Fannie is the first of many, many women I am going to be covering in a new blog series I’ve just started called World Changing Women. Every Wednesday from now until the end of 2017 (probably longer still, but I’ve only planned up until then so far) I will be featuring extraordinary women who have changed our world. They will all be diverse and from marginalized or minority backgrounds. I have not been as diverse in my reading, writing or studying as I could have been and I’m seeking to begin rectifying that over the next year. Thank you for joining me, and without further ado, Fannie Lou Hamer!

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Fannie Lou Hamer was an incredible civil rights activist in the 60’s and made a significant contribution in increasing votership for African Americans. One of Fannie’s biggest achievements is co-founding the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and working for the Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She was a staunch activist against racial segregation.

She grew up assisting her parents on a sharecrop farm, first picking cotton and later taking over the time and record keeping. She later married Perry Hamer in 1944 and the two continued to work on the plantation.

She never had any biological children as during surgery to remove a tumor the doctor performed a non-consenting hysterectomy. This was a consistent problem in Mississippi, known as a “Mississippi appendectomy”, in which white doctors sterilized black women without their knowledge or consent when they would undergo routine operations. The very concept of this, as a woman, makes my skin crawl. Many places, including my own home province of Alberta, had a dark and disturbing history of eugenics. Fannie did eventually become a mother of two girls she fostered and later adopted.

Just for registering to vote, she was fired from her job on the plantation, a place she had lived and worked for almost twenty years. She was intensely passionate about her cause and refused to back down even in the face of threats, arrests and beatings that left her with permanent damage.

One of the beautiful things about her activism is the use of music and spirituality. She often chose songs such as Go Tell It On The Mountain and This Little Light of Mine to encourage others to keep fighting for their cause.

She became such a force in Mississippi that the president at the time, Lyndon B. Johnson, tried to derail her speeches with his own press conferences, but was not effective in silencing her. She pressured politicians into conceding the allowance of equal representation from the state delegation. Fannie was elected as a national party delegate in 1972. She even ran for Congress, but was not successful.

She unfortunately died  at age 59 from breast cancer. I have no doubt she would have continued to pave the way and brought about incredible changes if she had lived longer. She was mourned by over 1,500 attendees at her funeral, a testament to the bright, beautiful and courageous woman she was.

“I guess if I’d had any sense, I’d have been a little scared — but what was the point of being scared? The only thing they could do was kill me, and it kinda seemed like they’d been trying to do that a little bit at a time since I could remember.”

Thanks for stopping by!

-Erin