On this day in 1917, Fannie Lou Hamer was born Fannie Lou Townsend in Montgomery County, Mississippi. She was the youngest of 20 children. When she was only 6 years old, Hamer began to work in the fields.
At 12 years old, she dropped out of school so that she could work full-time. In 1944, she married Perry “Pep” Hamer and the couple worked together on a cotton plantation near Ruleville, Mississippi.
It wasn’t until the summer of 1962 that Hamer made the life-changing decision to attend a protest meeting where she fought for black citizens’ rights to vote. That same year, she traveled with nearly 20 others to the Indianola county courthouse in order to achieve her goal. Along the way, they received much opposition from law enforcement.
For her activism, Hamer was fired from her job on the plantation that she called home for almost two decades. This only motivated her to fight harder.
The New York Times quoted Hamer as saying, “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.” She began working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, comprised mostly of black students fighting against injustice and racial segregation.
Hamer experienced several instances of violence by white citizens throughout the course of her career. Over the years, she had been threatened, arrested, beaten, and shot at. The beating she underwent in a Winona, Mississippi jail left her with permanent kidney damage.
In 1964, she helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. One year later, she unsuccessfully ran for Congress in Mississippi. Aside from her political activism work, Hamer played a large role in helping poor families across the state. Additionally, in 1971, she helped establish the National Women’s Political Caucus.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1976 and continued to fight for civil rights despite her illness. In March of 1977, hundreds of people gathered to say goodbye to the influential woman. Andrew Young, Jr., a delegate to the United Nations, delivered Hamer’s eulogy. “None of us would be where we are today had she not been here then,” he said.
Hamer, best known for helping African Americans vote and co-founding the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, died in 1977.
On her tombstone is one of Hamer’s most famous quotes: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”