Remembering disability rights activists
“We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Fannie Lou Hamer, 1917-1977
Content warning: Racism, racist violence, police racism and violence.
Who was Fannie Lou Hamer?
Fannie Lou Hamer was a Black civil rights activist. At the age of 44, she found out she had the right to vote. But, in the Southern states, Jim Crow laws prevented Black people from registering to vote.
Hamer went on to fight for the fundamental right of every Black person in the US to vote.
In 1962 Hamer joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She went with 17 other Black people to the courthouse to register to vote. They had to pass racist literacy tests to register. Afterwards, police harassed and fined Hamer and her companions, claiming their bus was “too yellow”.
On returning home, Hamer’s white employer sacked her and evicted her from her home.
Hamer became an SNCC Field Secretary. In 1963 while on a speaking tour, Mississippi police arrested her and other activists.
The police viciously beat the activists over a period of 4 days. The injuries left Hamer with life-long disabilities and scarring. She experienced sight loss, damage to her kidneys and a permanent limp after the attack.
Hamer continued to campaign, speaking at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Her passionate televised speech influenced the legislation that banned local racist voting laws.
Hamer helped form The Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and stood for election. She used her campaign to highlight issues of poverty and hunger.
Hamer’s activism and determination in the face of brutality have had a lasting legacy. She is widely considered to have helped to lay the ground for the disability rights movement.
The American Association of People with Disabilities created the Fannie Lou Hamer Leadership Program. It supports young Black disabled advocates to boost voter registration across Black communities. The Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom High School in the Bronx, New York is named after her.
You can find out more about Fannie Lou Hamer, disability and civil rights activist here.
You can also read a biography of Fannie Lou Hamer here.