women
 

Fannie Lou Hamer

  • Date of Birth:
    October 6, 1917 in Sunflower County, Mississippi
    Birth Name: Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer
  • Date of Death:
    March 14, 1977 in Mound Bayou, Mississippi
  • Education:
    By the time she was twelve, Hamer was forced to drop out of school and work full time to help support her family.
  • Known For:
    Civil Rights Activist; vice chair of Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
  • Biography:
    Political Situation and Hardship
    In 1962, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a sermon in Ruleville, Mississippi and followed it with an appeal to those assembled to register to vote. Black people who registered to vote in the South faced serious hardships at that time due to institutionalized racism, including harassment, the loss of their jobs, physical beatings, and lynchings.

    Hamer was the first volunteer. She later said, "I guess if I'd had any sense, I'd have been scared - but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they [white people] could do was kill me, and it seemed they'd been trying to do that a little at a time since I could remember." Christian hymns(such as "Go Tell It on the Mountain" and "This Little Light of Mine") which implies Hamer's belief that the civil rights struggle was a deeply spiritual one. However, when Hamer went to register at the courthouse, she was arrested and jailed.

    Freedom Democrats and Negotiation
    In the summer of 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, or "Freedom Democrats" for short, was organized with the purpose of challenging Mississippi's all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention of that year as not representative of all Mississippians. Hamer was elected Vice-Chair.

    In Washington, D.C., President Johnson called an emergency press conference in an effort to divert press coverage away from Hamer's testimony; but many television networks ran the speech unedited on their late news programs. The Credentials Committee received thousands of calls and letters in support of the Freedom Democrats.

    Johnson then dispatched several trusted Democratic Party operatives to attempt to negotiate with the Freedom Democrats, including Senator Hubert Humphrey (who was campaigning for the Vice-Presidential nomination), Walter Mondale, Walter Reuther, and J. Edgar Hoover. They suggested a compromise which would give the MFDP two seats in exchange for other concessions, and secured the endorsement of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for the plan. But when Humphrey outlined the compromise, saying that his position on the ticket was at stake, Hamer, invoking her Christian beliefs, sharply rebuked him:

    "Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than four hundred thousand black people's lives? Senator Humphrey, I know lots of people in Mississippi who have lost their jobs trying to register to vote. I had to leave the plantation where I worked in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Now if you lose this job of Vice-President because you do what is right, because you help the MFDP, everything will be all right. God will take care of you. But if you take [the nomination] this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of those things you talk about. Senator Humphrey, I'm going to pray to Jesus for you."

    Future negotiations were conducted without Hamer, and the compromise was modified such that the Convention would select the two delegates to be seated, for fear the MFDP would appoint Hamer. In the end, the MFDP rejected the compromise, but had changed the debate to the point that the Democratic Party adopted a clause which demanded equality of representation from their states' delegations in 1968.


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