#DYK. Fannie Lou Hamer: Bringing Healthy Food to Black Families in Rural Communities

This Black History Month, we’re highlighting Black individuals who have fought to feed kids. Their stories are part of a movement that for years has recognized the direct relationship between systemic racism and childhood hunger. We hope their stories inspire people to fight childhood hunger and its disproportionate impact on communities of color.

Black woman speaking. Black and white image

“I know what the pain of hunger is about,” Fannie Lou Hamer told a crowd in Madison, Wis. “My family was some of the poorest people that was in the state of Mississippi.”

Hamer’s experience growing in the sharecropping system, where white landlords allowed Black tenants to use the land in exchange for a small part of the crop, inspired her to ensure Black rural families had access to food. 

She founded the Freedom Farm Cooperative, a program seeking self-sufficiency for poor Black farmers and sharecroppers through gardening, pig-raising, affordable housing, financing and Head Start education. During its seven years functioning, the cooperative helped 1,500 families in Ruleville, Miss.

She said that as long as you had a pig and a garden, anybody could survive.

Before focusing on helping Black families grow their own food, Hamer was a prominent voice for the political rights of the Black community. She was the founder of Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and other initiatives that helped Black individuals register to vote.

Hamer was a master of rhetoric, using hymns, stories and songs to rally the support of people. 

She gave one of her most famous speeches in 1964 in Harlem, when she recounted the lasting physical and mental impact of beatings, shootings and abuses she experienced — in addition to being sterilized by a white doctor without her consent.

“I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired,” she shared in her speech.

Black woman walking on a field. Black and white picture

Frustrated with the political process, Hamer decided to focus on economic activism. She purchased 40 acres of land after receiving a $10,000 contribution from the nonprofit Measure for Measure. This land became the Freedom Farm Cooperative.

“If you give a hungry man food, he will eat it. If you give him land, he will grow his own food,” she said as she launched the cooperative.

After a lifetime of sacrifice and abuse, Hamer started experiencing debilitating health problems that hindered her ability to rally support. She died of cancer in March of 1977.

Even though the Freedom Farm Cooperative could not continue operating after Hamer’s death, her legacy inspires a modern food-justice movement committed to feeding the hungry, improving economic independence, and lifting up communities.

Over 40 years after her death, hunger still disproportionately affects children of color, with systemic racism as a root cause. Rural communities also experience hunger at disproportionate rates.

That’s why No Kid Hungry is prioritizing grants and support to these communities. More than two thirds of our emergency grant funds during the pandemic have gone to organizations working primarily in communities of color, and about one third has gone to support rural communities.

Join us to help feed hungry kids nationwide today helping continue Hamer's legacy.
Did you miss our previous Black History Month stories? Read about child activist Marian Wright Edelman, Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, and political pioneer Shirley Chisholm.