Fannie Lou Hamer

October 1917 - March 1977

One of twenty children of sharecropper Jim Townsend and his wife Ella, Fannie Lou was already working in the fields when she was six years old. She attended a segregated school only briefly, until the sixth grade. She married Perry “Pap” Hamer in 1942 and later adopted two children. He was a tractor driver, and she worked on the same cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta.

In 1962, she began work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to register black voters and, as a result, she and her husband lost their jobs. She voted for the first time in 1963, and then helped others to pass the discriminatory literacy tax to gain the vote too. After attending a civil rights meeting out of state in 1963, she rode a bus to get back home. When the bus stopped in Winona Mississippi, she attempted to eat in an all-white restaurant, was arrested, and then beaten severely in the Winona jail.

Hamer became a national figure through her work in the Freedom Democratic Party which sent an alternate slate of delegates to the 1964 National Democratic Party Convention. Her televised testimony before the credentials committee electrified the nation, but her slate was not seated. However, what she began in 1964 was finished in the 1968 National Democratic Party Convention, when an integrated slate of delegates was seated.

She continued her civil rights activities and in 1972 she was elected a delegate to that year’s national Democratic convention. That same year, the Mississippi House of
Representatives unanimously passed a resolution of praise as a testimony to her civil rights and feminist activities. She never fully recovered from the beating she received in the Winona Jail, and she also fought breast cancer, heart issues, and diabetes for the rest of her life. She died in 1977, and her funeral attracted people from all over the nation. During her life, she often sang the song “This Little Light of Mine,” but she was most famous for her saying: “I’m sick and
tired of being sick and tired.”

Kay Mills, This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, Civil Rights and Struggle book series, Lexington, Ky: University of Kentucky Press, 2007.