Hamer, Fannie Lou (1917-1977) | Amistad Research Center
Fannie Lou Hamer was a civil rights activist at the height of the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi. She was a member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, as well as other organizations that sought to assist the lives of African Americans.
Born on October 6, 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi, Hamer was the youngest of twenty children born to Jim and Ella Townsend. The family worked as sharecroppers moving to Sunflower County, Mississippi, in 1919. At the age of nine, Hamer joined the family picking cotton, but was able to start her education in a plantation school at that time.
She married Perry "Pap" Hamer, another sharecropper in 1945, and worked on the Dee Marlow Plantation from 1947-1962. She attended the first mass meeting of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in Ruleville, Mississippi, and then made her first failed attempt to register to vote with eighteen other sharecroppers in Indianola, Mississippi. As a result of this failed attempt, she was fired from her job on the Marlow Plantation and forced from her home. The Hamer's moved to the town of Ruleville, where the William Tucker family took them in until the violence forced them to move again to a neighboring county. In 1963, she passed the Mississippi literacy test and became a registered voter. She began a more active role in the Civil Rights Movement, working to obtain federal commodities for underprivileged black families, and with SNCC as a field secretary organizing voter registration campaigns and welfare programs. Hamer was arrested in Winona, Mississippi, on a return trip from a voter registration workshop and severely beaten while in custody as were three others also arrested. They remained jailed for three days until their release was demanded by James Bevel and Andrew Young.
In 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was founded due to lack of acceptance of Blacks into the regular state Democratic Party. Hamer became vice chairperson of MFDP, which sent a delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey as a challenge to the seating of the regular Mississippi delegation. During the National Convention, Hamer made a television address to the convention explaining the poverty, unemployment, disfranchisement, intimidation, and violence that existed in Mississippi toward African Americans. The Convention offered a compromise, which was refused by MFDP, to seat two members of the regular delegation and two members of MFDP with no voting power. After the Civil Rights Act of 1965, the National Convention pledged not to seat any delegation in the 1968 Democratic Convention, which discriminated against Blacks in the selection of delegates. Hamer also attempted to run for Congress in 1964 from the Second Mississippi Congressional District against the white incumbent, Jamie Whitten, but was not allowed on the regular ballot. The MFDP conceived the "Freedom Ballot" on which all candidates' names were placed. Jamie Whitten received only 49 votes to 33,009 votes on the "Freedom Ballot." In continuing the fight for the vote, Hamer appealed to Congress, with Victoria Grey and Annie DeVone, in a dramatic challenge to the House of Representatives against the seating of the five regular Mississippi representatives. Their challenge was argued on the floor of the House and defeated. These three women were the first African American women to ever sit on the floor of the House.
In 1966, she became a member of the National Committee for Free Elections in Sunflower, Mississippi. Hamer was the plaintiff in a suit charging discrimination for the 1965 election. In June 8, 1967 the municipal elections in Sunflower and Moorhead Counties were overturned by the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and were the first elections set aside because African Americans were denied the vote. Hamer continued to be active as a member of the Democratic National Committee for Mississippi from 1968 to 1971.
In 1969, Hamer founded the Freedom Farms Corporation (FFC), a nonprofit venture designed to help needy families, both black and white, to raise food and livestock on which to live. The FFC provided social services, minority business opportunities, scholarships, and grants for education. Hamer continued her civic and political activities throughout the seventies and received many awards and honorary degrees for her activism. By 1976, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a radical mastectomy. Unfortunately, her fight with cancer was not won and she died in Mound Bayou Hospital on March 14, 1977.