Fannie Lou Hamer's Biography
Fannie Lou Hamer was born on October 6, 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi. She was the granddaughter of a slave and the youngest of twenty children. Her parents were sharecroppers, which is a system of farming whereby workers are allowed to live on a plantation in return for working the land. When the crop is harvested, they split the profits in half with the plantation owner. Sometimes the owner pays for the seed and fertilizer, but usually the sharecropper pays those expenses out of his half. At age six she began helping her parents in the fields and by age twelve she was forced to drop out of school and work full time to help support her family. She spent the next eighteen years as a sharecropper and plantation record keeper.
When the Civil Rights Movement came to Ruleville in 1962, Fannie Lou Hamer quickly became an active participant. With training and encouragement from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), she and several other local residents attempted to register to vote, but were unsuccessful because they did not pass the infamous literacy tests. In retaliation for trying to register, Hamer was fired from her job, received phone threats, and was nearly a victim of gunshots fired into a friend's home. But Hamer was not intimidated; by 1963 she was a field secretary for SNCC and had successfully registered to vote.
Recognizing a connection between lack of access to the political process and severe poverty among Black Americans, for the next decade Hamer balanced political work, largely voter registration, with economic work, mainly advocating for assistance programs for poor families. In 1963 she started Delta Ministry, a comprehensive community development program. A year later, Hamer helped found and became vice-chairperson of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, an alternative to the "Regular” Democratic Party of the state, which excluded Blacks. Hamer’s most well known moment of resistance came when the Freedom Democrats challenged the legitimacy of the all-white Regular delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. The convention leadership proposed a compromise, which included seating the all-white Regular delegation and seating two MFDP members as at-large delegates. Many national civil rights leaders urged the Freedom Democrats to accept this compromise, but Hamer and other members strongly objected, and insisted that the MFDP decide by consensus. She then led the MFDP delegation in freedom songs on the convention floor, enabling them to make a group statement of resistance in front of numerous TV cameras.
The MFDP lost the convention challenge to the Regulars in 1964, but Hamer and the Freedom Democrats continued their fight in Mississippi. She ran for Congress in 1964, losing only because the Regulars disallowed her name on the ballot. At the same time, she continued her anti-poverty work. She testified before the Senate’s Subcommittee on Poverty in 1967. Two years later, she founded Freedom Farms Corporation, a land cooperative that provided poor farmers with land they farmed and lived on, and eventually purchased themselves. When the National Council of Negro Women started the Fannie Lou Hamer Day Care Center in 1970, Hamer became the chair of the board of directors. Her incredible work brought her many honors and is an inspiration to all. She spent her life opposing prejudice, discrimination and oppression and her tenacious spirit will not be forgotten.