She grew up in poverty and had to leave to work on the plantation with her family by the age of 12. She married Perry Hamer and together they worked on a plantation owned by B.D. Marlowe until 1962. Despite leaving school at a young age, Hamer was Marlowe’s only literate worker, so she also worked as the plantation’s timekeeper.
Hamer’s activism rose after attending a protest meeting in the summer of 1962. While in attendance she connected with activists who were encouraging other African-Americans to become registered voters. She soon began to help with voter registration efforts. Hamer became an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) where she was able to register more African American voters. Her activism became a point of contention with Marlowe, the plantation owner, and the Hamers were forced off the land.
Hamer suffered a brutal beating while in police custody that left her with lifelong injuries, but she did not let the incident stop her. By 1964, her popularity was on the rise, and she co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). That same year she also helped to organize Freedom Summer which was a campaign to promote voter registration in the segregated south. Hamer led members of the organization to the Democratic National Convention seeking recognition as an official delegation.
In 1971, Hamer helped to establish the National Women’s Political Caucus. However, she grew frustrated with the political process, and began to focus her attention on economics as a means for upward mobility. She launched the Freedom Farm Cooperative (FFC) and purchased 640 acres of land for African Americans to own and farm collectively. She was able to open shops and build afford housing units for the community. Hamer was able to purchase the land with the help of many donors, including Harry Belafonte.
Hamer attempted to maintain the FFC, but extensive travel coupled with her failing health led to its demise. The FFC lasted until the 1970s, but some of the buildings can still be found in Ruleville, Mississippi. Fannie Lou Hamer died on March 14, 1977, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi at the age of 59.