Phenomenal Woman: Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer Women’s Rights Activitst & Civil Rights Movement Leader:

“I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scared — but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”

Born on October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, Mississippi, USA, she was the youngest of 20 siblings. As a child, she showed an interest in reading. Showed a commanding and confident presence in her childhood spelling bees and poetry recitals. As a child, she suffered a cause of polio that left one of her legs disfigured.

Thorough her adolescence and young adulthood, she worked a record keeper for at plantation where she and her family worked as sharecroppers. Like many other Black women in the Mississippi, Hamer was sterilized without her consent.

In the 1950s, Hamer gained an interest in the Civil Rights Movement when she heard local leaders speak at the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, where they held conferences voting rights and other civil liberties for Black people in the area.

On Aug. 31, 1962, Hamer, along with our activists, travelled to Indianola, Mississippi, to register to vote. They were met with racist, voter suppression laws that demanded Black voters take literacy tests to prove they’re “worthy of voting”.

Her employers, upon learning about her activism, fired her for trying to exercise her right to vote. This led to her needing to move off the plantation and shuffled from house to house for safety. On September 10, while staying with friend Mary Tucker, Hamer was shot 16 times in a drive-by shooting by white supremacists.

Hamer and her family fled the city, but on December 3rd, she returned to the courthouse in Indianola to retake the literacy test, but failed and was turned away. Hamer told the registrar that “You’ll see me every 30 days till I pass”.

After her third attempt, she passed the test on January 10th, 1963, but the voter suppression laws still stood in her way. The 1870 ratifications to the 15th Amendment made it so that voters needed to have receipts proving they paid their Poll Tax before they could vote.

Hamer, dedicated to her cause, paid for and acquired the requisite poll tax receipts. She went on to teach workshops at the Southern Christian Leadership conferences. She petitioned for there to be federal grants created to provide resources to impoverished Black families in the South.

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