The Power of One

Fannie Lou Hamer (née Townsend) was the last of 20 children born to her parents. Her family lost their own farm when their animal stock was poisoned because the local white farmers did not want to see them succeed. They moved to become sharecroppers on another farm. Fannie, in spite of having polio, was required to pick cotton. She was unable to continue her education after she was 12. In spite of her lack of education, she was asked to be a record keeper for the plantation owner.

She married Perry Hamer when she was 18. While she and her husband wanted a family, she was sterilized without her consent during another surgery. They later adopted two children. One of their children died after being denied treatment at a hospital.

Fannie became active in the Civil Rights movement. When she tried to vote, she was given a literacy test which she failed (white voters did not have to take the test). She was fired by her boss and forced to leave her home because she tried to vote. When she was living with a friend, she was shot at 15 times in a drive-by shooting. She wasn’t hit.

She continued to take the literacy tests and passed on her third attempt. When she went to vote, she was again denied because she hadn’t paid poll taxes. The refusal of her voting rights made her more determined to engage the racism that was present. She became involved with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

In a bus trip to a SNCC conference, she and others were beaten by the police. Fannie was stripped in a public space. As a result of the time spent in jail, she experienced permanent health impacts, including blood clots and kidney damage. Her health status did not stop her. She co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to oppose the racist Democratic Party to represent Mississippi. When the MFDP tried to get its delegates recognized at the 1968 nominating convention, the all-White Democratic Party delegation walked out.

Fannie experienced indignity at the hands of the established Democratic Party as well as Civil Rights leaders due to her lack of education and her financial status. She continued to fight for her people even though she was in ill health. She died at the age of 59. Her funeral had to be moved to the high school to accommodate those who wanted to honor her.

Just imagine how one person can continue fighting for the rights of others when experiencing such cruelty. It’s hard to imagine how those in power will use any means possible to suppress the efforts of a poor woman of little financial means. Her story is one of the power of one with moral strength.

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“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.” – Fannie Lou Hamer

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