As Americans continue the debate over voting rights legislation, author and historian Dr. Keisha N. Blain looks back on the life and activism of civil rights hero Fannie Lou Hamer, whose work to expand Black voting rights in the 20th century is just as relevant as ever.
“She was so influential, so impactful. When she spoke, people listened … she had the ability to capture anyone’s attention and speak truth to power.” —Dr. Keisha N. Blain, University of Pittsburgh
Listen: Dr. Keisha N. Blain on the legacy of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.
Keisha N. Blain is an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and author of “Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America.” She says while we’re still debating voting rights in 2021, it’s time to give Hamer the recognition she deserves for playing “a pivotal role in the expansion of Black voting rights. One could certainly say that her activism … laid the groundwork for the 1965 Voting Rights Act.” Blain says Hamer was one of the fiercest voices in the civil rights movement. “She was so influential, so impactful. When she spoke, people listened,” she says. ”She had the ability to capture anyone’s attention and speak truth to power,” she says.
Despite her massive influence, Blain says Hamer doesn’t get the same acknowledgement as other famous advocates in the civil rights movement. “Hamer had a very different background [compared to other civil rights activists]. She grew up as a sharecropper, [and] poverty and hunger really shaped her life.” This environment lead Hamer to take a different approach to her advocacy, says Blain. “Black people’s voices were not being heard, their interests were not being considered … She found herself in conflict with other activists who really wanted to make nice with the national Democratic Party … She refused to acquiesce.”