Fannie Lou Hamer was born in 1917 in Mississippi. She was descended from slaves and grew up one of 19 children in a sharecropping family. After she married, she and her husband were sharecroppers as well.
In 1962, at the age of 44, Hamer became involved in African-American voter registration drives through the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Previous to meeting SNCC representatives, Hamer is said to have not even been aware that Black Americans had the legal right to vote. From this time on, Hamer was very involved in Civil Rights activism. She was jailed and tortured for attempting to vote, lost her job, and even got death threats. So she became a Field Secretary for SNCC.
Hamer went on to co-found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, challenging the all-white Mississippi Democratic delegation at the Democratic National Convention. Captured on national television while at the convention, Hamer became a bit of a celebrity, speaking about her life as a black woman in the Deep South. After the Convention, Hamer received (and accepted) many speaking requests all over the country.
In 1964 and 1965, Hamer ran (unsuccessfully) for Congress on the Freedom Democratic ticket. In 1968, she was seated as a Democratic delegate from Mississippi at the Democratic National Convention, where she spoke against the Vietnam War. Hamer also continued grassroots level work, including Head-Start programs and the first Southern Black cooperative farm.
Hamer died of breast cancer in 1977.