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Information for Our People of Color!!

TODAY IN AFRICAN- AMERICAN HISTORY: FANNIE LOU HAMER

One of the most eloquent and blunt leaders of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, was born on this date (October 6th) in 1917 – FANNIE LOU HAMER!

Born Fannie Lou Townsend in Montgomery County, Mississippi, she was the youngest of twenty (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, Mrs. 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 Black in their delegation to the national party convention.  Hamer and others formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP).  The MFDP sent 68 delegates to the national convention to challenge White Democrats for their right to represent Mississippi.

Mrs. 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.  (White Police Officers severely beat Mrs. Hamer during her struggles for voting rights.)   Democratic Party officials offered Black Mississippians two (2) convention seats.  Mrs. Hamer and the MFDP rejected the offer, and went home to do more organizing.  This MFDP challenge resulted in President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Additionally, the MFDP received a pledge from the Democratic Party not to send any delegate to the 1968 national convention who had been chosen through racially discriminatory means.

From 1968 to 1971, Fannie Lou Hammer was a member of the Democratic National Committee for Mississippi.  Her 1970 lawsuit, Hamer vs. Sunflower County,demanded school desegregation.  She ran unsuccessfully for the Mississippi State Senate in 1971, however, she successfully became a Delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1972.

Fannie Lou Hamer lectured extensively  and was a powerful speaker.  She became known for her signature statement: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”   Her singing voice lent another power to the Civil Rights era.

Mrs. Hamer brought a Head Start Program to  her local community, to form a local Pig Bank Cooperative in 1968 with the help of the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), and later found the Freedom Farms Cooperative in 1969, which helped poor families raise food and livestock.  She helped found the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971, speaking for inclusion of racial issues in the feminist agenda.  In 1972, the Mississippi House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring her national and state activism.

Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer received several awards and honors including: Honorary Degrees of Doctorate of Humanities from Tougaloo College and Shaw University; Honorary Degrees from Columbia College and Howard University.  She was honored with the National Sojourner Truth Meritorious Service Award, the Paul Robeson Award from Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, and the Mary Terrell Award from Delta Sigma Theta, Inc.  Delta Sigma Theta also made Mrs. Hamer an honorary member of their sorority.

Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer died of Breast Cancer at the age of 59, on March 14, 1977.  She is buried in her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi.  Her tombstone reads, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Mrs. Hamer was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1995.  The United States Post Office in Ruleville, Mississippi was named in her honor in February, 1995, thanks to Congressman Bennie Thompson.

Other commemorative efforts honoring Fannie Lou Hamer and her determined struggle for civil rights include:

* Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden – Ruleville, Mississippi

* Fannie Lou Hamer Statue (Still in-progress) – Ruleville, Mississippi

* Fannie Lou Hamer Cultural Learning Center – Ruleville, Mississippi

* Fannie Lou Hamer – Institute – Ruleville, Mississippi

* Fannie Lou Hamer  Cancer Foundation – Ruleville, Mississippi (Also in-progress)

A Civil Rights Curriculum was developed in 2006 by Giles R. Wright of the New Jersey Historical Commission – New Jersey State Department, under the leadership of Former Secretary of State, Regena Thomas.  It’s titled, “A Civil Rights Turning Point: Fannie Lou Hamer in Atlantic City, 1964.”  This curriculum consists of a VHS/DVD Documentary and a Teacher’s Guide.  It has been distributed to every public Elementary, Middle and High School in the state of New Jersey.

Additionally, in the state of New Jersey, is the Civil Rights Garden, in Atlantic City.  It consists of eleven (11) columns, and Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, shares column ten along with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Joachim Prinz.  The inscription at this column reads, “All this on account we want to register, to become first class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America.  Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?”  (A statement made by Mrs. Hamer during one of her speeches while fighting for voting rights.)

QUOTES MADE BY AND ABOUT FANNIE LOU HAMER

“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”  [Fannie Lou Hamer]

“Nobody is free until everybody’s free.” [Fannie Lou Hamer]

“People have to get together and work together.  I’m tired of the kind of oppression that White people have inflicted on us and are still trying to inflict.”  [Fannie Lou Hamer]

“To support whatever is right, and to bring in justice where we’ve had so much injustice.”  [Fannie Lou Hamer]

“We serve God by serving our fellow man; kids are suffering from malnutrition.  People are going to the fields hungry.  If you are a Christian, we are tired of being mistreated.”  [Fannie Lou Hamer]

“Do you mean to tell me that your position is more important than four hundred thousand Black people’s lives? ….. How – if you lose this job of Vice President because you do what is right, because if you help the MFDP, everything will be all right.  God will take care of you.  But if you take it this way, why, you will never be able to do any good for civil rights, for poor people, for peace, or any of these things you talk about.  Senator Humphrey, I’m go ing to pray to Jesus for you.”  [Fannie Lou Hamer speaking to then, Senator Hubert Humphrey, who brought a compromise offer to the MFDP Delegates, which was rejected.]

“I’m amazed at how she put fear in the hearts of people like Lyndon B. Johnson.  [June Johnson]

“Fannie Lou Hamer made me realize that we’re nothing unless we can hold this system accountable, and the way we hold this system accountable is to vote, and to take an active note to determine who are leaders are!”  [Constance Slaughter-Harvey]

We must continue to look back and acknowledge our brothers and sisters who fought the hard battle, so we can move aggressively in their footsteps – AS THE FIGHT AND THE STRUGGLE STILL CONTINUES IN 2011!!

NATALIE R. FITTEN

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2 Responses to “TODAY IN AFRICAN- AMERICAN HISTORY: FANNIE LOU HAMER”

  1. My name Is Daryl Grandberry and Fannie Lou Hamer was My Great Aunt. And I Know why we must keep on fighting for the rights for mankind. And so The STRUGGLE CONTINUES.

    • Mr. Grandberry – Thanks so much for responding. I think this is so phenomenal. Your great aunt, Fannie Lou Hamer, was an quite an inspiring woman of our history to me. I am elated to the utmost to receive a response from someone in her family. And you are exactly right the struggle continues. Stay Blessed!


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