segregation garnered national attention and brought increased awareness throughout the country of the plight faced by African Americans in the South.
Fannie Lou Hamer was born Fannie Lou Townsend on October 16, 1917, the youngest of twenty children. Her parents, Jim and Lou Ella, were sharecroppers in Montgomery County, Mississippi. By the age of six Fannie Lou began working alongside her parents and siblings in the arduous task of planting and harvesting crops. Her interest in the civil rights movement began in the early 1960s when she attended a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) meeting for the first time. The SNCC focused on voter registration for disenfranchised African Americans. Fannie Lou was determined to vote, and took the state required literacy test three times before passing. She became a registered voter in January of 1963.
Hamer's dedication to the cause of equality remained resolute. Hamer and other civil rights activists traveled to Winona, Mississippi and refused to comply with the local segregation law. In response, law enforcement arrested the group. While in jail Fannie Lou was savagely beaten by two inmates at the instigation of local police. For the remainder of her life Fannie Lou suffered permanent damage to her eye, her kidneys, and her leg.
The following year Hamer founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (1962) and addressed the nation at the National Democratic Convention, saying racial discrimination "is not Mississippi's problem. It is America's problem."
Click to find books and other materials on Fannie Lou Hamer are available at your Milwaukee Public Library.