On October 6, 2021, Kate Clifford Larson presented “Faith and Politics: The Irresistible Force of Fannie Lou Hamer” as part of the History Is Lunch series.
Fannie Lou Hamer was born the 20th child in a family that had lived in the Mississippi Delta for generations, first as enslaved people and then as sharecroppers. She left school at 12 to pick cotton and was later subjected without her consent to an operation that deprived her of children. And she was denied the right to cast a ballot in a state in which Black people constituted nearly half the population.
“And so Fannie Lou Hamer lifted up her voice,” said Larson, author of Walk with Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer. “Starting in the early 1960s and until her death in 1977, she was an irresistible force, not merely joining the swelling wave of change brought by civil rights but keeping it in motion.”
Working with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, which recruited her to help with voter-registration drives, Hamer became a community organizer, women's rights activist, and co-founder of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She used her brutal beating at the hands of Mississippi police as the basis of a televised speech at the 1964 Democratic Convention, a speech that the mainstream party―including its standard-bearer, President Lyndon Johnson―tried to contain.
Civil Rights veteran Joyce Ladner wrote that Larson’s biography tells the story "of a woman born into the grinding poverty and racism of the Mississippi Delta who rose to become the voice of the unheard and the conscience of a nation. Based on prodigious research and extensive interviews with those who knew Hamer, Walk with Me is a masterpiece of historical scholarship, a layered portrait of an unlikely hero of the civil rights movement who gave her life for freedom."
Kate Clifford Larson’s other books include Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero; Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter; and The Assassin's Accomplice: Mary Surratt and the Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln. She has consulted on feature film scripts, documentaries, museum exhibits, public history initiatives, and numerous publications, and appeared on CBS Sunday Morning, the BBC, PBS, C-Span, and NPR. Larson is currently a Brandeis Women's Studies Research Center Scholar.