“We are not fighting against these people because we hate them, but we are fighting these people because we love them and we’re the only thing that can save them now.”Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie Lou Hamer was the youngest of twenty children in a family of sharecroppers. At age six, she started picking cotton and worked as a sharecropper until the age of 45, when she met a pair of activists who were starting a voter registration drive. Hamer joined the first group of volunteers on a trip to the courthouse. After the registrar denied them, they returned home on their bus only to be stopped and harassed by police. As fear filled the bus, Hamer started singing “This Little Light of Mine,” and led song after song filling the bus with courage instead. From then on, she was known as “the lady who sings the hymns.”
In the months that followed, she was fired, forced out of her home, shot at, jailed and tortured. Undeterred, she pushed on for voters’ rights. In her mind she had “started workin’ for Christ.”
Black voters faced another obstacle: Mississippi’s all-white political parties. The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) was formed to push for black representation, and Hamer was sent to the Democratic National Convention to seek a seat as a delegate.
Hamer gave a speech detailing the horror and brutality she had experienced in her attempts to vote. Her speech was so riveting, President Johnson called a sudden press conference to switch off network coverage of her. The convention refused to seat MFDP delegates, but it was the beginning of the end for the white-only parties.
As she always had, Hamer persisted, giving speeches around the country. And everywhere she went, she bolstered people’s hearts with her powerful words and songs.
Next: James Lawson