On November 10, 2021, Keisha N. Blain, Jacqueline Hamer Flakes, and Charles McLaurin presented “Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America” as part of the History Is Lunch series.
Born in Webster County, Fannie Lou Hamer was the youngest of twenty children and the granddaughter of enslaved people. She worked as a sharecropper before dedicating herself to a life of activism. Hamer worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), assisting with Black voter registration and serving as vice chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
“Mrs. Hamer’s 1964 televised speech before the Democratic National Convention’s credentials committee was delivered before millions, and addressed two central issues that remain relevant today: voter suppression and state-sanctioned violence,” said Blain, author of the new book Until I am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message for America. “Hamer described the scare tactics and violence she and other African Americans experienced and their lack of access to the vote. Throughout her life, Hamer fought for Black voting rights, social justice, women’s empowerment, human rights, and economic rights.”
Keisha N. Blain, a 2022 National Fellow at New America, is associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh, president of the African American Intellectual History Society, and a columnist for MSNBC. She is currently in residence at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University and a member of the School of Social Science at the Institute for Advanced Study. Blain earned her BA in history and Africana studies from Binghamton University and her MA and PhD in history from Princeton University. She is co-editor with Ibram X. Kendi of the #1 New York Times bestseller Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019. Blain is the author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018) and co-editor of To Turn the Whole World Over: Black Women and Internationalism (University of Illinois Press, 2019); New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition (Northwestern University Press, 2018); and Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence (University of Georgia Press, 2016).
Fannie Lou Hamer was surgically sterilized without her knowledge or consent. She and her husband raised four adopted daughters. Jacqueline, the youngest of the four, was ten years old when Fannie Lou Hamer died.
Charles McLaurin joined SNCC while a student at Jackson State University in 1961. The next year he went to Sunflower County to work on SNCC’s voter registration project, where he met and formed a close partnership with Fannie Lou Hamer. McLaurin served as her campaign manager in her 1964 congressional run and worked with Hamer around political and economic issues through the 1970s, helping her start Freedom Farm Cooperative.
History Is Lunch is sponsored by the John and Lucy Shackelford Charitable Fund of the Community Foundation for Mississippi. The weekly lecture series of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History explores different aspects of the state's past. The hour-long programs are held in the Craig H. Neilsen Auditorium of the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum building at 222 North Street in Jackson. Signed copies of Until I Am Free will be on sale at the program.