Though “sick and tired of being sick and tired”and suffering the effects of her disability, Fannie Lou Hamer was a tireless advocate, fighting racism and other forms of bias during the Civil Rights era. We honor her memory on this day, October 6, what would have been her 99th birthday.
Being kicked off the plantation on which she worked for more that 20 years was one of the formative moments of her life. This action was in retribution for working to register fellow African Americans to vote in her native Mississippi during the summer of 1962. She was not defeated; in fact, the event strengthened her resolve. “They kicked me off the plantation; they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people,” she said.
The following summer, in 1963, her fight for justice landed her in a Winona, Mississippi, jail. There, she was beaten savagely, causing permanent kidney damage. She already had surgery in 1961 to remove a tumor; the doctor also removed her uterus against her consent. Nevertheless, she kept on fighting and, in 1964, her speech at the Democratic Convention raised national awareness of the Civil Rights struggle. Despite setbacks, Fannie Lou Hamer carried her struggle for the rest of her life, until 1977, when she died of complications from heart disease and breast cancer. At her funeral, Andrew Young Jr., a U.S. delegate to the United Nations, in his eulogy said, “None of us would be where we are today had she not been here then.”