She speaks for black Americans who have been second class citizens in their own home too long. She speaks for the race that would be patient no longer that would be accepting no more. Mrs. Hamer speaks for the African Americans who stood up in the 1950’s and refused to sit down. They were the people who led the greatest movement in modern American history – the civil rights movement.
It was a movement that would be more than a fragment of history; it was a movement that would become a measure of our lives. The government finally answered on July 2nd with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is historically significant because it stands as a defining piece of civil rights legislation, being the first time the national government had declared equality for blacks. The civil rights movement was a campaign led by a number of organizations, supported by many individuals, to end discrimination and achieve equality for American Blacks.
Born October 6, 1917, in Montgomery County, Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer was the granddaughter of a slave and the youngest of 20 children. Her parents were sharecroppers. At age six, Fannie Lou began helping her parents in the cotton fields. By the time she was twelve, she was forced to drop out of school and work full time to help support her family. Once grown, she married another sharecropper named Perry “Pap” Hamer.
On August 31, 1962, Mrs. Hamer decided she had had enough of sharecropping. Leaving her house in Ruleville, MS she and 17 others took a bus to the courthouse in Indianola, the county seat, to register to vote. On their return home, police stopped their bus. They were told that their bus was the wrong color. Fannie Lou and the others were arrested and jailed.
Mrs. Hamer began working on welfare and voter registration programs for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1964, presidential elections were being held. In an effort to focus greater national attention on voting discrimination, civil rights groups created the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). This new party sent a delegation, which included Fannie Lou Hamer, to Atlantic City, where the Democratic Party was holding its presidential convention.
Its purpose was to challenge the all-white Mississippi delegation on the grounds that it didn’t fairly represent all the people of Mississippi, since most black people hadn’t been allowed to vote. Fannie Lou Hamer spoke to the Credentials Committee of the convention about the injustices that allowed an all-white delegation to be seated from the state of Mississippi. Although her live testimony was pre-empted by a presidential press conference, the national networks aired her testimony, in its entirety, later in the evening. Now all of America heard of the struggle in Mississippi’s delta. A compromise was reached that gave voting and speaking rights to two delegates from the MFDP and seated the others as honored guests.
The Democrats agreed that in the future no delegation would be seated from a state where anyone was illegally denied the vote. A year later, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act. Bibliography: