We are celebrating week 2 of Black History Month by sharing the story of our second historic figure: Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) – a powerful leader in the civil and voting movements, whose story is a stark reminder of the racist history of reproductive medicine.
In 1961, Hamer underwent surgery for removal of a fibroid and instead was given a hysterectomy without her knowledge or consent. Hamer found that 3/5 of all Black women from her community Sunflower County, Mississippi underwent unwanted sterilization. The practice of unwanted sterilization via complete hysterectomy by medical professionals on unknowing Black patients was so common that it was coined by Fannie as the “Mississippi Appendectomy”.
During the course of her activist career, Hamer was threatened, arrested, beaten and shot at. She suffered permanent kidney damage from the attacks. She went on to co-found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which challenged the local Democratic Party’s efforts to block Black participation.
To learn more about the incredible life of Fannie Lou Hamer:
What are you doing to carry on Hamer’s legacy? We encourage you to think about incorporating this information into your practice for the betterment of our patients!
Confronting the racist history of reproductive medicine
We strongly encourage you to read this short article Mississippi Appendectomies and Reproductive Justice and/or book Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty to learn more about systemic racism and reproductive medicine.
~A quick summary~
The United States was the first country to concertedly undertake compulsory sterilization programs for the purpose of eugenics
· 1935 – Sterilization laws exist in at least 30 states
- 1929-1975 – In North Carolina, 7600 people were involuntarily sterilized, >5,000 were Black. Involuntarily sterilization law not repealed until 2003.
A short documentary on this state’s tragic history,
o A Wicked Silence is available here.
- 1930-1970s – ⅓ of female Puerto Ricans were sterilized, so commonly occurred called “la operacion”
- 1970-1976 – Indian Health sterilized 25-42% of reproductive age Native Women
- 1973 Southern Poverty Law Center found that 100,000-150,000 poor people sterilized annually under federally-funded programs.
- 2006-2010 California Department of Corrections sterilized 150 female inmates.
o Belly of the Beast is an Emmy-award winning documentary about the CA sterilizations, highlighting how little we have come since Fannie. We hope to organize a screening of this film at one of our future events.
If you’re looking for another weekday plan, visit The Griot Museum of Black History and Culture. It’s the first cultural institution in St. Louis that is solely dedicated to revealing the broad scope of Black History and culture.
The Griot Museum of Black History is looking for self-nominations and/or share the HerStory of a Black woman who has made a positive civic, social, political, or creative impact in St. Louis, here.
The “Seeking Saint Louis” Exhibit at the Missouri History Museum weaves in segregation, the civil rights movement and other aspects of African American history. Remember, admission to the museum and to this particular exhibit is free of charge