October 6, 1917
Fannie Lou Townsend is born in Montgomery County, Mississippi. She is the 20th and youngest child of Ella and James Townsend, who eke out a living as sharecroppers.
Fannie begins to attend a one-room schoolhouse, open only between cotton-picking seasons. She excels at spelling bees and reciting poetry. When not at school, she works in the fields.
Fannie’s formal education ends at 12 years old, when she leaves school to work full time. She continues to develop her reading skills by reading the Bible.
Fannie marries Perry Hamer, a fellow plantation worker.
Fannie undergoes surgery to remove a uterine tumor. The White doctor removes her entire uterus without her consent. Fannie and Perry would later adopt two daughters.
Fannie attempts to register to vote, but fails the registration test, which was crafted to keep Black Americans from voting. Upon returning home, her boss fires her for attempting to vote.
White supremacists shoot at Fannie, having heard of her voter registration attempts, but they miss. Fearing further retaliation, Fannie and her family temporarily move to nearby Tallahatchie County.
Taking the voter registration test for the third time, Fannie passes. Around this time she becomes involved with activism, becoming a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).
While traveling by bus, Fannie and other activists stop at a café. They are refused service, and a patrol officer asks them to leave. Fannie and others are arrested and taken to a jail in Winona, Mississippi. Fannie is confined to a cell and beaten with a blackjack. She never fully recovers from her injuries.
Fannie attempts to vote, but is told she needs two poll tax receipts. She obtains them, but is dismayed by the continuous obstacles.
Fannie helps found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which served as a counterpoint to the all-white Democratic Party and aimed to empower Black voices. She represents Mississippi at the Democratic National Convention, giving a televised speech in which she questions why, in the “land of the free,” not everyone can register to vote. Additionally this year, Fannie runs for a seat in the Senate, but does not win the election.
Fannie marches with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She continues her work with grassroots campaigns and works on an autobiography entitled To Praise Our Bridges.
Fannie founds the Freedom Farm Cooperative, which aims to redistribute economic power in agriculture. She also works with the National Council of Negro Women to create a “pig bank,” giving pigs to Black farmers, both for food and to help create financial opportunity. The FFC runs through the mid-1970s.
Fannie co-founds the National Women’s Political Caucus, which aims to increase women’s roles in all aspects of political life and support women running for office. Fannie runs unsuccessfully for the Mississippi State Senate.
Fannie’s health begins to deteriorate and she is hospitalized for nervous exhaustion.
March 14, 1977
Fannie dies from complications of hypertension and breast cancer. She is just 59 years old.