The Freedom Project is deeply rooted in the local community — local people were instrumental in launching the Freedom Project in 1998, and we build on the history and legacy of local civil rights workers. In particular, former Ruleville resident Fannie Lou Hamer inspires what we do. Born to a sharecropping family in 1919, Hamer began working in the cotton fields outside Ruleville at age 6. Like other black Mississippians, she was denied the opportunity to get a decent education and was not allowed to vote, run for office, or participate in the politics of Sunflower County.
At the age of 42, Hamer attended a mass meeting hosted by young activists in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Inspired by SNCC's vision of a true democracy and a beloved community, she tried to register to vote — and was promptly thrown off her plantation for doing so. She joined SNCC's staff and became the spiritual leader of the freedom struggle in Mississippi. Despite being threatened, jailed, and beaten horrifically, she traveled throughout the state to organize black communities and encourage black people to register to vote. As part of Freedom Summer in 1964, she helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party; at the Democratic National Convention that summer she gained international attention for her courageous description of the reality of racism in Mississippi. She went on to organize farm workers, run for office, and start her own Freedom Farm in Sunflower County. Her work helped break the hold of white supremacy on the state. Her courage, commitment, and powerful voice inspired countless people during her lifetime, and she continues to inspire the Freedom Project today.