Fannie Lou Hamer

#blackhistoryProfilesFebruary 10, 2022

“Nobody’s free until everybody’s free,” said Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil and voting rights icon whose early life necessitated her activism as a form of survival. 

Born into a Mississippi sharecropping family as one of 20 children, Fannie Lou Hamer rose to become an important and passionate voice in the civil rights and voting rights movement, and a leader advocating for greater economic opportunities for Black Americans. 

She began working in the fields at age 6 and left school six years later to work full time. Like many Black and Indigineous women during that time, Fannie experienced a devastating nonconsensual, forced sterilization. Dubbed a “Mississippi appendectomy,” this was a common practice to reduce the Black population. The procedure was meant only to remove a uterine tumor, but her white doctor took it upon himself to end her ability to bear children.

Hamer entered the civil rights movement in 1962 when law enforcement blocked her attempt to register to vote after attending a voting rights meeting organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Her bravery cost Hamer her job, which turned into a blessing.

“They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people,” she told the New York Times.

She organized voter registration drives for the SNCC and acts of civil disobedience to fight racial segregation, which often met with violent opposition. But Hamer was unfazed by threats, arrests, beatings, and shootings. “You don’t run away from problems—you just face them,” she said.

In 1964 she co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She also created organizations to increase business opportunities for minorities, offer childcare and other family services, and founded the National Women’s Political Caucus in 1971.

She died in 1977 and was buried in what was later named the Fannie Lou Hamer Memorial Garden in Ruleville, Mississippi. Her tombstone bears one of her famous quotes: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.”


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