Although Freedom Summer had a large amount of passionate youth fighting for the rights of black voters, the movement was directionless without the strong leadership of its elders. The freedom summer volunteers needed someone with practical experience, passion and charisma to help guide them. What they got was a force to be reckoned with.
In 1962, a former sharecropper by the name of Fannie Lou Hamer joined the movement as a member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee or SNCC (One of the many organizations under COFO). Fannie Lou Hamer wasn’t new to the scene. She had fervently been fighting for the cause years before the Mississippi Freedom Summer was organized. And unlike her wide-eyed counterparts, Fannie Lou Hamer possessed a sober reality of the struggle.
As a Mississippi native, she had first hand experience with the poor conditions of blacks caused by Jim Crow society. After all, she experienced it daily. Her work as a Sharecropper was cut short due to her involvement in the movement. However she explained: “[when] They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people”.
During the course of her fight for justice she was beaten, jailed, harassed and even sterilized. Yet despite those hardships, she managed to infuse hope, energy and longevity into the fight for black voting rights. Most notably Hamer was able to bring national attention to the voting issues of Mississippi during a televised session of the 1964 Democratic Convention. No one knew the struggle better than her, and very few attacked the issue as passionately as she.