On Oct. 3, we honored the civil rights icon and voting rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer. Born on October 3, 1917, Hamer is fondly remembered and admired for her activism during the Civil Rights Movement while speaking out against the injustices that African Americans faced in Mississippi and across the United States.
Hamer was born in Montgomery County, Mississippi, to a family of impoverished share croppers. At six years old, her family expected her to work in the fields at the same time that she had a bout of polio that left her with a lifelong limp. Although she suffered with polio she continued to work in the fields most of her life, until she was fired for trying to register to vote.
At 37 years old, Hamer launched her career in political activism, which soon became her chief mission in life. Hamer attended a meeting hosted by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SLCL) where she first registered to vote and became a field worker on the voter registration committee. In 1964, she attended the Democratic Convention in Atlanta and eventually helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Hamer became one of the many faces of the civil rights struggle in Mississippi.
While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 codified what Hamer fought so hard for in our country, there still remains much to do. Before the 2016 election, 14 states adopted new voter laws under the guise of combating voter fraud, which essentially created new barriers to voting for tens of thousands of low-income citizens and citizens of color. Later, the Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder left many across the nation without their fundamental right to vote by reversing a key formula used in the Voting Rights Act to hold states accountable. On May 11, 2017, President Trump issued an executive order that would create an “election integrity” commission, which has been stated to combat voter fraud, but in reality will lead to a repeat of the egregious mistakes of our past.
Hamer’s persistence and diligence in her fight for voting rights was integral to the Civil Rights Movement and the eventual passage of legislation that protected the right to vote for all citizens. We must continue to remember her struggle, as the struggle continues even to this day. By honoring Hamer’s legacy, we can learn from the mistakes of our past and recognize those who had fought for a better future. She is definitely an exemplary model of what it looks like to stand firm for equality when it comes to voting rights. So I will remain determined to push the current administration to understand how imperative it is to actually provide solutions to the true issue of voter suppression and not voter fraud.
Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson represents the 30th District in Texas.