Black Political Rights Can’t Be Divorced From Economic Justice. Why Fannie Lou Hamer’s Message and Fight Endure Today

A remedy forMadison, Wisc.In 1971, civil rights activist Fannie Lou HamerAccording to her, she was aware of what hunger meant. In the 1920s and 30s, she recalled her childhood in a family of sharecroppers. She often went to bed hungry in those days. “I know what the pain of hunger is about,” she told the crowd.

Hamer was the youngest child of 20. She worked on the plantation for her family to make ends meet. In her Autobiography To Praise Our Bridges, Hamer vividly recalls memories of experiencing poverty as a child: “To feed us during the winter months mama would go ’round from plantation to plantation and would ask landowners if she could have the cotton that had been left…Then she’d take that bale of cotton and sell it and that would give us some of the food that we would need.”
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Hamer’s childhood experiences drove her passion later in life when she not only fought for Black political power, but economic justice as well. It was clear to her that Black rights were not compatible with economic rights, and she recognized the necessity of economic security for fighting for civil rights. “If you have a pig in your backyard, if you have some vegetables in your garden, you can feed yourself and your family, and nobody can push you around,” Her insistence was unwaveringThe late 1960s.

The dire financial challenges Hamer’s family endured during the early 20th century mirrored the lives of many Black people in Mississippi—and across the South—during this period. Hortense Powdermaker, an anthropologist, captured Indianola, Miss. The devastating resultsThe 1930s saw the rise of South sharecropping. Powdermaker found that of thousands of Black workers as sharecroppers in the South, only 25 to 30 percent received fair payments for the crops they grew. This period saw half of all Black Mississippi Delta families struggle to afford a healthy diet.

Thirty years after Powdermaker’s study, economic conditions in Mississippi The situation has not changed much. By 1960, 75% all Mississippi Delta families were below the federal poverty limit of $3,000. These conditions were worse for Black families in the region with the median annual income of a Black family in Quitman County, Miss., estimated at $819—less than a third of the $3,000 line. There are many other factors. A national levelIn 1965, 40% of Black Americans lived below the poverty line.

Learn more What Made Fannie Lou Hamer’s Message on Civil Rights So Radical—And So Enduring

Hamer fought for economic justice despite having very limited resources. Hamer believed it was imperative to implement concrete actions to improve society.Her practical solutions to hunger and malnutrition were also a result of her research. Hamer created the Freedom Farm CooperativeFFC is a community-based project that promotes rural development and economic growth. This project is a Spend $10,000Measure for Measure in Wisconsin purchased 40 acres of Hamer’s hometown, Ruleville, Miss. with the intention to use it as a resource for those in need. A wide array of individuals and institutions contributed to Hamer’s Freedom Farm, including celebrity activist Harry Belafonte and leaders of the National Council of Negro Women—the largest Black women’s organization in the U.S. during the 1960s.

Hamer had envisioned the cooperative to empower the poor residents of the state. The cooperative eventually grew over 640 acres. Locals could join Freedom Farm for $1 a month—though no one was ever turned away who could not pay. The FFC devoted some land to growing profitable crops such as cotton, but also set aside land for the growing of vegetables—including sweet potatoes, kale, tomatoes, and string beans—for community members, ensuring that residents had food and security.

Fannie Lou Hamer sits and points her finger in Ruleville, Mississippi, in 1969.
Al Clayton/Getty ImagesFannie Lou Hamer in Ruleville, Miss., in 1969.

They grew crops in their community garden. Serving more than 1600 familiesThe Mississippi Delta is just one example of how the Delta has influenced the nation. Local residents were able to work the fields, and 10% of Freedom Farm crops went to them. The surplus was also sent to Mississippi Black families who moved to Northern cities in the 1970s. Hamer was a pioneer in Sunflower County poverty reduction. Therefore, she also used Freedom Farm to create housing for local families in need—a program that housed more More than 70 families

Although the FFC had a positive impact on Black lives in Mississippi Delta, the FFC also offered resources for all, regardless race and ethnicity. It is as follows: Hamer explained. novelist Paule Marshall in 1970, “Hunger has no color line. And I’d walk a mile for any man who is hungry, Black or white.”

In 1976, following a series of setbacks, including tornadoes, flooding and the sudden death of the farm’s business manager in 1974, Hamer’s Freedom Farm closed its doors. Although it was short-lived the FFC allowed Hamer to provide a way for poor Americans to be fed and empowered, and, in doing so, promote economic justice in late 1960s and 1970s.

More than 40 years after Hamer’s death in 1977, the problem of economic inequality persists in the United States. Today there are an estimated one in seven Americans live in poverty. Despite our nation’s wealth, Close to half of all Americans are from the United StatesEither they live in poverty, or are low-income. An estimated Black households account for 18.8%Below the poverty level You are not eligible for this program. Mississippi, 48% of people are poor or low-income—a group that includes 65% of Mississippi’s Black population.

Learn more Fannie Lou Hamer’s Civil-Rights Icon: These Speeches

Fannie Lou Hamer’s passion and ingenuity—and most of all, her emphasis on empowering those in need—serve as a model for today as activists continue to demand economic justice. As Hamer Once argued, “The only thing we can do, women and men, whether you [are] white or black, is to work together”

Hamer’s message resonates today through several initiatives—most notably, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival. Rev. Rev. William J. Barber II, Dr. Liz Theoharis. Dr. Liz Theoharis in 2017, the Poor People’s Campaign demands better living conditions for impoverished Americans and draws on the activism of the Civil Rights Movement. They call on Americans from all walks of life to support economic justice. As Hamer, Barber is a strong advocate for economic justice. Theoharis and Hamer are similar.

Democracy’s work is not complete without the fight for economic justice. As Hamer argued, all Americans—and especially those in public office—must advocate policies that would empower impoverished people. Only then can the country live up its ideals. “To have a great country,” Hamer To a predominantly black audience in Kentucky in 1968, “not only will we have to have political power, but we will have to have economic power as well.”

Bookcover: Until I'm FreeKeisha N. BlainShe is an Associate Professor of History at University of Pittsburgh. Her book is “The Author ofSetting the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women in the Global Struggle for Freedom Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message, Now Available Penguin Random House

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