Mississippi State flag
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Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was born in Mississippi in 1917. Starting at the age of six, Hamer, the youngest child of a sharecropper family, picked cotton. She was only able to attend school until the age of 13 because her family needed her labor. She married Perry Hamer at the age of 27, and together they worked on a plantation owned by a man named Marlow for the next 18 years. They took in two poor girls whom they later adopted. Throughout her life she was known for her singing of hymns of freedom.
During the 1950’s, Hamer became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. She decided to join the effort for voting rights. She joined a group and traveled to Indianola, Mississippi to register African American voters. When she returned to the plantation she was fired by Marlow.
Hamer was recruited by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and began traveling around the South, singing hymns and doing activist work for the organization. While doing this work she was arrested on a false charge and severely beaten. This experience affected her deeply but did not stop her work for justice for Black people. Her work grew national attention, even disturbing the Southern Democratic Party. Lyndon B Johnson referred to her as “that illiterate woman.”
Hamer ran for Congressional office in 1964 and 1965 but failed to win. However, she continued her work for justice until her death in 1977.
I believe that we have just got to keep some kind of faith that the people who want to make this country a good place to live can gain and influence politics in this country. I do have faith, as bad as the situation is now, for if I hadn’t had faith four years ago I wouldn’t have gone to Atlantic City, New Jersey, to tell the Democratic Convention why the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party should be seated in place of the “regular” Democrats from Mississippi. …And if I didn’t have faith, I wouldn’t spend so much of my time talking to ninety percent white audiences all over the country, and going to these ninety percent white political conventions, and writing pieces like this for the magazine of the Southern Churchmen.
Here is a short film about some of Hamer’s work.
Information excerpted from the online course: Holy Women of History