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Fannie Lou Hamer, 1964
Fannie Lou Hamer was born on this date in 1917. She was a Black civil rights activist.
Born Fannie Lou Townsend in Montgomery County, MS, she was the last of 20 children in a family of sharecroppers. She began chopping and picking cotton as a child on a plantation in the Mississippi Delta. She lived and worked there until 1962 when she was fired because she attempted to register to vote. She and her family were also forced to move from the plantation. In 1963, Hamer did register to vote and committed herself to civil rights activism.
She began working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organizing voter registration campaigns in the Mississippi Delta. In 1964, white members of the Democratic Party in Mississippi continued the tradition of refusing to accept Blacks in their delegation to the national party convention. Hamer and others formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). They in turn sent 68 delegates to the national convention, to challenge the white Democrats' right to represent Mississippi.
Hamer recounted for the convention the harassment that she and other Blacks experienced when trying to register to vote in Mississippi in a nationally televised interview about her experiences with police brutality. Democratic Party officials offered the Black Mississippians two convention seats.
Hamer and the MFDP, however, rejected the compromise offer and went home. The MFDP challenge resulted in a pledge from the Democratic Party not to seat any delegate to the 1968 national convention who had been chosen through racially discriminatory means. It also made Hamer a national political force.
After 1964, Hamer continued to work for Black voting rights and Black candidates for public office in Mississippi. She also founded social service organizations and initiated economic development efforts, including the Freedom Farms Corporation, established in 1969 to help poor families raise food and livestock.
She became a national figure that year with a speech to the Democratic National Convention in which she recounted the voter discrimination and violence against Blacks in her home state of Mississippi. She became a national symbol of the participation of poor Southern Blacks in the civil rights movement. Fannie Lou Hamer died on March 14, 1977.
Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia
Volumes 1 and 2, edited by Darlene Clark Hine
Copyright 1993, Carlson Publishing Inc., Brooklyn, New York