Fannie Lou Hamer

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Fannie Lou Hamer was born on October 6th, 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi. The daughter of sharecroppers; her attention went to helping her family earn money to survive at the age of six. At the age of twelve she dropped out of school to work full-time with her family. In 1944 Miss. Hamer would marry Mr. Perry “Pap” Hamer, and the couple worked as sharecroppers on a cotton plantation in Ruleville, Mississippi. They never had children because Miss. Hamer was having surgery to remove a tumor and the doctor gave her a hysterectomy as well. This act was against her will and a violation of her human rights.

The summer of 1962 would change her life forever. She attended a meeting where blacks were protesting the poll tax used to keep them from voting. After attending the meeting she decided to dedicate herself to helping end the oppression. In 1962 she traveled with 17 others to Indianola, Mississippi to the courthouse to oppose the poll tax. They were met with resistance by the local law enforcement officers. As a result of fighting against the poll tax, Miss. Hamer was fired from her job and kicked off the plantation where she lived for 20 years. Those actions did not deter her one bit, she spoke about the incident stating; “They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people.”

The rest of Miss. Hamer’s life was dedicated to the Civil Rights movement. Her next step was working with The Students Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). They often joined together to fight racial segregation against the local whites of the towns they were working.  During her fight for justice, she was beaten, arrested, threatened and shot at; but Ms. Hamer pressed on. In 1963 she was severely injured while in custody in a Winona County, Jail. Fannie and others were beaten while in police custody. She suffered kidney damage as a result of the brutality. Despite the constant violence Miss. Hamer still pushed on. She helped to fund the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964, which opposed an all-white delegation. During a televised convention session, Miss. Hamer brought national attention to the plight of the blacks in Mississippi. In 1954 she would run for congress but was unsuccessful in her efforts.

Miss. Hamer and other black organizations worked to create business opportunities and child care for the black families in Mississippi. In 1971 she helped create the National Women’s Political Caucus to help organize her people politically. In 1976 she was diagnosed with breast cancer but never stopped fighting for her rights. Miss. Hamer died in 1977 leaving behind a legacy as a hero, a champion and an inspiration to us all. She stood toe to toe with oppression and cancer but never backed down. She refused to live and think like a slave; she was a proud free black woman. She stood for our rights then, so we can stand for our rights now. Miss. Fannie Lou Hamer, we stand on your shoulders.

J.A. Ward

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