“They kicked me off the plantation, they set me free. It’s the best thing that could happen. Now I can work for my people.” – Fannie Lou Hamer

September 11, 2020

What does it mean to be free? Freedom means to be out of any form of bondage. So, what does it mean to be in bondage? The life of Fannie Lou Hamer expresses a clear example of what it means to be in bondage. Everyone in bondage wants to be free, but only a few relentlessly fight till the end for their freedom. It is easy to give up when the battle gets tough.  But there are some heroes – like Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jnr – that fight relentlessly for their own freedom as well as the freedom of their people, even when this means that they have to suffer persecution. Fannie Lou Hamer falls in this pack too. Much of the freedom we enjoy today came with a price, a price that Fannie Lou Hamer paid, by resisting oppression and injustice, and refusing to be silenced even in the face of death, to ensure that her people were free and empowered. But we must not let her efforts go in vain; we still have much work to do. We still are not totally free yet. We still suffer racism and injustices and oppression. Black people, especially those with disabilities, are still severely marginalized. However, 2020 is the year! This is the golden opportunity to make a turnaround and make our voices heard. Fannie Lou Hamer advocated with her own life to ensure that black people could vote. Now is the time to uphold her legacy by turning up for this election and exercising our civil rights!

No true change happens if we choose not to take an action. For ages, black people have been on the receiving end of all sorts of discrimination. We have fought for freedom and justice and equality, a struggle that cost many of our ancestors their lives. At a time when we could not vote, people like Fannie Lou Hamer rose to challenge the status quo. This did not immediately go down well; they had to suffer severe repercussions. Fannie was fired from her job and chased from the plantation that had been home to her for nearly two decades — just for registering to vote. She lived her life with dreams to raise a family of her own, but the oppressors forced a disability on her – an unconsented sterilization – with the unethical, diabolical aim of controlling the black population. Today, black people with disabilities experience arguably the worst form of discrimination. Ableism is very rampant, probably on the rise. However, this is about to change, only if we allow it – by voting.

Before and during the time of Fannie Lou Hamer, voter suppression, specifically targeted at black people, was real. Unfortunately, despite all the efforts and sacrifices of our heroes from the past, voter suppression is still among us. Black people are still systematically denied the ability to vote, as proven by a study. Black people with disabilities are probably the most affected here. With profound inaccessibility and systemic ableism still plaguing our nation, it is no surprise that voters with disabilities are blocked from the ballot box. But real change will not occur if we do not make persistent, conscious efforts to see it happen. This may involve some sacrifices, but this is the only way we can pave the way for a better life for the next generation of black people, just as Fannie Lou Hammer did for us.

Although Fannie Lou Hamer could not biologically birth her own children due to the forced sterilization she was made to undergo, everyone who supports justice and equality for people of color automatically becomes her child. And, this year, five of her children – students from various universities across the United States – are working with the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD), through the Fannie Lou Hamer Leadership Program, to encourage voter registration among black people as well as blacks with disabilities. A recent study has shown that voter turnout surged among people with disabilities in 2018. We want to make sure that this continues, especially with the 2020 elections right around the corner. Having no choice of candidate should not be an excuse not to vote. We cannot continue to sit on the fence and expect real change to fall from heaven. More black voters are needed. More black voters with disabilities are needed. More black people are needed in our political offices. We cannot enjoy true freedom until we make these happen. There is no better time than now!

By: Tolu Adedoja, organizer in AAPD’s Fannie Lou Hamer Leadership Program.

Through AAPD’s REV UP Campaign, we are proud to announce our new initiative, the Fannie Lou Hamer Leadership Program. This program is designed for young (ages 18 – 30) Black disabled advocates who are committed to boosting voter registration and civic engagement across Black communities leading up to the 2020 elections. Participants will receive a $1,500 stipend and have the opportunity to create a national nonpartisan campaign that promotes voter registration and participation.