Meet Fannie Lou Hamer

March 16, 2021

The remarkable Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was the last of 20 children. She was six years old when she began picking cotton with her family in Mississippi. Hamer was well into her adult years when she became interested in the civil rights movement.

Her activism focused on voter registration which began August 31, 1962, when she and others tried unsuccessfully to register to vote. When she told her boss what she had done he immediately fired her and kicked her off the plantation. She had learned about voting rights through the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. “They talked about how it was our right, that we could register and vote,” Hamer recounted. “I had never heard until 1962 that black people could register and vote.”

She traveled extensively in Mississippi working to register more black voters. With only a sixth grade education, her public speaking lacked eloquence but was powerful in the connection she made with her audiences. Her courage and determination kept her going despite the violence she experienced from white supremacists.

Advocacy for voting rights and related political activities moved her into the national arena. “I’m Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired” is the title of her speech delivered in Harlem December 20, 1964. In it she shared her personal experience of injustice and physical abuse. Then she referenced the “You know it takes time” excuse often made for the lack of change. “For three hundred years we’ve given them time. And I’ve been tired so long, now I am sick and tired of being sick and tired, and we want change. . . . Not only do we need a change in the state of Mississippi, but we need a change here in Harlem. And it’s time for every American citizen to wake up because now the whole world is looking at this American society.”