In the early 1960’s, Black voters faced poll taxes, literacy tests, and other forms of voter suppression. Black Mississippians accounted for less than 6% of voters. We no longer have those problems anymore, although we still face some voter disenfranchisement. Today, Mississippi has the highest percentage of Black voters in the country and we have Fannie Lou Hamer to thank for that. I was eligible to vote for the first time in 2018, and it was imperative for me to exercise my right to vote. Fannie Lou Hamer paved the way for Black Mississippians such as myself to be able to vote. In 1962, she learned that Black people could vote. From then on, she dedicated her life to trying to register Black people to vote. It did not come easily; her life was threatened several times. In 1963, she faced police brutality. Thankfully, she survived and spoke out against it at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Her speech would go on to spark change in the country, including the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. She also ran for Congress which, at the time, was not a common thing for Black people to do. Although she did not win, she taught an important lesson on the importance of political activism.
I first learned of Fannie Lou Hamer in 4th grade. Hearing her story and listening to her speeches inspired me to learn more about democracy and the importance of voting. As I got older, I learned about local elections and midterms and the need to be active in each election. By the time I turned 18, I was more than ready to participate in the democratic process. There were several policies that I desired to see put in place and I knew that my vote would make a difference in whether or not they were enacted.
Black women made up over 90% of the vote for Democrats in this year’s election, and I was so glad to be a part of that number. I would not have been able to do that had Fannie Lou Hamer not put her life on the line. I owe her immense gratitude and respect and the least I can do to honor her is exercise my right to vote. I am so thankful for Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi legend, for her activism, vigor, and tenacity in her efforts to bring forth change in my home state.