Black history lessons in classrooms shouldn’t be limited to the names of men and only a few women. Especially when there are countless women who’ve made enormous strides for the black community, too.
The revolutionary words Angela Davis spoke, the record-breaking feats of Wilma Rudolph and the glass ceiling-shattering efforts of Shirley Chisolm paved the way for black women and girls across the country to dream big and act courageously.
Here are 28 phenomenal women everyone should acquaint themselves with this black history month.
Fannie Lou Hamer (October 6, 1917 – March 14, 1977) was an American voting rights activist, civil rights leader, and philanthropist.
Hamer is best known for championing black voting rights, especially in her home state of Mississippi, one of many hotbeds for racially motivated voter suppression. She worked with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to drive black voter registration, despite encountering violence and threats from white supremacists who often worked to intimidate or violently attack blacks attempting to vote.
Hamer brought the issue to the national spotlight during the 1964 Democratic National Convention, pointedly calling out Mississippi’s all-white delegation. Hamer’s eventual, televised testimony of the struggle was so powerful that President Lyndon Johnson called an impromptu press conference to get it off the air.
Badass Black Women History Month: Celebrating 28 Black Women Who Said, “Fuck it, I’ll Do It!”
Day 10: Fannie Lou Hamer
Fannie. Motherfuckin’ Lou. Hamer. Are y’all even ready for this? You’re not, but that’s ok, cuz Fannie wouldn’t have waited for you anyway.
Fannie was born in Mississippi in 1917. She started picking cotton for a sharecropper with her family when she was only 6. By the age of 13, she could pick between 200-300 pounds of cotton DAILY. (Can I just reiterate that this was in 1924?) When the plantation owner discovered she was literate, they made her the plantation’s record keeper. She would work on the plantation for another 18 years until she was inspired to become an activist by the gross abuses she faced.
You see, in 1961, Fannie had to have surgery to remove a tumor. Without her consent, doctors performed a forced hysterectomy as part of Mississippi’s forced sterilization plan to lower the number of blacks in the state. This was incredibly common at the time and Fannie created the phrase "Mississippi appendectomy" to bring attention to the fact that the government was sterilizing black women without their permission. Hamer did not let this stop her; it only energized her. She adopted two impoverished girls and became an avid activist. She would go on to fight for voting rights. She was beaten in jail cells, arrested constantly, and saw her friends murdered for using “whites only” facilities. Through it all, she never even thought about leaving her home of Mississippi or stopping her work.
In 1964, she was made the Vice-Chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. In this position, she was sent to the Democratic Convention to explain her struggles as a black voter. Her testimony brought the room to tears. Her words were so powerful, that Lyndon B. Johnson (who called her an “illiterate woman”) demanded an emergency press conference to take network TV attention away from her.
Fannie persisted. She kept talking and her unedited speech was aired all over late night TV channels, bringing in tons of support. She would later go on to start grassroots Head Start programs for children and would continue the work of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor Peoples Campaign.
Her tombstone reads: I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.
Today is the day of outreach for the March for Science’s week of outreach.I was going to post something cool about physics (probably will later this week) but I was also reading about a civil rights activist who had a hysterectomy without her consent, back in the days, well within living memory, when many southern states sterilized black women without their consent. (as an aside, the woman was Fannie Lou Hamer, and she famously coined the term Mississippi appendectomy to refer to this practice).
Now, obviously this is a terrible, racist violation of bodily autonomy, but one of the details that stuck out was that Hamer was 47 at the time.
And then I remembered a story I’ve often retold, about Sally Ride and the Hundred Tampons.
And then, I recalled my conversation just last night with my father about the science march, and science education, and how I don’t remember learning much about anatomy before I took it as a required course for my graduate degree.
And then I remembered: I should take my iron pill.
And then I remembered: sexism.
So: people who were not born with a uterus, here’s a very incomplete crash course in what I (a cis woman) for the most part was expected to learn mostly on my own between the ages of 12 and 20. Consider it a scientific public service.
1. People who get periods usually get them around once a month-ish. This can change based on a huge number of factors though, including pregnancy (don’t get periods), some forms of birth control (hormonal IUDs, some of the pill options), some other medications, some health conditions (PCOS, clotting factor disorders), stress (psychological or physical), and probably a bunch of other stuff. Ask your local gynecological specialist or certified nurse midwife since they will actually know. Actually, ask them for all of these if you need more details because they are experts.
2. People usually bleed for about 1-9 days according to the statistics from the app I personally use for tracking. 2-7 is most typical, 1 or 8-9 is nothing to worry about unless there’s a change or you’re running super low on iron or something.
3. Tampons should be changed when full. That will vary by person but I think 4-5 tampons a day is a decent estimate, so anyway long story short even if Sally Ride had gone up to space during her period and had a cycle on the longest end of normal, she would need no more than 50 tampons, and if she were more towards the average we’d be looking at closer to 20.
4. Also there are options other than tampons for blood collection. Google them if you’re interested.
5. Speaking of, periods are not in fact controllable. If someone says you should be able to hold it, they have literally no idea what they are talking about. It is the process of discharging the uterine lining, and while it would be great if humans could reabsorb it or just selectively get rid of it at leisure as if we were spitting out chewing gum, biology has not deigned to work that way.
6. If you’re a cis man grossed out by this I have to hear about your body fluids, both liquid and gaseous, all the time, so I 100% do not care. Also at work I once had to look up what an episiotomy was while simultaneously on the phone and drinking my morning coffee so actually I 110% do not care.
7. Menopause average onset is about 48-55 years old, so there is statistically little to nothing to be gained in terms of sterilization by taking out a 47 year old’s uterus, even if she does give permission. That isn’t to say that menopausal people shouldn’t ever get hysterectomies since there are actual medical indications for that, but yeah, this didn’t even do anything for the illicit sterilization goal. The only motivation was being racist as fuck.
8. Similarly if you make jokes about a cis woman politician in her late 50s or above being on her period or being unreliable emotionally as a result of her menstrual cycle, you are almost certainly incorrect and completely certainly not funny.
9. PMS does exist and is tied to medically confirmed hormonal fluctuations that can cause psychological, digestive, and pain symptoms among others. If someone is mad at you, do not assume it is PMS. To paraphrase Margaret Atwood, I’m not mad at you because I’m PMS-ing. I’m mad because you’re an asshole.
10. Birth control pills, which contain hormones, can help smooth out those hormonal fluctuations and help with PMS symptoms.10. Speaking only anecdotally here but most people who menstruate do not take sick days every month either. Some do need to take time off, due to severe symptoms that the pill/a few NSAIDS and a death glare cannot alleviate. A recent study found that in some people, cramps are of equivalent pain as a heart attack. Would you go into work while feeling like you’re having a heart attack? I doubt it given further anecdotal observation of how people act when they have a mild cold or hangover.
This has been: the science of knowing pretty much the absolute minimum about what uteruses do when their owners aren’t pregnant.
I know a shit ton of them. Starting with Audre Lorde (this exchange is EVERYTHING. Read every word. Her teachings and words remain my rad fem literacy) to Sister Outsider (see what just happened there? We are the latest in a long line) we are here.
In her 20-something words:
In recent years, since the rise of third wave feminism, radical beliefs have fallen out of fashion. At best, radical feminism is presented as being outdated – at worst, full of bigotry and extremism. Radical feminists are attacked by social conservatives and liberal feminists alike and, not so long ago, I bought it. I didn’t want to be lumped in with the prudes of yesteryear by either side, so I parroted narratives of agency and empowerment. And then I looked behind the curtain. I started to wonder about the context in which the all-important choice is made, whether more choices are open to some women than others and on what basis. I began to wonder why so many self-proclaimed intersectional feminists – in this instance, white women – are so eager to assume that marginalised women have the same range of opportunities in deciding which choice to make.
I think there is a real push to erase women of color in the movement because we destabilize what a lot of white transactivists would like to push. That is, that the second wave was only white people, that radical feminism isn’t intersectional, that lesbians (we are QUEERS!) are racists.
In the last two years, many of the performers have withdrawn from the fest, including the Indigo Girls, Nona Hendryx, and JD Samson. Many women of color performers did not, arguing that they too supported trans women but couldn’t give up the income they made from the festival. They made economic choices that often came with a political backlash. Many, if not most, performers who stayed on did so with a statement in support of trans women and the festival.
Mind you, Michigan paid a pittance for performers. It was not money that would pay your rent. But, as I said at the time, I guess we all just know that WOCs just so damn poor they can’t have politics (to which Fannie Lou Hamer and Shirley Chisholm, and on and on just spun their ways through the earth). And guess there was no need to go talk to Stacey Anne Chin, or Toshi Reagon, or Medusa, or DJ Remarkable, or Hanifah Walidah, or all the other WOC who went to fest for YEARS and continued to despite the pressure because they understand the reason for separate space. This was a blatantly racist lie, and that’s the kind of shit that is always going down.
So whenever you hear things like “there aren’t any” ask yourself what the sources is. We are here. We always are. But we are an inconvenient truth. And so we get erased from the conversation. Old tricks, new dog.
Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) was an
important civil rights leader and activist. She was the vice-chair of the
Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, fighting for better rights and especially
voting privileges for the black community in the South.
life as a cotton picker on a plantation, and later became its record keeper
when the owner discovered she was literate. She became involved with the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, travelling all across the South to promote
voting registration and literacy. She was arrested and even brutally beaten for
her convictions, but she did not give up, and instead campaigned extensively
for the cause. She was elected as a national Democrat party delegate in 1972.
In the summer of 1964, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, or “Freedom Democrats” for short, was organized with the purpose of challenging Mississippi’s all-white and anti-civil rights delegation to the Democratic National Convention, which failed to represent all Mississippians.
The Freedom Democrats’ efforts drew national attention to the plight of African Americans in Mississippi, and represented a challenge to President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for reelection.
[For] the testimony before the Convention’s Credential Committee, the FDP had a lineup of different people: they had Rita Schwerner, wife of slain civil right’s worker Michael Schwerner, and they had Martin Luther King Jr., who every knew. But the highlight of the testimony was that of Fannie Lou Hamer, who was a sharecropper that was evicted from her plantation for trying to register to vote. She came to symbolize the Mississippi movement.
The testimonies were being broadcast live across America on major television networks (NBC, CBS, and ABC). President Lyndon B. Johnson, who was watching the testimonies, wasn’t scared of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s testimony; he was scared of Fannie Lou Hamer’s and didn’t want America to hear it. So Johnson holds an impromptu press conference, knowing the press would break away from Hamer’s testimony and cover what they thought was Johnson announcing who his choice for Vice President was going to be. Instead, Johnson announced the nine month anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the assassination attempt of Texas governor John Connally, leaving the press puzzled. By the time Johnson’s “conference” ended, Hamer was done delivering her testimony.
However, Johnson’s plan backfired when the press found out that his conference was held in order to take Hamer’s testimony off the air, which became a big story. This led the major news networks to air Hamer’s testimony on their late news programs and for the next few days, gaining national attention and support for the FDP’s movement.
I need to know who writes lines for the gay and black characters on SVU. Because one black woman just randomly quoted Fannie Lou Hamer for no reason. In another episode, one gay bartender proudly said no one uses condoms anymore because it’s too lame and old-school.
#100days100women Day 78: Fannie Lou
Hamer—passionate voting- and civil rights activist, advocate for poor &
women. Fannie Lou Hamer made the
brave decision to register to vote in 1962; for this she was fired and driven
from her home, a cotton plantation. After this Hamer joined the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, working and protesting against segregation
and civil rights abuses. While organizing, Hamer was threatened, shot at &
assaulted. & was beaten so badly while in policy custody she had permanent
kidney damage. Hamer did not stop, after recovering she returned to her rights
work in Mississippi, taking part in the formation of the Freedom Democrats. Hamer also campaigned to bring light to illegal sterilization of poor and black women. During an operation Hamer herself was given a hysterectomy w/o her consent. She
popularized the term ‘Mississippi Apendectomy’ due to commonality of
I am where I am because of the bridges that I crossed. Sojourner Truth was a bridge. Harriet Tubman was a bridge. Ida B. Wells was a bridge. Madame C. J. Walker was a bridge. Fannie Lou Hamer was a bridge.
We have got to stop the nervous Nellies and the Toms from going to the Man’s place. I don’t believe in killing, but a good whippin g behind the bushes wouldn’t hurt them…. These bourgeoisie Negroes aren’t helping. It’s the ghetto Negroes who are leading the way.
Yesterday during the annual MLK parade in Atlanta, Dr. Martin L. King’s birthplace, protesters decided to not just march, but reclaim the streets.
Rather than waving and sharing smiles with happy images of Dr. Martin L. King, activists held a “live in” in the middle of the parade chanting words and songs answering Ferguson’s national call to Reclaim MLK.
In conjunction with this action, a casket was carried by Black women to mourn the lives of black women and girls who have been forgotten or sent to the margins of this movement. Following the carrying of the casket was a funeral service that included a song, eulogy, libation pouring and poem.
The funeral was planned to assert that the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was not accomplished by the work of one charismatic, cis-gender, male leader alone. The success of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement was created through the labor, love, and genius of many working-class, queer and straight, cis and trans Black women and their sacrifices. Black women risked their lives on the frontlines of the Civil Rights Movement, only to be relegated to the sidelines of history.
We marched to RECLAIM THE DREAM of Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Septima Clark, Pauli Murray, Diane Nash, the Four Little Girls, the women of SNCC, SCLC, CORE, and the other countless and nameless women and girls who lives did not MATTER in the making of history.
The funeral was held less than 10 feet away from Dr. Martin L. King Jr. and Coretta Scott King’s memorial site.