On this day in 1917, the Mississippi civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer was born.
Hamer was the granddaughter of a slave and the youngest of twenty children born to Mississippi sharecroppers. She began picking cotton at age six. On August 31, 1962, she and seventeen others decided it was time for a change. They took a bus to the county seat and registered to vote. On the way home, the police stopped them—on the pretext that their bus was the wrong color. Later, the plantation owner told Hamer that, if she insisted on voting, she’d have to get off his land. She left the same day.
On June 3, 1963, Hamer was among a busload of civil rights activists working to register voters who were arrested in Winona, Mississippi. She was beaten in the jail, she recalled, until her body was hard and she couldn’t bend her fingers.
The following year, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenged the credentials of the state’s all-white delegation to the party’s presidential nominating convention. Hamer’s description to the Credentials Committee of the fight for voting rights was aired on national television. Ultimately, two delegates from the Freedom Party were seated and the Democrats agreed no future delegations would be seated from states that denied voting rights. In 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act.