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Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer
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McMillen: When you first tried to vote, where was that? Was that in Ruleville?

Hamer:Well, when I first tried to register it was in Indianola. I went to Indianola on the thirty-first of August in 1962; that was to try to register. When we got there--there was 18 of us went that day--so when we got there, there were people there with guns and just a lot of strange-looking people to us. We went on in the circuit clerk's office, and he asked us what did we want; and we told me what we wanted. We wanted to try to register. He told us that all of us would have to get out of there except two. So I was one of the two persons that remained inside, to try to register, [with] another young man named Mr. Ernest Davis. We stayed in to take the literacy test. So the registrar gave me the sixteenth section of the Constitution of Mississippi. He pointed it out in the book and told me to look at it and then copy it down just like I saw it in the book: Put a period where a period was supposed to be, a comma and all of that. After I copied it down he told me right below that to give a real reasonable interpretation then, interpret what I had read. That was impossible. I had tried to give it, but I didn't even know what it meant, much less to interpret it. . . .

McMillen: So what happened then? You were arrested, weren't you?

Hamer:Well, when we got started back to Ruleville, we were stopped by a state highway patrolman and the city police, and they ordered us to get off of the bus. We got off of the bus, and then they told us to get back on the bus and go back to Indianola. We got back on the bus and we went back to Indianola. When we got back to Indianola, they arrested one of the men that was with us, which was Mr. Lawrence Guyot. They arrested him, and then they told this man who'd drove us down there that his bus had too much yellow on it. They fined him a hundred dollars, but they finally cut his fine down to $30. We got enough to pay his fine and come on into Ruleville.

McMillen:But you didn't spend time in jail that time?

Hamer: I didn't go to jail even, that time. We just went back. It was just one of the people arrested and that was the man that was with us. . .

McMillen: Did you think it was dangerous that first time you tried [to vote]?

Hamer: I had a feeling that [it was]; I don't know why, but I just had a feeling because the morning I left home to go down to register I carried some extra shoes and a bag because I said, "If I'm arrested or anything, I'll have some extra shoes to put on." So I had a feeling something might happen; I just didn't know. I didn't know it was going to be as much involved as it finally was. But I had a feeling that we might be arrested.

McMillen: What happened when you got back? Did anything at all happen? Did you lose your home?

Hamer: Well, when we got back I went on out to where I had been staying for eighteen years, and the landowner had talked to my husband and told him I had to leave the place. My little girl, the child that I raised, met me and told me that the landowner was mad and I might have to leave. So during the time that my husband was talking about it, I was back in the house. The landowner drove up and asked him had I made it back. He [my husband] told him I had. I got up and walked out on the porch, and he [told] me did Pap tell me what he said. I told him, "He did." He said, "Well, I mean that, you'll have to go down and withdraw your registration, or you'll have to leave this place." I didn't call myself saying nothing smart, but I couldn't understand it. I answered the only way I could and told him that I didn't go down there to register for him; I went down there to register for myself. This seemed like it made him madder when I told him that.

McMillen: So you had to leave right away?

Hamer: I had to leave that same night.

McMillen:Your husband stayed on to finish the crop?

Hamer:He stayed on because he [landowner] told him the next morning that if he left he wouldn't give us any of our belongings. But if he'd help him harvest the crop, well, he'd give us the rest of our things.

McMillen:Where did you go then, Mrs. Hamer, after you had to leave the house on the plantation?

Hamer: I came out here to town, right across from the main highway, and I started staying with some people, Mr. and Mrs. Tucker. Then my husband got frightened and carried me to my niece's. And after he carried me there, then they shot in that house that I was staying with those people--they shot in that house [the Tucker's house].

McMillen: So you were turned down then; your registration effort failed?

Hamer:It failed.

McMillen:When did it finally succeed?

Hamer: Well, after coming back to Ruleville, I went to Tallahatchie County and stayed awhile. After my husband got so frightened, I went to Tallahatchie County and stayed awhile. When I came back, we moved here in Ruleville to 626 East Lafayette Street. We moved in on the third of December, and I went back on the fourth of December to take the literacy test again.

McMillen: 1962?

Hamer:1962, on the fourth of December. That was one Monday. And the registrar gave me another section of the Constitution. [It] was the 49th section of the Constitution of Mississippi, dealing with the House of Representatives. He told me to copy that down and to give a reasonable interpretation. I copied that, but we had got hold of [a copy] of the Constitution of Mississippi and had been able to study it. Some of the people from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee would help us to try to interpret it, so that time I gave a reasonable enough interpretation. When I went back to see about it in January, I had passed that literacy test. So I didn't take the test but twice.

McMillen: I see. So then you voted. When did you first vote?

Hamer: Well, the first attempt that I tried to vote I didn't really get to vote. I went up to vote--that was in a primary election because it was in August. We went up to vote that day, and I didn't have two poll tax receipts. I hadn't been paying poll tax, and I didn't have two prior years. They told me I couldn't vote because I didn't have two poll tax receipts.

McMillen:So you couldn't vote that time. When did you finally cast your vote?

Hamer: The first vote I cast, I cast my first vote for myself, because I was running for Congress. The first vote, I voted for myself.

McMillen: Oh, is that right? That was what year?

Hamer: That was in 1964.

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Published with permission from the University of Southern Mississippi's Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage
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