Published On: February 16, 2024

contributed by Sarah Jungemann, ABA Program Specialist, Easterseals Crossroads

Last weekend, staff member Sarah Jungemann had the opportunity to attend a show at the Indiana Repertory Theatre showcasing the music and life of Fannie Lou Hamer. Prior to attending this show, she didn’t know who Fannie Lou Hamer was or her accomplishments towards equal rights for all. The one-woman show was engaging, informative and emotional. Sarah would like to share a little bit of what I learned about Fannie Lou Hamer’s life and the impact she made.

Fannie Lou Townsend was born in 1917 and died in 1977. She was the 20th and last child of Lou Ella and James Townsend, sharecroppers from Mississippi. When Fannie was about 6 years old, she joined her family picking cotton. She attended school until the age of 12, at which time she left to work in the fields. Fannie married Perry Hamer in 1944 and became Fannie Lou Hamer. She and her husband worked on a plantation owned by B.D. Marlowe. Fannie, being the only worker who could read and write, was the plantation’s timekeeper.

In the summer of 1961, she attended a meeting led by civil rights activist James Forman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and James Bevel of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). She was enraged when others sought to deny Blacks the right to vote. At this time, she became a SNCC organizer and led 17 volunteers to vote at a Mississippi Courthouse. The volunteers were required to complete a rigged literacy test and their right to vote was denied when they were unable to complete it. The volunteers were also harassed on their way home and charged a $100 fine by police stating that their bus was “too yellow.” When Fannie arrived home that night, B.D. Marlowe fired her for attempting to vote and told her to leave the property. She and her husband then moved to Ruleville, Mississippi.

In June 1963, after successfully completing a voter registration program, Hamer and several other Black women were arrested for sitting in a “whites-only” bus station restaurant in Winona, Mississippi. While they were in jail, she and several of the women were brutally beaten, leaving Fannie Lou with lifelong injuries.

In 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer became famous for co-founding the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which challenged the local Democratic Party’s efforts to block Blacks from exercising their right to vote. She and other members of the committee went to the Democratic National Convention and spoke before the Credentials Committee calling for integrated state delegations. While she was speaking, President Lyndon Johnson held an unscheduled press conference so that Fannie Lou Hamer would not get screen time during her speech. However, later that night, her speech was televised nationally and gained notoriety for her descriptions of racial prejudice in the South. In the summer of 1964, Fannie Lou helped organize an event called Freedom Summer, which brought college students together, Black and white, to register African American voters in the south.

While this is just a short description of Fannie Lou Hamer’s life, Sarah wants to stress how important and influential Fannie Lou Hammer was in advancing the equal and fair right to vote. She was steadfast, prominent; and an amazing leader who dedicated her life to this cause. After seeing this show about her life and all the adversity she faced just to gain a right that so many so easily take for granted, Sarah is truly am thankful for her and all the other influential people who have paved the way for Black people.

As Fannie Lou Hamer famously said, “We are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Credit to Michals, D. (2017). Fannie Lou Hamer. National Women’s History Museum. Learn more.