This Black History Month, I am sharing 28 stories of Black women who shaped me and showed me the way towards liberation. Because Black women are often not cited for their ideas, I thought this would be one way to give flowers to those who influenced me.
On Day 17, I would like to honor the legacy of community organizer and civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer, whose powerful voice and commitment to collective liberation transformed entire communities and ways of being..
Fannie Lou Hamer grew up as a sharecropper in Mississippi and was 45 when she went to a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and Southern Christian Leadership Conference meeting and found out it was possible for Black people to try to register to vote. From that point on, Hamer was committed to pursuing voter registration for herself and others. At the time in Mississippi, Black people attempting to register to vote had to take bogus literacy tests as a prerequisite to registering. Any Black person who attempted to register would have their name printed in the paper, and the Ku Klux Klan would terrorize them as a result. One time when Hamer tried to register, the man who owned the land she sharecropped on told her to stop pursuing voter registration or he would evict her. Hamer refused, and was kicked off of the land. Hamer said about that experience, “‘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.’” (https://www.neh.gov/article/sweat-and-blood-fannie-lou-hamer)
Hamer went on to eventually pass the literacy test, pay a poll tax, and register to vote. She also worked to get other Black people registered to vote. In response to white landowners who would evict Black sharecroppers who tried to vote, Mrs. Hamer created the Freedom Farm Cooperative. The Freedom Farm Cooperative redefined how Black farmers in the cooperative were able to access resources, become landowners, which was a pathway to voting rights and economic sovereignty. Fannie Lou Hamer showed how using collective power to define work and how resources flowed could change her and others’ reality as a step towards liberation. (https://www.foodandwine.com/news/fannie-lou-hamer-food-activism-pioneer)
Hamer paid a heavy price for her commitment to civil rights. She lost her home, was beaten, shot at, and lost a child because hospitals in Mississippi refused treatment. Hamer did not stand down, however, and used her powerful voice to testify for the Democratic National Committee, create a political party called the Mississippi Freedom Democratic party, found the National Women’s Political Caucus, and run for the Mississippi House of Representatives.
Photo credit: Warren K. Leffler, U.S. News & World Report Magazine; Restored by Adam Cuerden, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Image Description: Black and white photo of Fannie Lou Hamer sitting. She is wearing a patterned dress.