Women's History Month: A look at Fanny Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer. Photo by Warren K. Leffler
Fannie Lou Hamer. Photo by Warren K. Leffler
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March is Women's History Month. Women have long been at the forefront of gardening, whether passing agricultural traditions from generation to generation, organizing garden clubs and beautification societies, or — in some cases — making significant contributions to science and landscape design.

Working women: Strides made in the US workforce

Among these plantswomen who gained notoriety for their work is civil rights and agricultural activist Fanny Lou Hamer. Her cooperative in Mississippi gave poor Black farmers the tools to grow their own food and raise their own livestock.

Who was Fannie Lou Hamer?

Hamer founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative in the late 1960s to provide land, livestock and vegetable-growing resources to poor Black families and farmers in Sunflower County, Mississippi. The Cooperative facilitated crop-sharing, self-reliance and financial independence. Participating families were also loaned a piglet to raise to maturity, after which they would return it for mating and give the cooperative two piglets from each litter to continue the program. “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,” Hamer said. Her Cooperative became one of the earliest examples of modern community gardening and a precursor of today’s food justice movement.

Hamer co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in 1964. She is famous for speaking about her life as a sharecropper and the retaliation she suffered for trying to register to vote at the 1964 Democratic National Convention and spent several years advocating for voting rights and women's rights.

Hamer died in 1977 at the age of 59.

Hamer scholarship

In 2022, Hamer was honored with a new scholarship at the University of Mississippi thanks to a $100,000 gift to the school from an anonymous donor.

University officials said the gift would establish the Fannie Lou Hamer Scholarship Endowment, providing financial aid for students pursing degrees in African American studies, including Black history, culture and politics.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Fanny Lou Hamer was a trailblazer in American horticulture