“There are two things we should all care about: never to forget where we came from and always praise the bridges that carried us over.” – Fannie Lou Hamer
Mrs. Hamer – born on October 6, 1917 – was a bridge that carried Black Mississippians toward political and economic freedom. Her work was rooted in the Delta, where she began picking cotton at the age of 6. There she cultivated the indomitable spirit, astute understanding of power, and resonant singing voice that she wielded against racism in Mississippi – as well as the classism and sexism that permeated the mainline civil rights leadership.
Her theory of liberation relied on local organizing rather than soaring oratory, but when her moment came to testify at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, she delivered the rawest, most searing indictment of white supremacy that had ever been broadcast on national television.
She spoke truth to power despite the suffering that power had inflicted upon her: forced sterilization by a white surgeon, a jailhouse beating for attempting to register to vote, eviction from the land she sharecropped, shotgun blasts by nightriders, and the constant threat of danger.
Mrs. Hamer’s courage was matched by a genius for building collective strength among the disenfranchised. She helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which created a shadow political institution for Black citizens to expose and upend the all-white Dixiecrat power structure. Later she began the Pig Bank and Freedom Farm to fight hunger and create economic independence among Black farmers in the Delta. Few saw more clearly the symbiotic relationship between political and economic power.
Today, on the 103rd anniversary of Mrs. Hamer’s birth, let us praise her by building new bridges toward freedom and justice.
Several resources to learn more about Fannie Lou Hamer’s life and legacy:
“Stand Up,” a documentary from Mississippi Public Broadcasting: https://www.pbs.org/video/fannie-lou-hamer-stand-up-1ecoc6/
“This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer” by Kay Mills: https://www.squarebooks.com/book/9780813191829
“Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi” by John Dittmer: https://www.squarebooks.com/book/9780252065071
“The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer: To Tell It Like It Is” edited by Maegan Parker Brooks and Davis W. Houck: https://www.squarebooks.com/book/9781617038365
Testimony to 1964 DNC credentials committee: https://youtu.be/ML3WaEsCB98
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.