Until 1962, the life of Fannie Lou Hamer was little different from that of her parents or other poor Black women in the Mississippi Delta. One of twenty children, she was educated to the fourth grade and then fell into the life of sharecropping. Her life changed after attending a civil rights rally when she decided to register to vote, an action, at the time, that literally courted death. As a result, she and her family were evicted from their home. She took this as a sign to work full time as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, quickly rising to a position of leadership.
In 1963 she was arrested while trying to desegregate a bus terminal in Charleston, South Carolina. In jail she was savagely beaten, emerging with a damaged kidney and permanently impaired eyesight. In 1964 she led a “Freedom Delegation” from Mississippi to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City. “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she proclaimed. Though the delegation was evicted by the party bosses, Hamer touched the conscience of the nation with her eloquent account of the oppression of Blacks in the segregated South and their nonviolent struggle to affirm their dignity and human rights.
She continued in that struggle, battling injustice, war, and poverty, sustained by her deep faith in the God of the oppressed. “If I fall,” she said, “I will fall five-feet four-inches forward in the fight for freedom.” She died on March 14, 1977.
“I feel sorry for anybody that could let hate wrap them up. Ain’t no such thing as I can hate anybody and hope to see God’s face.” —Fannie Lou Hamer