Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977), was an American civil rights leader, women’s rights activist, and community organizer. She co-founded the Freedom Democratic Party and sat as vice-chair, and in 1964 she represented the Democratic National Convention.
Hamer was born in Montgomery County, Mississippi on October 6, 1917. She was the last of 20 children of Ella and James Lee Townsend. She began picking cotton at age 6, between picking season she attended a one-room classroom on the plantation she lived on with her family. She enjoyed school and loved reading. But, at age 12, Hamer had to leave school to support her parents. Because she was literate she was selected as the plantations record keeper and
In 1962 Hamer became involved in the Civil Rights Movement and tried to register to vote but was unsuccessful the first several attempts due to local and state loopholes put in place to prevent blacks and Native Americans from voting. Because she tried to register to vote, she was fired from her job and shot at 16 times in a drive-by shooting by white supremacists. Her life was threatened on numerous occasions and she was nearly beaten to death while in police custody which resulted in permanent physical damage. But, that did not stop Hamer. She persisted and continued to organize voter registration drives and a multitude of civil rights efforts.
After years of advocacy and struggle, Hamer gained a seat at the political table when the Democratic Party adopted an equality clause. In 1972 Hamer was elected as a national party delegate. She continued to work for equality across all aspects of society and was involved in many projects, including Head Start, National Council of Negro Women, the Freedom Farm Cooperative and the National Women’s Political Caucus. Her activism and hard work changed the political, social and economic landscape for all Americans.
She Made History.
“If I fall, I’ll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I’m not backing off.”
-Fannie Lou Hamer