Fannie Lou Hamer: Biography & Quotes

Instructor: Lorrine Garrison-Boyd
'I am sick and tired of being sick and tired'. You may have heard this famous quote, but did you know who said it? Let's look closer at the life and accomplishments of Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist who fought for justice and equal rights.

Born Into a Life as a Sharecropper

Fannie Lou Hamer was born on October 6, 1917, the twentieth child of sharecroppers in a community located in Montgomery County, near the Mississippi Delta. At the age of six, Fannie Lou worked alongside the rest of her family, dropping out of school at the age of 12 to be able to help out full time.

Her work as a sharecropper continued after she was married in 1944 and moved to Ruleville, Mississippi, where she and her husband Perry worked on a cotton plantation. Sharecroppers worked on land owned by another individual in return for a share of the crops. Often this was the only kind of work available to African Americans, and the agreement benefited the landowner more than the workers, who were unable to make any type of economic gains in spite of their hard work.

Fannie Lou Hamer was born into a family of sharecroppers in 1917

A Life-Changing Decision

Curiosity led her to attend a meeting in 1962 organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a civil rights group, where she learned that African Americans had the right to vote. It was at this point that Fannie Lou Hamer made a decision that would change the course of her life.

Hamer joined 17 others on a trip to the county courthouse in Indianola to register to vote. Upon their arrival they were required to take literacy tests, a common ploy in trying to keep African Americans from voting. The group was then held up on the way back to Ruleville by city and state law enforcement, where the bus driver was charged with driving a bus of the wrong color.

Upon returning home, she found she had been evicted from the plantation where she had lived for two decades, effectively ending her livelihood. Instead of giving up, Fannie Lou made the decision to dedicate the rest of her life to help other African Americans earn their right to vote. She said, '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.'

Fannie Lou Hamer fought racial segregation and injustice in the South

Life as an Activist

Fannie Lou continued to work with SNCC, engaging in civil disobedience, a form of nonviolent activism against the injustice and racial segregation of the South that involved boycotts, protest, marches and sit-ins.

But Hamer and fellow activists were met with acts of violence by those opposing desegregation. Hamer herself was arrested, shot at, threatened and beaten so badly on one occasion that she was left with severe, permanent kidney damage. During this time, Fannie Lou was asked if she was afraid of these violent encounters. Her response was, 'What was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do to me was kill me and it seemed like they been trying to do that a little bit at a time ever since I could remember.'

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