Fannie Lou Hamer
I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Whether you have a Ph.D., D.D., or no D, we're in this bag together.
—Fannie Lou Hamer
Born 1917 in rural Mississipi to Jim and Ella Townsend, she was the youngest of twenty children. Her parents were sharecroppers and she was the granddaughter of a slave. Her life was circumscribed by the virulent racism in the South. Refusing to yield to the position designated to her by society, Fannie Lou Hamer eventually became the embodiment of the changes incited by the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
She began working in the cotton fields at the age of six, then quit school at twelve in order to contribute to the family's support. She later married another sharecropper, "Pap" Hamer.
In 1962, seeking a life beyond sharecropping, she took a bus with others going to the county seat to register to vote. On the return trip, they were stopped by police, arrested and beaten. Returning to the farm, she was dismissed by the owner who informed her that she could no longer remain there if she continued with her efforts to register. Leaving her husband behind, she took refuge with friends where they were promptly attacked by night riders.
She failed in her first and second attempts at the voter registration tests. Informing the court clerk, "You'll see me every 30 days till I pass," she finally did on her third attempt in 1963 only to have her voting rights abrogated because she could not afford the polling tax. Vowing that she was determined to "become a first-class citizen [and] ...to get every Negro in the state of Mississippi registered," she devoted herself to the Civil Rights Movement.
In 1962, encouraged by the voter registration drives of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), particularly the latter, she became actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Initially, she was a key organizer for voter registration drives in Mississippi but later as a field secretary for SNCC, she traveled extensively throughout the south. In 1963, she and other SNCC workers were arrested and jailed in Montgomery County, where they were brutally beaten. As a result, she never fully recovered from injuries to her kidneys and a permanent blood clot in her eye, which resulted in diminishing sight. | Continued
Fannie Lou Hamer and the Fight for the Vote, Penny Coleman, Millbrook Press, 1994.
Fannie Lou Hamer: Fighting for the Right to Vote, Laura Baskes Litwin, Enslow Publishers Inc, 2002.
Fannie Lou Hamer: From Sharecropping to Politics, David Rubel, Silver Burdett Press, 1990.
For Freedom's Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, Chana Kai Lee, University of Illinois Press, 1999.
This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, Kay Mills, Plume, 1994.
Search for 'Fannie Lou Hamer' on Amazon.com or Amazon.ca.
Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage's Ordinary People Living Extraordinary Lives: The Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi
Fannie Lou Hamer Project: Defining Campaign Finance as a Civil Rights Issue
USM Libraries and the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage's An Oral History with Fannie Lou Hamer
Videos & DVDs
Fannie Lou Hamer: Everyday Battle (2000). VHS, 30 minutes.
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