October 6, 1917 – April 14, 1977
Courtesy: Civil Rights Documentation Project Verticle File
Fannie Lou Townsend was born in rural Montgomery County, Mississippi on October 6,1917. Fannie Lou was the youngest of 20 children born to Jim and Ella Townsend, poor sharecroppers, who found it hard to provide proper food and clothing for their children.
When she was six years old she joined her family in the fields picking cotton and dropped out of school by the time she was in the third grade. She worked picking cotton for tenant farm owner W. D. Marlow from 1944 until 1962. When she was 16, she caught polio which made it hard for her to work in the fields.When Marlow found out that Fannie Lou could read and write, he made her the time and record keeper for the plantation in addition to cooking and cleaning his house.
Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Howard University
In 1945, at the age of 27, Fannie Lou married Perry "Pap" Hamer who was a tractor driver on the Marlow farm. She described her husband as "a good man of few words;" "steady as a rock." They had no children of their own. Fannie Lou went to the hospital to find out why she could not conceive and was told she had a tumor.
She was not told that they performed a hysterectomy on her that day but was later told by the doctor that it was done out of kindness. Fannie Lou was outraged. As a result, the Hamer's adopted 4 children, 2 girls and 2 boys who were all from very poor families.
Civil Rights Activist
On one fateful day, while walking by the Ruleville, Mississippi town center, Fannie Lou saw a sign posted by the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and decided to investigate. She was 37 years old at the time and was ripe for expressing her outrage over the conditions she and other blacks were subjected to in this rural community. She joined SYNC and worked as a field worker on the voter registration committee. The committee worked on preparing blacks to read and write so they could register to vote. Seventeen people tried to register and were turned back one day. When Marlow was informed of the drive to register, he threatened Fannie Lou and her family with expulsion from the plantation. She left that night and stayed with friends but it wasn't long before her location was discovered and she and her friends were shot at that night by the KKK.
She strongly believed that blacks could change their conditions , political and economic, if they could vote for the candidates who would best serve them. Fannie Lou studied with the Southern Free School along with other potential voters and passed the voter registration test on her third try. She was said to have told the registrar after failing the test the first time that she would be back every thirty days until she passed the test.
The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party
In 1963, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was formed because no help from the Federal Government regarding the right to vote was apparently coming. The party registered 60, 000 new black voters across the state of Mississippi. Delegates from the party were sent to the 1964, Democratic Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey where they challenged the seating of the Mississippi delegation.
Fannie Lou took the opportunity to describe to the convention, and to the world, the horrific way she was treated after they left the voter registration workshop in Charleston, South Carolina in June 1963. She said that on the way home, they were hungry and wanted to stop at a Trailways bus terminal in Winona, Mississippi for food. Fannie Lou decided to stay on the bus while the others went into the terminal. They were not served but were arrested. She was also arrested. She was taken out of her jail cell and taken to another cell and there under the orders of a State Highway Patrol officer, was battened by two Negro prisoners with a police blackjack. The first prisoner beat her until he was exhausted. The law enforcement officer then ordered the second prisoner to beat her. It was three days before members of SYNC were allowed to take her to the hospital.
Fannie Lou told the convention that as a result of this beating, she suffered permanent kidney damage, a blood clot in the artery of her left eye, and a limp when she walked. Her riveting testimony to the convention, which was interrupted by a hastily called speech by President Johnson, informed the country about the treatment blacks were receiving at the hands of whites in the state of Mississippi and the rest of the south.
Fannie Lou's involvement widened as she ran for Congress in the Mississippi state Democratic primary in 1964. She was unsuccessful in that run but she went on to appear at rallies visit, colleges and universities around the country to speak to students. She led the cotton pickers resistance movement in 1965 and was instrumental in helping to bring a Head Start program to her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi and was involved in other programs throughout the state.
Fannie Lou was a Democratic National Committee Representative from 1968-1971. She ran for the Mississippi State Senate in 1971 and was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1972.
In 1972, a unanimous resolution praising Fannie Lou's statewide and national contribution to civil rights was passed by the Mississippi House of Representatives. Other awards came her way as the courageous work she undertook was recognized. She received honorary PhD's from several universities including Howard University.
Fannie Lou died in the hospital at Mound Bayou, Mississippi on March 14, 1977 of heart problems, hypertension and cancer. She was famous for her rich singing voice which she used often to soothe tensions and to fortify herself spiritually. She sang "This Little Light of Mine" and other spirituals to calm others during marches and critical events. Her funeral was held in Ruleville, Mississippi on March 21, 1977. Her final resting place, a place she helped to create, was the Freedom Farms Cooperative.
Hamer, Fannie Lou. To Praise My Bridges: An Autobiography. Jackson, Mississippi, 1967.
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Allen, Zita. Black Women Leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Danbury, Conn.: Franklin Watts, 1996.
Amistad Research Center. Fannie Lou Hamer, 1917-1977. Microform papers: 1966-1978. New Orleans, LA, 1985. (LC E185.97.H35-Microfilm19, 215-17p).****
Colman, Penny. Fannie Lou Hamer and the Fight for the Vote. Brookfield, Conn.: Milbrook Press, 1993. (LC E185.97.H35 C35 1993).****
Contested-Election: Case of Fannie Lou Hamer v. Jamie L. Whitten: From the Second Congressional District of Mississippi, Eighty-ninth Congress. Washington. U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1965. (LC KF4977.W45 H3).****
Duckett, Alfred. Changing of the Guard: The New Breed of Black Politicians. New York: Coward, McCann, & Geoghegan, 1972. (LC KF4977.W45 H3).****
Foner, Moe. (project director). Women of Hope: African Americans Who Made a Difference. An 1199 Bread and Roses project. New York: Bread and Roses Cultural Project, 1994. (UGL Media Center, Picture: E185.96.W66 1994).**
Great Black Women: Achievers Against the Odds. Video recording. Princeton , NJ: Films for the Humanities,1991. (UGL, Media Center, Video Tape: E185.96.G68 1991).**
Harmon, Rod. American Civil Rights Leaders. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Ensley Publishers, 2000. (LC E185.96.H334 2000).****
Lee, China Kai. For Freedom's Sake: the Life of Fannie Lou Hamer. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1999. (UGL, Cir. Desk: E185.97 H35 L44 1999).*
Lit win, Laura Baskes. Fannie Lou Hamer: Fighting for the Right to Vote. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, 2002. (LC E185.97.H35 L58).****
Lyon, Danny. Fannie Lou Hamer, in a Civil rights March, Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Photograph, print, drawing. 1962-1964. (LC PH-Lyon (D.), no. 3-23 (Portfolio)).****
Mills, Kay. This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer. New York: Dutton, 1993. (Founders: E185.97.H35 M55 1993; UGL, Cir. Desk: E185.97.H35 M55 1993).*, **
Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer. Video recording. New York: William Greaves Productions, 1983. (Media Center, Video Tape: E184.A1 M77 1983, VHS).**
Newport Folk Festival 1966. Sound recording. Washington, DC: Voice of America, Sunday, July 24, 1966. 8:30 p.m. (RGA 3147-3138 (playback copy); RWD 8689-8690 (preservation master); RAA 20704-20727 (original)).****
Newport Folk Festival 1966. Sound recording. Washington, DC: Voice of America. Sunday, July 24, 1966. 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. (RGA 3144-3145 (playback copy); RWD 8686-8687 (preservation copy); RAA 20698-20699 (original)).****
Voices of the Civil Rights Movement: Black American Freedom Songs, 1960-1966. Sound recording. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1980. (UGL, Media Center, Audio Disc: M1670 V65 1980).**
Williams, Lea Esther. Servants of the People: The 1960's Legacy of African-American Leadership. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996. (MSRC: MB W673 1996).***
* Founders Library
** UGL, Media Center
*** Moorland-Spingarn Research Center
**** Library of Congress
Griffin-Jeuchter, Kay. Fannie Lou Hamer: From Sharecropper to Freedom. MAI 29, no. 04,
(1990) Sarah Lawrence College.
Lee, Chana Kai. A Passionate pursuit of Justice: The Life and Leadership of Fannie Lou Hamer, 1917-1967 (Hamer Fannie Lou, Civil Rights Movement, Mississippi). DAI 54, no. 07A, (1993). University of California, Los Angeles.
Bramlett-Solomon, Sharon. "Civil Rights Vanguard in the Deep South: Newspaper Portrayal of Fannie Lou Hamer, 1964-1977." Journalism Quarterly. 68 Autum 1991: 515-521.
Demuth, Jerry. "Tired of Being Sick and Tired." The Nation. v.198 June 1, 1964. 548-541.
Hamlett, Janice D. "Fannie Lou Hamer: the Unquenchable Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement." Journal of Black Studies. May 1996: 26(5) 560-577.
Holmes-Norton, Eleanor. Woman Who Changed the South: Memory of Fannie Lou Hamer. MS July 1977.
Lee, Chana Kai. Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer (television program review). The Journal of American History 80 Dec. 1993: 1196-7.
Marshall, Paule. Fannie Lou Hamer: Hunger Has No Color Line. Vogue 155 June 1970: 126-7+.
Fannie Lou Hamer papers. Amistad Research Center, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana. Seventeen rolls of microfilm.
Fannie Lou Hamer Papers. Civil Rights Documentation Project, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center. Howard. University, Washington, D.C. August, 9, 1968.
Use the following electronic databases to find journal articles, magazine articles, newspaper articles, media, and documents to research Fannie Lou Hamer.
America: History and Life
Black Studies Database: Kaiser Index to Black Resources
Encyclopaedia Britannica Online
Facts on File
History Resource Center: US
InfoTrac: Expanded Academic ASAP
International Index to Black Periodicals
Lexis-Nexis: History Universe
Fannie Lou Hamer Websites