The Mississippi Sharecropper Who Helped Black Americans Win Voting Rights

Fannie Lou Hamer's Legacy Reminds Us That Everyday People Can Effect Change—Even When the Nation Is Impossibly Divided

Though Black people represented 50 percent of Mississippi’s voting age population in 1964, Jim Crow literacy tests, poll taxes, violence, and intimidation had managed to all but silence their political power at the polls. Now, adding to their disenfranchisement, white Southern Democrats were proposing seating an all-white delegation at that year’s Democratic National Convention.

Fannie Lou Hamer—a poor, middle-aged, Black sharecropper—wasn’t having it. That August, she testified before a convention committee, alongside better-known civil rights activists, including Martin Luther King Jr., and demanded the right to represent the citizens of Mississippi …