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Women’s History Month: Fannie Lou Hamer

March is Women’s History Month, an annual recognition dedicated to reflecting on the often-overlooked contributions of women to U.S. history. The bravery, brilliance, inventiveness, and daring of women, both past and present, have lead to tremendously important additions to our collective history. We acknowledge and honor all of the labor and leadership of women everywhere, especially recognizing the valuable contributions of Black, Indigenous and other women of color and trans women who have faced unthinkable oppression and violence. Every major social movement for justice has heavily relied on the strategy and vision of women, and we express our gratitude to the countless women organizers, builders, creatives, thinkers, scholars, scientists, and leaders who have paved the way for us today. Their stories and legacies of resistance and liberation are a critical part of our history and our work of growing food justice. Follow along as we highlight different women during Women’s History Month.

Fannie Lou Hamer, photographed in 1971
Fannie Lou Hamer, photographed in 1971. “Is this America,” she once asked, “the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?” (Tyrone Dukes)

Fannie Lou Townsend Hamer, one of the most crucial, passionate, and powerful voices of the civil rights movement, was born in 1917 in Montgomery County, Mississippi. Raised in poverty and the youngest of 20, Hamer joined her family picking cotton at age six. She spent her childhood in school and working. She married Perry Hamer in 1944. Unable to have children of their own, due to gross medical racism, the Hamers adopted two daughters.

That summer, Hamer attended a meeting led by civil rights activists James Forman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and James Bevel of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Hamer was furious about the efforts to deny Black people the right to vote. She became a SNCC organizer and began coordinating voter registration campaigns. She experienced significant political and physical abuse as a result of her organizing.

In 1964 Hamer helped organize Freedom Summer, which brought hundreds of college students, Black and white, to register Black voters in the segregated South. She traveled extensively, giving powerful speeches on racial discrimination and political disenfranchisement. In 1971, Hamer helped to found the National Women’s Political Caucus.

Disappointed and frustrated by the lack of political progress, Hamer turned to economics as a strategy for the promotion of Black livelihoods. In 1968, she began a “pig bank” to provide free pigs for Black farmers to breed, raise, and slaughter. A year later she launched the Freedom Farm Cooperative (FFC), buying up land that Black people could own and farm collectively. With the assistance of donors, she purchased 640 acres and launched a coop store, boutique, and sewing enterprise. She ensured that 200 units of low-income housing were built—many still exist in Ruleville today.

Hamer passed away in 1977 at age 59. Her bravery, courage, and passion materially improved the lives of Black communities in the South and is a source of inspiration for those who continue her work today.