“We Are Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired”: The Politics of Black Voter Disenfranchisement According to Fannie Lou Hamer

(Fannie Lou Hamer. Library of Congress Photograph)

By Regennia N. Williams, PhD
Distinguished Scholar of African American History and Culture

Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977), a native of Mississippi, gained a national following and the admiration of people around the world for her efforts to enhance Black political and economic empowerment during the Modern Civil Rights Movement. In 1964, she summed up the feelings of thousands of disenfranchised Blacks: “We are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

As a leader in the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) in the 1960s, she worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other groups to organize Freedom Summer, a 1964 voter registration initiative that recruited hundreds of volunteers–mostly White, middle-class college students, to help register Black voters in rural Mississippi.  Miami University in Oxford, Ohio hosted the volunteer training sessions.  Despite the fact that their efforts were often met with intimidation, violence, and even the deaths of some of the volunteers, Hamer and her colleagues succeeded in registering thousands of Black voters and challenging the all-White Democratic Party leadership in her home state.

For more information on Fannie Lou Hamer and her work with SNCC before, during, and after Freedom Summer, see Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC (2010).  For information on the history of the Suffrage Movement in America, please watch Failure is Impossible, a new film that accompanies the WRHS Women and Politics exhibit.