Online Forum–Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America

October 3, 2022 to October 7, 2022

Coinciding with the 105th anniversary of Fannie Lou Hamer’s birthday (October 6, 1917), Black Perspectives is collaborating with the Journal of Civil and Human Rights** to host an online roundtable on Keisha N. Blain’s highly acclaimed book, Until I am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America (Beacon Press, 2021). Recently released in paperback, Until I am Free is a blend of social commentary, biography, and intellectual history. The book was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and selected as a finalist for the 2022 National Book Critics Circle Award and the 2021 Hooks National Book Award. It was also selected as one of the best history books by Smithsonian Magazine in 2021. The book has been featured widely in popular outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian.

Until I Am Free is a manifesto for anyone committed to social justice. The book challenges us to listen to a working-poor and disabled Black woman activist and intellectual of the civil rights movement as we grapple with contemporary concerns around race, inequality, and social justice. Blain situates Fannie Lou Hamer as a key political thinker alongside leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks and demonstrates how her ideas remain salient for a new generation of activists committed to dismantling systems of oppression in the United States and across the globe. Despite her limited material resources and the myriad challenges she endured as a Black woman living in poverty in Mississippi, Hamer committed herself to making a difference in the lives of others. She refused to be sidelined in the movement and refused to be intimidated by those of higher social status and with better jobs and education. In these pages, Hamer’s words and ideas take center stage, allowing us all to hear the activist’s voice and deeply engage her words, as though we had the privilege to sit right beside her. More than 40 years since Hamer’s death in 1977, her words still speak truth to power, laying bare the faults in American society and offering valuable insights on how we might yet continue the fight to help the nation live up to its core ideals of “equality and justice for all.”

The roundtable begins on Monday, October 3, 2022 and concludes on Friday, October 7, 2022. It will feature contributions from Peniel Joseph, Danielle McGuire, Rhonda Williams, and Stefan Bradley as well as a response from Keisha N. Blain. During the online forum, Black Perspectives will publish new blog posts every day at 5:00AM EST. Please follow Black Perspectives (@BlkPerspectives) and AAIHS (@AAIHSon Twitter, like AAIHS on Facebook, or subscribe to our blog for updates. By subscribing to Black Perspectives, each new post will automatically be delivered to your inbox during the week of the roundtable.

About the Author

Keisha N. Blain, a 2022 Guggenheim Fellow and a Class of 2022 Carnegie Fellow, is an award-winning historian and writer with broad interests in 20th century United States, African American History, the modern African Diaspora, and Women’s and Gender Studies. She completed a PhD in History from Princeton University in 2014 and is now a Full Professor of Africana Studies and History at Brown University. She is also a columnist for MSNBC and past president of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) from 2017 to 2021. Dr. Blain has published extensively on race, gender, and politics in both national and global perspectives. She is the author of the highly acclaimed books Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (2018) and Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America (2021). She is also the co-editor of four books: To Turn the Whole World Over: Black Women and Internationalism (2019); New Perspectives on the Black Intellectual Tradition (2018); and Charleston Syllabus: Readings on Race, Racism, and Racial Violence (2016). Her most recent volume is the #1 New York Times Best Seller Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America, 1619-2019, edited with Ibram X. Kendi (Penguin Random House/One World, 2021). Follow her on Twitter @KeishaBlain.

About the Participants

Peniel Joseph is Associate Dean for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values. A Professor of History and Public Affairs, he is also the founding Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy (CSRD) at The University of Texas at Austin. His career focus has been on “Black Power Studies,” which encompasses interdisciplinary fields such as Africana studies, law and society, women’s and ethnic studies, and political science. Prior to joining the UT faculty, Dr. Joseph was a professor at Tufts University, where he founded the school’s Center for the Study of Race and Democracy to promote engaged research and scholarship focused on the ways issues of race and democracy affect people’s lives. In addition to being a frequent commentator on issues of race, democracy and civil rights, Dr. Joseph’s most recent book is The Sword and the Shield: The Revolutionary Lives of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. He also wrote the award-winning books Waiting ‘Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America and Dark Days, Bright Nights: From Black Power to Barack Obama. His book Stokely: A Life has been called the definitive biography of Stokely Carmichael, the man who popularized the phrase “black power.” Included among Joseph’s other book credits is the editing of The Black Power Movement: Rethinking the Civil Rights-Black Power Era and Neighborhood Rebels: Black Power at the Local Level. Follow him on Twitter @PenielJoseph.

Danielle McGuire, PhD, is an award-winning historian, public speaker and author of At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape and Resistance-a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power (Knopf), which won the Frederick Jackson Turner Award and the Lillian Smith Book Award. She is the recipient of the Lerner Scott Prize for best dissertation in women’s history. Her Journal of American History article, “It was Like We Were All Raped: Sexualized Violence, Community Mobilization and the African American Freedom Struggle,” won the A. Elizabeth Taylor Prize for best essay in southern women’s history and was reprinted in the Best Essays in American History. She is the editor with John Dittmer of Freedom Rights: New Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement; and wrote the foreword for John Hersey’s The Algiers Motel Incident. McGuire is a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians and has appeared on PBS, CNN, MSNBC, Headline News, National Public Radio, BookTV, and dozens of local television and radio stations throughout the United States. Her popular essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Review of Books, the Detroit Free PressBridge Magazine, Washington PostHuffington Post and She serves as a consultant on documentary films such as The Rape of Recy Taylor and You Belong to Me: The Ruby McCollum Story. She helps curate educational historical tours and civil rights related curricula for secondary schools and serves on the advisory board of History Studio. She is currently at work on a book about police violence in Detroit in 1967, to be published by Knopf. Follow her on Twitter @dmcguire13.

Rhonda Y. Williams, the John L. Seigenthaler Chair in American History at Vanderbilt University, is a historian of low-income black women’s and marginalized people’s experiences, everyday lives, politics, and social struggles. Her research contributes to the rethinking of gender, political identity, citizenship, civil rights, black liberation struggles, and interactions with the U.S. state. She is the author of the award-winning The Politics of Public Housing: Black Women’s Struggles against Urban Inequality (2004) and Concrete Demands: The Search for Black Power in the 20th Century (2015). She is the author of numerous articles and essays, including the forthcoming book chapter titled “Women, Gender, Race, and the Welfare State” in the Oxford Handbook for Women’s and Gender History, co-edited by Lisa Materson and Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor. Williams is also the co-editor of the book series Justice, Power, and Politics at the University of North Carolina Press and is co-editor of Teaching the American Civil Rights Movement. At present, Williams is researching illicit narcotics economies in the post-1930s United States and continues to examine the history of black power politics in the United States.

Stefan M. Bradley is currently the Charles Hamilton Houston 1915 Professor of Black Studies and History at Amherst College. Previously, he was the inaugural associate dean of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives in the Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts and Professor of African American Studies at Loyola Marymount University. Prior to that, he spent many years supporting the students and community of St. Louis as Director of the African American Studies Program and Associate Professor of History at Saint Louis UniversityAn educator at heart, Bradley’s life ambition is to personally teach, mentor, and inspire the young people who change the world for the better. Bradley’s publications include his newest book, Upending the Ivory Tower:  Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Ivy League, which is a finalist for the PROSE Book Award; Harlem vs. Columbia University:  Black Student Power in the Late 1960s that won the Phillis Wheatley Book Prize; and, Alpha Phi Alpha:  A Legacy of Greatness, The Demands of Transcendence.  His articles have been featured in the Journal of African American History, the Journal of Civil and Human Rights, and American Studies.  To discuss his research, he has appeared on C-Span BookTV; NPR; PRI, as well as at universities and colleges throughout the nation. Follow him on Twitter @ProfSBradley.

**The Journal of Civil and Human Rights is a peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary, academic journal dedicated to studying modern U.S.-based social justice movements and freedom struggles, including transnational ones, and their antecedents, influence, and legacies. The journal features an editor’s note, research-based articles, interviews, editorials, state-of-the-field pieces, and book forums.

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