A celebration of Fannie Lou Hamer on her 105th birthday

Holding fast to her motto, “Tell it like it is,” Fannie Lou Hamer committed her life to calling out the manifold injustices faced by Black people in the United States. She brought to light countless issues that are no less relevant today, from misogyny to economic inequality to voter suppression. “The wrongs and the sickness of this country have been swept under the rug,” she declared, “but I’ve come out from under the rug, and I’m going to tell it like it is.”

On October 6, in honor of Hamer’s 105th birthday, we hosted a conversation with thought leaders, artists and changemakers at the Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice. Together, we celebrated Hamer’s unique legacy and continued the crucial dialogues she started.

Among the day’s many highlights:

  • Hamer’s family and friends—including her daughter Jacqueline Hamer Flakes, niece Monica Land, and close associate Charles “Mac” McLaurin—called in from Mississippi to share their reflections on the woman behind the icon.
  • Dr. Beverly Wright of Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and the “Father of Environmental Justice” Dr. Robert Bullard joined Robert Raben of The Raben Group, to recount the history of environmental racism in the U.S. and how this legacy has shaped life in Jackson, Mississippi.
  • Dr. Davis Houck of Florida State University and Dr. Maegan Parker Brooks of Willamette University delve into Hamer’s past to share the journey that led to their research.
  • Minister Danté Stewart, Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis of the Poor People’s Campaign and Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis of Middle Collegiate Church explored the role faith leaders play in social justice movements.
  • TIME’s Janell Ross led a dialogue with Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw, Ramp Your Voice’s Vilissa Thompson, PolicyLink’s Angela Glover Blackwell, and social impact consultant Andraéa LaVant on Hamer’s role as one of the foremothers of intersectionality.
  • ACLU’s Anthony Romero, Black Voters Matter’s LaTosha Brown and Fordham University’s Dr. Christina Greer looked back at the long and continuous fight for voting rights in the U.S.—and the role Hamer played in the struggle.
  • Freedom Reads’ Dwayne Betts talked to Joy Davenport, director of Fannie Lou Hamer’s America, and Vickie Roberts-Ratliff, who led the effort to install a historical marker on the site of Mississippi’s Winona Jail, on Hamer’s influence on culture and advocacy.
  • Poet Evie Shockley, musician Imani Uzuri, and youth poet laureate Alora Young shared how their artistry has been informed by Hamer and their cultural heritage.
  • Director Christine Swanson and actor Aunjanue Ellis of the short film, Fannie, shared their insights on capturing a key moment in Hamer’s life on screen.
  • And last but not least, the day closed with an electrifying performance from the Abyssinian Baptist Church Ensemble under the direction of LaFredrick Coaxner.

This convening was only one example of Ford’s ongoing efforts to uplift our foremothers and forefathers in the fight for justice and learn from their work to carry the torch forward to achieve equality for all.