Fannie Lou Hamer

Lived:October 6, 1917—March 14, 1977 (aged 59)
Career:Civil rights activist

Fannie Lou Hamer was an American voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was the first woman from Mississippi to be an official delegate at a national party convention and the first African American since the Reconstruction period.

Hamer was born on October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, Mississippi, the youngest of 20 children in a family of sharecroppers. She attended school through the sixth grade, then dropped out to work as a sharecropper. In 1961, without her knowledge or consent, she was sterilized as part of Mississippi's plan to reduce the number of poor Blacks in the state. In 1962, after participating in bus trip organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to register African Americans voters, she was recruited to work for that organization. That trip also cost her her job and home on the plantation where she and her husband had lived for almost 20 years.

Returning home from a training workshop in June 1963, Hamer and several others were arrested on a false charge and severely beaten by police in Winona, Mississippi. After recovering from her injuries, she returned to her work organizing voter registration drives in Mississippi. In 1964, Hamer helped found and was elected vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to challenge Mississippi's all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention. On August 22, 1964, she appeared before the convention's credentials committee and spoke about the problems she had encountered when registering to vote. Hamer ran for Congress in 1964 and 1965, and in 1968 was a member of Mississippi's official delegation to the Democratic National Convention.

Hamer continued to work for political and civil rights causes, including the Freedom Democrats, Head Start programs, the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Sunflower County, and Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Poor People's Campaign.

Hamer died of heart failure on March 14, 1977, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi.