Fannie Lou Hamer

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I always said if I lived to get grown and had a chance, I was going to try to get something for my mother and I was going to do something for the black man of the South if it would cost my life; I was determined to see that things were changed.

Fannie Lou Hamer (October 6, 1917March 14, 1977), born Fannie Lou Townsend, was an American voting rights activist and civil rights leader. She was a field secretary with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.


  • It is only when we speak what is right that we stand a chance at night of being blown to bits in our homes. Can we call this a free country, when I am afraid to go to sleep in my own home in Mississippi?... I might not live two hours after I get back home, but I want to be a part of setting the Negro free in Mississippi.
    • As quoted in This Little Light of Mine, ch. 8, by Hay Mills (1993). Said on September 13, 1965, in a hearing before the United States House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Elections.
  • With the people, for the people, by the people. I crack up when I hear it; I say, with the handful, for the handful, by the handful, 'cause that's what really happens.
    • As quoted in This Little Light of Mine, ch. 8, by Hay Mills (1993).
  • I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.
    • Widely quoted, including Freedomways, p. 240 (Second quarter, 1965). This quote was later employed as her epitaph, and used by American singer and songwriter Anastacia at her song Sick and Tired.
  • It's time for America to get right.
    • As quoted in This Little Light of Mine, ch. 8, by Hay Mills (1993).
  • I always said if I lived to get grown and had a chance, I was going to try to get something for my mother and I was going to do something for the black man of the South if it would cost my life; I was determined to see that things were changed.
    • As quoted in Freedomways, p. 232 (Second quarter, 1965).
  • When they asked for those to raise their hands who'd go down to the courthouse the next day, I raised mine. Had it up high as I could get it. I guess if I'd had any sense, I'd have been a little scared — but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like they'd been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.
    • As quoted in The Crosswinds of Freedom, 1932-1988, p. 636, by James MacGregor Burns (2012)

Quotes about Fannie Lou Hamer[edit]

  • Fanny Lou Hamer of Mississippi, a woman of great dignity and natural eloquence
    • Bella Abzug Bella!: Ms. Abzug Goes to Washington (1972)
  • "All of this on account we want to register, to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America, is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings, in America? Thank you." It is important that we know that those words came from the lips of an African American woman. It is imperative that we know those words come from the heart of an American...We must hear the questions raised by Fannie Lou Hamer forty years ago…Fannie Lou Hamer knew that she was one woman and only one woman. However, she knew she was an American, and as an American she had a light to shine on the darkness of racism. It was a little light, but she aimed it directly at the gloom of ignorance.
  • Fannie Lou Hamer's address at the Atlantic City Convention stunned the country. The reforms that were later introduced into the Democratic Party structure derived from the urgent need for change which she communicated. Not a few of the Black political leaders in the South today, e.g., Charles Evers, Julian Bond, and Ernest N. Morial (the Black mayor of New Orleans), owe their political fortunes to the foundations of reform that Fannie Lou Hamer laid in 1964. In 1965 the MFDP under Hamer's leadership organized the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union and began recruiting Black sharecroppers in the state in a drive to end their terrible poverty. A strike in May 1965 marked the first such action in the Mississippi farm lands since an abortive uprising by 'croppers in the 1930s...Fannie Lou Hamer died in March 1977, at the age of sixty. In a tribute to her, Eleanor Holmes Norton wrote: "This profoundly black woman was of a world broader than her own race and sex. She reached out to the miserably poor whites in her native Sunflower County, organizing a cooperative farm to raise animals and vegetables. Hunger, it turned out, was the vital bond between the white and black poor."
    • Bettina Aptheker Woman's Legacy: Essays on Race, Sex, and Class in American History (1982)
  • (What's the difference between a spokesman and a witness?) A spokesman assumes that he is speaking for others. I never assumed that I never assumed that I could. Fannie Lou Hamer, for example, could speak very eloquently for herself. What I tried to do, or to interpret and make clear was that what the Republic was doing to that woman, it was also doing to itself. No society can smash the social contract and be exempt from the consequences, and the consequences are chaos for everybody in the society.
    • 1984 interview in Conversations with James Baldwin edited by Louis H. Pratt and Fred L. Standley (1989)
  • In many ways, she paved the way for Barack Obama.
  • People such as Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin Luther King Jr. frequently quoted the Declaration in their efforts to eradicate racism.
    • Carl Hart Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear (2021)
  • In 1961, civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer, a disabled Black woman, was forcibly sterilized without her knowledge; the procedure was so common at the time that it had its own nickname, the "Mississippi appendectomy." Buck v. Bell has never been overturned.
  • We will never forget Aaron Henry and Fannie Lou Hamer. Their testimony educated a nation and brought the political powers to their knees in repentance, for the convention voted never again to seat a delegation that was racially segregated. But the true test of their message would be whether or not Negroes in Northern cities heard them and would register and vote.
  • In the final analysis, it must be said that this Nobel Prize was won by a movement of great people, whose discipline, wise restraint, and majestic courage has led them down a nonviolent course in seeking to establish a reign of justice and a rule of love across this nation of ours: Herbert Lee, Fannie Lou Hamer, Medgar Evers, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner, and the thousands of children in Birmingham, Albany, St. Augustine, and Savannah who had accepted physical blows and jail and had discovered that the power of the soul is greater than the might of violence. These unknown thousands had given this movement the international acclaim, which we received from the Norwegian Parliament.
  • Over and over again the defense of the family is seen as the primary concern of black women; their understanding of the defense of the family always includes the elevation of the black man. "We are here to work side by side with the black man in trying to bring liberation to all people," is the way Fannie Lou Hamer, the 20th-century Mississippi grassroots leader, summarized a long tradition.
    • Gerda Lerner, The Majority Finds Its Past: Placing Women in History’’ (1979)
  • The voices of the grassroots, of people like Fannie Lou Hamer, must always be heard if we are to understand the past and move effectively toward the future.
  • a lot of the women in northern New Mexico were like the women I had met in rural Mississippi. They were Fanny Lou Hamers — only they spoke Spanish — in northern New Mexico. Same kind of older, tough ladies who had seen it all, and the same kind of strength, you know? So there was just nothing you could do except respect — a whole lot — those women.
  • if you think about the civil rights movement, what we were able to do was get Jim Crow out of three very distinct arenas in the country: First, there was public accommodations; second, there was voting rights and access to the political structures of the country; and third, and not well known, access to the national party structure itself — that is, to the Democratic Party. And that was Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 convention of the Democratic Party. And remember, Kennedy had been assassinated. Johnson had been moved into the presidency, but he hadn’t been nominated yet, right? And so, we won those struggles, but what we didn’t win was getting Jim Crow out of education, right? And that was actually the subtext of the right to vote...And Fannie Lou Hamer, when she testified — and, you know, Martin Luther King testified, but President Johnson wasn’t afraid of him. He was afraid of this sharecropper from Louisville, Mississippi. And when she went on to testify, the president said, “We have an announcement to make.” And he took over the TV, right?
  • when I think about this, in order to become president of the United States, you have to be nominated by one of the two political parties, so the crucial thing for me was, in reflecting back, was the 1964 challenge of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to the National Democratic Convention, because that was where the stage was set that allowed this to happen, because without opening up the national political structure in the country, this wasn’t going to happen. And, you know, we could have gotten the right to vote without the opening up of the national political party structure. And the party structure wasn’t opened up by getting the right to vote; the party structure was opened up by directly challenging in Mississippi the right of Mississippi to send an all-white delegation to the 1964 National Democratic Convention. And it was Fannie Lou Hamer and all the people in that delegation that really forced the national Democratic Party to open up, you know?...all I heard and all I saw was Fannie Lou Hamer giving her testimony. I had no idea that while she was giving her testimony, that the President, Lyndon Johnson, was so afraid of this woman, who had been raised and lived her life as a sharecropper and had been working on the Marlow plantation in Sunflower County, outside of Ruleville. He was so afraid of her that he went — you know, at that time, we just had the three networks: ABC, NBC and CBS. And he went to — notified all three networks that he had a special announcement, because he was terrified that her testimony was so powerful and she was so authentic that people would flood the convention, the credentials committee, with telegrams demanding that her party be seated. And so, he went and interrupted her testimony.
  • legendary organizer Fannie Lou Hamer
    • Debra L. Schultz Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement (2002)
  • I idolize Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker. And they are supreme examples of what being freedom fighters, principled, fearless — or at least courageous. There’s a difference between being fearless and being courageous. Courageous is actually better, because everyone should have some fear about what might actually harm them. And, of course, Fannie Lou Hamer paid a huge price for wanting to do something as seemingly ordinary as vote. But in the Jim Crow South of that era, Black people, virtually none of them were allowed to vote. She paid a permanent price because of the beating that she received. And I just found out yesterday, if you can believe it, after all these years, that she actually was blinded in one eye. She is known for having worked with SNCC, doing voter organizing and other kinds of antiracist organizing during that Jim Crow era, and then, of course, speaking out so powerfully at the 1964 Democratic convention about what went on in Mississippi, and asking the very, very, very relevant question: “Is this America?”...I actually had the great, great pleasure and honor of meeting Fannie Lou Hamer when I was a teenager in Cleveland in 1965 and was very involved in the civil rights movement as a young person.
  • women played a crucial role in those early dangerous years of organizing in the South, and were looked on with admiration...Women of all ages demonstrated, went to jail. Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper in Ruleville, Mississippi, became legendary as organizer and speaker. She sang hymns; she walked picket lines with her familiar limp (as a child she contracted polio). She roused people to excitement at mass meetings: "I'm sick an' tired o' bein' sick an' tired!"
  • Mrs. Hamer is short and stocky, her skin like weather-beaten copper, her eyes soft and large; she walks with a limp because she had polio as a child, and when she sings she is crying out to the heavens. She told what happened after she went down to register: "The thirty-first of August in '62, the day I went into the courthouse to register, well, after I'd gotten back home, this man that I had worked for as a timekeeper and sharecropper for eighteen years, he said that I would just have to leave....So I told him I wasn't trying to register for him, I was trying to register for myself. . . . I didn't have no other choice because for one time I wanted things to be different...Mrs. Hamer became a field secretary for SNCC after her eviction from the plantation. Just as Moses and the other "outsiders" had become insiders, now the insiders were beginning to become outsiders to the society they had grown up in. As Mrs. Hamer put it: "You know they said outsiders was coming in and beginning to get the people stirred up because they've always been satisfied. Well, as long as I can remember, I've never been satisfied. It was twenty of us, six girls and fourteen boys, and we just barely was making it. You know I could see the whites was going to school at a time when we would be out of school…and most of the time we didn't have anything to wear. I knew it was something wrong. ... I always sensed that we was the one who always do the hard work, you know..." I asked her if she was going to remain with the movement, and she responded with the words to a song: "I told them if they ever miss me from the movement and couldn't find me nowhere, come on over to the graveyard, and I'll be buried there."
  • SNCC workers have found that F.B.I. men in the South often share the segregationist views of the people around them; this is reflected in the lack of enthusiasm which F.B.I. men show in handling civil rights cases. Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer once told an F.B.I. agent, "If I get to heaven and I see you there, I will tell St. Peter to send me on back to Mississippi!"

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