Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Hamer 1964-08-22.jpg
Hamer in 1964
Fannie Lou Townsend

(1917-10-06)October 6, 1917
DiedMarch 14, 1977(1977-03-14) (aged 59)
Burial placeRuleville, Mississippi, U.S.
OrganizationNational Women's Political Caucus
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee
National Council of Negro Women
Known forCivil rights leader
TitleVice chairwoman of Freedom Democratic Party; Co-founder of National Women's Political Caucus
Political partyFreedom Democratic Party
MovementCivil rights movement
Women's rights
Spouse(s)Perry "Pap" Hamer
AwardsInductee of the National Women's Hall of Fame

Fannie Lou Hamer (ər/; née Townsend; October 6, 1917 – March 14, 1977) was an American voting and women's rights activist, community organizer, and a leader in the civil rights movement. She was the co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Hamer also organized Mississippi's Freedom Summer along with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She was also a co-founder of the National Women's Political Caucus, an organization created to recruit, train, and support women of all races who wish to seek election to government office.[1]

Hamer began civil rights activism in 1962, continuing until her health declined nine years later. She was known for her use of spiritual hymnals and quotes and her resilience in leading the civil rights movement for black women in Mississippi. She was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by white supremacists and police while trying to register for and exercise her right to vote. She later helped and encouraged thousands of African-Americans in Mississippi to become registered voters, and helped hundreds of disenfranchised people in her area through her work in programs like the Freedom Farm Cooperative. She unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1964 and the Mississippi State Senate in 1971. In 1970 she led legal action against the government of Sunflower County, Mississippi, for continued illegal segregation.

Hamer died on March 14, 1977, aged 59, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Her memorial service was widely attended and her eulogy was delivered by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young.[2] She was posthumously inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993.

Early life, family, and education

Fannie Lou Townsend was born on October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, Mississippi, the last of the 20 children of Ella and James Lee Townsend.[3] After some of their animal stock was mysteriously poisoned, Hamer suspected a local white supremacist had done it; she said of this incident: "our stock got poisoned. We knowed [sic] this white man had done it .... That white man did it just because we were gettin' somewhere. White people never like to see Negroes get a little success. All of this stuff is no secret in the state of Mississippi."[4] In 1919 the Townsends moved to Sunflower County, Mississippi to work as sharecroppers on W. D. Marlow's plantation.[5] From age six she picked cotton with her family. During the winters of 1924 through 1930 she attended the one-room school provided for the sharecroppers' children, open between picking seasons. She loved reading and excelled in spelling bees and reciting poetry, but at age 12 she had to leave school to help support her aging parents.[6][7][4] By age 13 she could pick 200–300 pounds (90 to 140 kg) of cotton daily, despite having a leg disfigured by polio.[8][9][10]

Fannie continued to develop her reading and interpretation skills in Bible study at her church;[6] in later years Lawrence Guyot admired her ability to connect "the biblical exhortations for liberation and [the struggle for civil rights] any time that she wanted to and move in and out to any frames of reference."[11] In 1944, after the plantation owner discovered that she was literate, she was selected as its time and record keeper.[12] The following year she married Perry "Pap" Hamer, a tractor driver on the Marlow plantation, and they remained there for the next 18 years.[5]

We had a little money so we took care of her and raised her. She was sickly too when I got her; suffered from malnutrition. Then she got run over by a car and her leg was broken. So she's only in fourth grade now.

 —- Fannie Lou Hamer[4]

The Hamers later raised two girls, whom they decided to adopt.[3] One of the girls died of internal hemorrhaging after she was denied admission to the local hospital on account of her mother's activism.[4][13]

Hamer became interested in the civil rights movement in the 1950s.[14] She heard leaders in the local movement speak at annual Regional Council of Negro Leadership (RCNL) conferences, held in Mound Bayou, Mississippi.[14] The annual conferences discussed black voting rights and other civil rights issues black communities in the area faced.[12]

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