Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Townsend was born to Mississippi sharecroppers in 1917. By age six, she was picking cotton. In 1944, she married Perry “Pap” Hamer. In 1962, she attended a meeting led by SNCC activists, during which she learned of her constitutional right to vote. But when she attempted to register, she was threatened with eviction from the land where she and Pap lived. Instead of backing down, she became even more committed to the movement, helping to organize and advocate for voting rights for all black citizens of Mississippi. The threats and violence against her intensified. In 1963, she was arrested. While in custody, she was savagely beaten.
In August of 1964, she testified at the Democratic National Convention, riveting viewers as her words were broadcast throughout the nation. During her testimony, she spoke of her arrest, of how white officers forced fellow prisoners to beat her into submission with leather straps. Or at least, they thought they could beat her into submission.
It’s true, her body never fully recovered from the incident, but her soul remained unbroken by white supremacy. She continued her activism, often galvanizing other volunteers and activists with her moral clarity, her vision, and her powerful singing voice.
For more on Mrs. Hamer, check out this profile written by DeNeen L. Brown. Also interesting: John T. Edge’s op-ed about the farming collectives Mrs. Hamer started in the 1970s. As Mrs. Hamer put it, “If we have that land, can’t anybody starve us out.”
Interested in learning more? These books are great:
- For Freedom’s sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer
by Chana Lee
- This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer
by Kay Mills
- Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lee Hamer: The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement (children’s book)
by Carole Boston Weatherford and Ekua Holmes