Fannie Lou Hamer (née Townsend) (1917–1977), civil rights activist best known for desegregating the Mississippi Democratic Party
Fannie Lou Townsend was born, the youngest of 20 children, to Lou Ella Bramlett and Jim Townsend. The Townsends were sharecroppers in Ruleville, Mississippi, and by age six young Fannie Lou was working in the fields alongside her family. She managed six years of formal education. At age 27 she married Perry “Pap” Hamer, a worker on the same farm. The Hamers adopted four children (Fannie Lou Hamer had been sterilized, against her consent or even knowledge, during a routine operation.)
In 1962 Hamer discovered the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and was surprised to learn that she and other African Americans had the right to vote. That summer she and 17 other African Americans attempted to register. They were arrested (because the bus was yellow), fined, then released. Back home, the plantation owner kicked her and her family off the farm. Hamer was overjoyed. She devoted her time to securing voting rights for African Americans.
She doggedly pursued her attempts to register to vote and to help other African Americans register as well. She also worked with other civil rights leaders to penetrate the all-white Democratic Party of Mississippi. In 1963 she helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) as an alternative to the Democratic party, and in 1964 she became its vice-chair.
The MFDP attempted to be seated at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Hamer testified before the credentials committee. Her riveting and personal testimony revealed to white America the machinations of literacy tests and poll taxes and the violence and brutality that kept her and other African Americans from voting in the Deep South. Though President Johnson pre-empted her live testimony by calling an impromptu press conference, tapes of her testimony aired on the networks that evening. The public responded to her heart-wrenching account of a brutal beating she had endured and the crippling injuries that resulted. She had to wait four more years, but in 1968 she took her seat as a delegate to the National Democratic Convention in Chicago along with 21 other African Americans.