On June 9, 1963, while returning from a voter registration workshop in South Carolina, Fannie Lou Hamer and other civil rights activists were arrested in Winona, Mississippi. Ms. Hamer and the other activists had been traveling in the “white” section of a Greyhound bus despite threats from the driver that he planned to notify local police at the next stop. When the bus arrived at the Winona bus depot, the activists sat at the “white only” lunch counter inside the terminal. Winona Police Chief Thomas Herrod ordered the group to go to the “colored” side of the depot and arrested them when one of the activists tried to write down his patrol car license number.
At the county jail, white jailers forced two African American prisoners to savagely beat Ms. Hamer with loaded blackjacks and she was nearly killed. As she regained consciousness, she overheard one of the white officers propose, “We could put them SOBs in [the] Big Black [River] and nobody would ever find them.”
Ms. Hamer never fully recovered from the attack; she lost vision in one of her eyes and suffered permanent kidney damage, which contributed to her death in 1977 at age 59. Lawyers with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee filed suit against the Winona police who brutalized the activists but an all-white jury acquitted them. Despite the trauma she experienced, Ms. Hamer returned to Mississippi to continue organizing voter registration drives and remained active in civil rights causes until her death.