Thursday, March 25, 2021

Women's History Month: Valiant Women of the Vote -- Fannie Lou Hamer

Following the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920, many women remained unable to exercise their right to vote due to systemic racism, voter suppression, and discriminatory laws and practices. Community organizer Fannie Lou Hamer’s work with both voting rights and the Freedom Farm Cooperative highlighted this continued fight for a more equitable society. 
In 1962, Hamer led seventeen volunteers to a local courthouse to register to vote. After being denied the vote on the grounds of a discriminatory literacy test, Hamer was fired by her employer and evicted from her home. Already involved in the Civil Rights Movement through her work with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Hamer’s experience drove her to advocate further for voting rights for African Americans in the South. In 1964, she helped organize Freedom Summer, a volunteer campaign to register Black voters in Mississippi. 
In addition to the vote, Hamer saw economics as a path towards racial equality. In 1968, she started a program called the “pig bank,” which provided pigs to Black farmers. This was the precursor to Hamer’s Freedom Farm Cooperative (FFC). She purchased 640 acres to allow African American families to collectively own and farm land. In addition to 200 units of housing, the cooperative also included businesses and services such as a garment factory, coop store, and pre-school Head Start program. At its peak, the cooperative was one of the largest employers in Sunflower County, Mississippi. 
Learn more about Fannie Lou Hamer’s work and legacy: