Famous phrase: I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.
In most southern states few blacks could vote – despite what the constitution said! In Hamer’s home state of Mississippi, for example, only 5% of blacks could vote. Whites kept most blacks from voting with poll taxes, literacy tests, arrest, violence and, as in the case of Medgar Evers, even murder.
Hamer’s parents were sharecroppers: they worked planting and picking cotton for a white man who, in return, allowed them to live on his land in an old, falling-apart house and paid them just enough to keep them alive but not enough to stop their hunger pains. His dog lived better than they did.
In 1923 at age six she started working. By age 12 her family had saved enough to buy a tractor and rent some land. But then a white neighbour poisoned their cows and they were worse off than before! On that day Hamer promised herself to “do something for the black man of the South if it would cost my life.”
She had done well in school but after six years of education she had to drop out to help support the family, working 12 to 14 hours a day.
She got married in 1944. Against her will a white doctor made it so she could not have children! She adopted two girls.
In 1962 she went to register to vote. They made her take a test and she failed. The white man her family sharecropped for found out and kicked her off his land, telling her never to come back. Later some white men shot at her.
She went to work for SNCC to get blacks to register to vote. She was a great speaker. Her words and actions gave people hope and courage.
She tried to register a second time and again she failed the test. But the third time, in 1963, she passed!
A few months later the police arrested her and had two black prisoners beat her up so badly she could not move her legs. They damaged a kidney and an eye for life. Martin Luther King found out and sent Andrew Young to get her out of jail.
The Democratic Party in Mississippi only allowed whites to run for office. SNCC set up the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to run both blacks and whites. In 1964 it got more votes! But despite that it was not allowed in to the Democratic Convention that summer: the president was afraid it would lose him too many white votes in the South.
Hamer protested to the credentials committee. The television networks carried her testimony in full on the evening news. Her story shocked and shamed many whites. A year later Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, outlawing literacy tests, poll taxes and all the rest.
– Abagond, 2010.