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Black History Month - Great Figures of American History: Fannie Lou Hamer

Black History Month - Great Figures of American History: Fannie Lou Hamer

Black History Month Celebration

Each day this week we will be highlighting the life and work of a great Black American who has had a major influence on our nation's history. For each person we highlight, we will be providing a brief biography, a few quotes, and suggestions for further learning. (See all great figures.) 

Yesterday, we highlighted the lives of Maria Stewart and Rosa Parks. Today, we would like to draw your attention to another great hero of the Civil Rights movement, Fannie Lou Hamer. 

Ms. Hamer was born in 1917, in the Mississippi Delta. She was one of 20 children. Like Dr. King and Rosa Parks, she was born and raised in the era of Jim Crow segregation. And, like King and Parks, she refused to accept the racism that surrounded her and was determined to fight back. 

Starting in the early 1960s, Ms. Hamer organized voting drives in Mississippi. She joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.  In 1964 Hamer ran for Congress. She also attended the 1964 Democratic National Convention and demanded that her Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party be integrated into the all-white delegation. 

Many people opposed Hamer. Racists shunned, mocked, and scorned her. Once, she was savagely beaten. Still, Hamer persevered. She offered hope and encouragement and sought to uplift all around her, often doing so by singing songs such as “This Little Light of Mine” and “Go Tell It On the Mountain.” 

Hamer’s efforts, like the efforts of Dr. King and Rosa Parks, were essential in persuading President Johnson to pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Hamer’s efforts also led, in 1968, to the integration of the Mississippi delegation to the Democratic National Convention.  The following two quotes illustrate Ms. Hamer’s righteous anger against racism and her determination to resist injustice.  

“We are sick and tired of being sick and tired!”

“Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives [are] threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings in America?”

For further information on Fannie Lou Hamer, you might like to read Kate Larson, Walk with Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer.