On August 22, 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights activist and organizer, delivered one of the era’s most powerful testimonies before the Credentials Committee at the Democratic National Convention. The year prior, she was jailed and viciously beaten for her work helping African Americans register to vote in Mississippi, and earlier in 1964 she helped to found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party when the state’s standing Democratic Party refused to allow African American delegates to attend the National Convention. “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired,” Hamer declared to the Committee, and she ended her testimony by offering a challenge to the United States as a whole: “Is this America, the land of the free and home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hook because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings in America?”
Hamer worked as a sharecropper in Mississippi for the majority of her life. She became active in the Civil Rights movement in 1962 after attending a meeting near her home organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Hamer quickly became active in the organization’s voter registration campaign and established herself as a leading voice for racial equality in the region. Later in the 1960s, Hamer continued to work toward social justice in her community, organizing projects that helped provide housing and food to low-income families.