A Hero for Civil Rights and Economic Equality
BY JADE GREENE, MBA, PHR, SHRM-CP, NORTHERN AND RURAL BUSINESS ADVISOR
On October 6, 1917, Fannie Lou Hamer was born in Montgomery County, Mississippi into a sharecropping family and spent much of her early years in the cotton fields. It was in the cotton fields that the spark to fight for civil rights was lit after she witnessed and endured countless instances of racial violence and injustices. Rather than being discouraged, this culminated in Fannie Lou registering to vote in 1962.
Sadly, Fannie Lou was thrown off the plantation where she had toiled for 18 years for having the audacity to attempt to register to vote. After her cruel dismissal, Fannie Lou went to work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee where she traveled around the South as an activist for voting and civil rights organizing literacy and voter registration drives and mock elections.
In 1964, she founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). That same year, she went to the Democratic National Convention, representing the MFDP, to challenge the all-white Mississippi delegation. Her speech at the convention was electrifying and was aired nationally, as she forthrightly and honestly described the injustices that allowed all white delegates from Mississippi, where Blacks could not vote, to be seated. This speech was so compelling that the Democratic Party decided in the future not to seat delegates from a state where anyone was illegally denied the right to vote. This was one of the important events that set the stage for President Johnson to sign The Voting Rights Act into law the following year.
As with many civil rights leaders, Fannie Lou Hamer paid a heavy personal cost for her activism. During one of her many arrests, she was beaten so badly that she lost the vision in one of her eyes, suffered permanent kidney damage, and was so crippled from this beating that it greatly contributed to her death in 1977 at age fifty-nine. The abuse she suffered also included being forcibly sterilized against her knowledge and will (a common practice against Black women during the time) during a routine operation.
Yet, despite the constant harassment, the threats of violence, and the physical and emotional injuries, Fannie Lou persisted in fighting for civil rights (that included equal economic access for blacks and especially for Black women). It was during these most challenging of times that Fannie Lou uttered one of her most famous phrases (written on her tombstone), that she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired” of the racial injustices that Blacks had to endure. Fannie Lou Hammer exemplifies the enduring spirit and determination of Black women who have fought for the attainment of civil rights (as not only an issue of social justice but one of moral integrity that is essential for the economic survival and growth of future generations of Black people). Fannie Lou Hamer’s example of fortitude and perseverance, in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, is still heralded. Especially so, since voting rights are under attack and economic inequality is on the rise making her legacy just as relevant today.
Hammer, J.J. (2019). Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/fannie-lou-hamer-3528651