Throughout February, the Democrats will present an ongoing blog series celebrating African American heroes, both past and present. Staffers at the Democratic National Committee and Organizing for America have been asked to write about influential African Americans in our country’s history and leaders who continue making contributions today.
Fannie Lou Hamer was an American voting rights activist and civil rights leader—she was instrumental in organizing the Mississippi Freedom Summer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1964. Lawrence Guyot, a contemporary of Civil Hamer, shared a few memories of his friend and fellow leader with me recently.
Guyot first met Fannie Lou Hamer in 1962, when he took her to register to vote for the first time. What struck him most was her strong sense of faith, resiliency, and tenacity. Guyot remembers her commitment to cultivating democracy, advancing social justice, fighting for the rights of women, and the pivotal role she played in ensuring the passage of the Voting Rights Act.
Years later, Guyot and Hamer worked closely together as Civil Rights activists. In 1964, Guyot directed the Freedom Summer Project in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Together, Hamer and Guyot organized the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party or “Freedom Democrats” to challenge Mississippi’s all-white, anti–civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention. Fannie Lou Hamer was elected vice chair of the Freedom Democrats and relayed the plight of African Americans in Mississippi in an emotionally riveting speech to the convention’s Credentials Committee:
"All of this is on account we want to register [sic], to become first-class citizens, and if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily because we want to live as decent human beings—in America?"
The efforts of the Freedom Democrats resulted in the Democratic Party adopting a clause that demanded equality of representation from their states delegations in 1968.
Guyot’s reflections on Hamer during Black History Month fortified my faith in a democracy that eventually prevailed. As a young African American woman of faith, Hamer’s strength inspires me. The change she fought for and eventually brought to the Democratic Party makes me proud to be a Democrat.