Date: Tue, 11 May 1999 23:31:35 -0700 (PDT)
Full Interview Transcript:
Summary Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer (1918–1977)
From the Oral History Department, University of Southern Mississippi, 11 May 1999
Fannie Lou Hamer was born on a plantation in the Mississippi hill country in 1918, the last child in a family of twenty children. Mrs. Hamer's parents, who were sharecroppers, moved to Sunflower County, Mississippi, when she was two years old. She recalled that "from two years old up until now I've been in the Delta."
Due to the dire economic circumstances in which the family lived, Mrs. Hamer received only about six years of formal education. At the time of her youth the school term was only four months a year. Also, education at that time was considered secondary to work; nevertheless, "When I was a child, I loved to read. In fact, I learned to read real well when I was going to school."
Mrs. Hamer married and continued farming until the 1960s. In 1962, Mrs. Hamer learned about voting, saying, "That sounded interesting enough to me that I wanted to try it." When the civil rights movement began in Mississippi, Mrs. Hamer became first a participant and then a leader. She joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] as a fieldworker in voter registration drives.
As a result of this work for civil rights, Mrs. Hamer became a leading figure in the organization of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. As a member of the party, she attended the 1964 National Democratic Convention to challenge the seating of Mississippi's Regular Democratic Party. It was during a credentials committee hearing at this convention that she made her famous television appearance telling of the problems she encountered trying to vote in Mississippi. She recalled that "The first vote I cast, I cast . . . for myself, because I was running for Congress." She opposed the incumbent from her congressional district, Representative Jamie Whitten.
Mrs. Hamer traveled widely on behalf of the civil rights movement. She made addresses in many major cities and colleges in the United States. Mrs. Hamer was also instrumental in forming the farming cooperative, Freedom Farms, in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Among her many endeavors, Mrs. Hamer campaigned unsuccessfully for a seat in the state senate in 1971.
Mrs. Hamer passed away March 14, 1977, in the hospital at Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Her funeral was conducted in Ruleville, and she was laid to rest on March 21 at Freedom Farms Cooperative, which she helped to found.
(c) 1997-1998 Oral History Department, University of Southern Mississippi
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