“We have a long fight and this fight is not mine alone, but you are not free whether you are white or Black, until I am free.” Fannie Lou Hamer, the sharecropper turned activist who became a pivotal figure in the civil rights movement, spoke these words before the credentials committee of the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City in 1964. Nearly five decades later, her message remains not only relevant but urgent, as evidenced by continued efforts to disenfranchise Black and brown voters—amid simultaneous attempts to prevent the full truth of America’s history from being taught in its classrooms.
“I think Fannie Lou Hamer really encapsulates this idea of speaking truth to power,” says historian and Dr. Keisha N. Blain. As regular listeners of The Root Presents: It’s Lit! might recall, Blain is the co-editor of the New York Times number-one bestselling anthology Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019; on this week’s episode, she returned to discuss her new book, Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America.
“We say it often, but quite frankly, I think there are very few people whose lives convey the possibilities of being able to speak boldly and honestly about injustice and not worrying about the comfort level of the person next to you; not even worrying about the space in which you’re speaking of the platform,” Blain continues. “Fannie Lou Hamer spoke powerfully about state-sanctioned violence, about voter suppression, and she did that in every single possible moment—whether it was in a private gathering, whether it was at the Democratic National Convention in ’64—she was someone who honestly told you like it was; she didn’t mince words.
“And quite frankly, we’re at a moment in our nation’s history where it’s so easy to cover certain things. We about, still, respectability politics. We often worry about hurting someone’s feelings, not actually calling out the problem. And Fannie Lou Hamer pushed all of that aside because she knew that if you didn’t address the problem directly, you couldn’t actually fix the problem. And I think her words, certainly her life is a model for all of us. And I wanted to write a book that we would be able to turn to—‘we’ being every single person committed to social justice. Whatever your background, as long as you say that you are committed to social justice, I think you would need to know Hamer’s story and learn from her in the continued fight for liberation.”
Hear more from historian Dr. Keisha N. Blain in Episode 55 of The Root Presents: It’s Lit!: Dr. Keisha N. Blain on Reviving the Story of Fannie Lou Hamer, available on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher, iHeart Radio, Google Podcasts, Amazon, NPR One, TuneIn, and Radio Public.