Fannie Lou (Townsend) Hamer

civil rights activist
Born: 10/6/1917
Birthplace: Ruleville, Miss.

Hamer was the youngest of 20 children and began working with her sharecropper parents at age 6. She left school after the sixth grade to work full time in the cotton fields. She married Perry Hamer in 1942, and the couple worked together on a Mississippi plantation.

Her career as a civil rights activist started in 1962, when she helped the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to organize a voter registration drive in Ruleville, Miss., which challenged the state's laws that were designed to deny blacks the right to vote. She lost her job on the plantation as a result of her efforts and assumed the position as a field secretary for the SNCC. Hamer and other activists were arrested in June 1963 and severely beaten at a Montgomery County, Miss. jail by two black inmates, on orders from white police officers. Hamer suffered permanent injuries. The police officers were later found not guilty in federal district court in Jackson, Miss.

In 1964 Hamer and other SNCC members established the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) after failed attempts to coordinate with the Mississippi Democratic Party. The group sent delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, where they argued that the state's all-white delegation did not truly represent Mississippi. Hamer delivered a nationally televised speech to the convention's Credentials Committee, outlining the violence and discrimination against herself and other activists. Her speech was effective; the party offered voting rights to two MFDP delegates. Hamer refused them, however, calling the gesture insufficient.

Hamer publisher her autobiography, To Praise Our Bridges, in 1967. She was one of the founders of the National Women's Political Caucus and organized on the local level for low-income housing, school desegregation, and day-care.

Died: 3/14/1977