FANNIE LOU HAMER
Fannie Lou Hamer, known for being “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” was born October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, Mississippi. She was the granddaughter of slaves. Her family was sharecroppers – a position not different from slavery. On 1962 when Hamer was 44 years old, Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) volunteers came to town and held a voter registration meeting. She was surprised to learn that African Americans actually had a constitutional right to vote. She further discovered that voter registration allowed for a jury pool to ensure African Americans would be judged by a jury of their peers. When the SNCC members asked for volunteers to go to the courthouse to register to vote, Hamer was the first to raise her hand. This was a dangerous decision. She later reflected, “The only thing they could do to me was kill me, and it seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time ever since I could remember.”
When Hamer and others went to the courthouse, they were jailed and beaten by the police. Hamer’s courageous act got her thrown off the plantation where she was a sharecropper. She also began to receive constant death threats and assassination attempts. Still, Hamer would not be discouraged; she became a SNCC Field Secretary and traveled
around the country speaking and registering people to vote. Hamer co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). Fifty years ago, in 1964 the MFDP challenged the all white Mississippi delegation of the Democratic National Convention.
Hamer gave a testimony in front of the Credentials Committee that rattled the nation in a televised proceeding that reached millions of viewers. She talked about being brutally beaten for simply registering to vote. She told the committee how African Americans in many states across were prevented from voting through violence , intimidation, illegal tests, taxes and information.
As a result of her speech the delegates of the MFDP were given speaking rights at the convention and the other members were seated as honorable guests. Her testimony catapulted the unjust and inhuman treatment of black voter registrants into the international spotlight. This global embarrassment became the catalyst that triggered the passage of the Voter’s Rights Act of 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Hamer was an inspirational figure to many involved in the struggle for civil rights. She died on March 14, 1977 at the age of 59.