Fannie Lou Hamer
“If I fall, I’ll fall five feet four inches forward in the fight for freedom. I am not backing off.”
Photo Credit: Howard University Libraries System
Fannie Lou Hamer was a voting rights pioneer during the civil rights movement in the mid-20th century. She came from humble beginnings as the youngest daughter of 20 children born to sharecroppers in Mississippi and spent most of her life picking cotton. Hamer became increasingly involved in the civil rights movements and was well known for her passionate and powerful voice when fighting for voting rights of blacks. Voting while Black in the South was a risky endeavor with harassment, threats, and assault from racists prevented many Blacks from going to exert their political right to vote. In her failed attempt to vote due to discriminatory literacy tests in 1962, Hamer and her friend, Mary Tucker, were shot at during a drive-by shooting by racists while in Tucker’s home. Later in 1963, she was arrested while on her way to a pro-citizenship conference by bus and severely beaten by police while in a Mississippi jail. She was left with a permanent limp, blood clot behind her eye, and kidney damage as a result of the brutal beating. However, the continual harassment, threats, assaults, and even loss of employment did not deter her from seeking voting rights for blacks in the South and beyond. In June 1963, Hamer’s reputation soared when she co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to challenge the Democratic Party’s efforts in blocking Black participation at the time. She gave a televised speech that poignantly describe racial prejudice and discrimination in the South. In 1964, she organized Freedom Summer that brought hundreds of Black and White college students to help with African American voter registration in the South. Hamer eventually turned to economics later in life as a strategy for greater racial equality. In 1968, she began a “pig bank” to provide free pigs for Black farmers and started the Freedom Farm Cooperative (FFC) a year later that bought and acquired 640 acres land where Blacks could own and farm collectively. She single-handedly secured 200 units of low-income housing in Ruleville, which still exists today.