Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Legacy

October 05, 2014

Today, Advancement Project remembers Fannie Lou Hamer’s legacy on the 97th anniversary of her birth. We are indebted to Fannie Lou Hamer’s sacrifice, courage, and fearlessness.

While Hamer’s bravery blazed a trail for the activists who followed her, we must never forget that civil rights activism came at a heavy cost to Hamer. After attending her first protest meeting focused on recruiting African Americans to vote, Hamer did the unthinkable. On August 31, 1962 she registered to vote. Within days, Hamer was fired from her sharecropping job and forced, along with her husband, to leave their community. This wouldn’t be the last time Hamer would suffer because of her activism.

On the way back from a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee training in 1963, Hamer and two other civil rights activists were imprisoned and savagely beaten by Mississippi police officers. The beating left Hamer with irrevocably damaged kidneys, a lifelong limp, and a blood clot in one eye. She would suffer for the rest of her life from the effects of this beating.

Fannie Lou Hamer’s endurance and perpetual leadership throughout the Civil Rights Movement, despite the aggressive retaliation she faced, contributed to many advances toward equality made during and since her era. Today we honor the positive change she pioneered.

As we remember Hamer’s courage in the face of aggression, we must also reconcile the harsh realities that remain: police brutality, for example, persists as a severe problem for African-American women today, just as it did for Hamer and others in the 1960s.

In 2007, 87-year-old Venus Green called the paramedics for her grandson who had been shot. She was instead assaulted and handcuffed in her home by a police officer when she refused to let him in her house without a warrant. In 2012, an off-duty cop fatally shot an unarmed Rekia Boyd in a Chicago neighborhood. This year a police officer was videotaped beating Marlene Pinnock on a Los Angeles freeway. Additionally, Arizona State University professor Ersula Ore was thrown to the ground by a police officer when he stopped her for jaywalking.

There are countless other black women who have also lost their lives for merely existing.

Too often these names are left out of the narrative when we talk about police brutality against African Americans. African American women must be included in the national conversation regarding police brutality and racial justice. Discussions and mobilization around police brutality must acknowledge that diverse members of the African-American community, and other communities of color, are affected. Our communities need to include conversations on the gendered forms of violence that police enact on African-American women—especially in terms of sexual assault, rape, and street harassment.

While we remember Fannie Lou Hamer’s legacy as a civil rights activist, let’s not forget that she and so many other Black women have been survivors of police brutality. We do a disservice to them when we don’t include their stories in our discussions on systematic racism and police brutality. Solving the problem of police brutality is complex; yet unless we work to protect all vulnerable groups, it will continue to endure. As Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

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