Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977), the youngest of 20 children who began working with her Mississippi sharecropper parents at the age of 6, changed a nation's perspective on democracy. Hamer became involved in the civil rights movement when she helped the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) organize a voter registration drive in Ruleville, Mississippi, which challenged the state's laws that were designed to deny blacks the right to vote.
By then, 45 years old and a mother, Hamer lost her job and continually risked her life because of her civil rights activism. Hamer and other activists were arrested in June 1963 and severely beaten at a Montgomery County, Mississippi jail by two black inmates, on orders from white police officers. Hamer suffered permanent injuries. Despite this brutal beating, Hamer spoke frequently to raise money for the movement.
In 1964, Hamer and other SNCC members established the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) after failed attempts to coordinate with the Mississippi Democratic Party. The group sent delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, where they challenged the all-white Mississippi delegation, arguing that the state's all-white delegation did not truly represent Mississippi. As a result, in l968, the Convention seated an integrated challenge delegation from Mississippi.
Deeply committed to improving life for poor minorities in her state, Hamer, working with the National Council of Negro Women and others, helped organize food cooperatives, low-income housing, school desegregation, day-care and other services. She continued political activities as well, being one of the founders in the 1970s of the National Women's Political Caucus.
Hamer published her autobiography, To Praise Our Bridges, in 1967. She is buried in her hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, where her tombstone reads, "I am sick and tired of being sick and tired."