About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for Walk with Me: A Biography of Civil Rights Leader Fannie Lou Hamer (Virtual)

Greetings from the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s conversation between author Kate Clifford Larson and civil rights leader Joyce Ladner about Larson’s new biography of civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer.

Before we begin, I’d like to tell you about two programs coming up later this month on our YouTube channel.

On Wednesday, January 12, at 1 p.m., Warren Eugene Milteer, Jr., will be here to tell us about Beyond Slavery’s Shadow, his new book about free people of color in the South from the colonial period through the Civil War.

And on Wednesday, January 19, at 1 p.m. Kevin Boyle will discuss his new book, The Shattering: America in the 1960s, which focuses on the period’s fierce conflicts—the civil rights movement, rising Black nationalism, Nixon-era politics of busing and the Supreme Court, and the Vietnam War.

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The new biography Walk with Me opens with Fannie Lou Hamer giving her testimony before the Credentials Committee at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Hamer and more than 60 other members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party had come to the convention to challenge the all-White Democratic delegation and call for more realistic representation of the people of Mississippi.

In moving words that were broadcast on national television, Hamer spoke of her own struggles and encounters with violence. The transcription of that powerful speech is in the Records of the Democratic National Committee housed in the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library.

FBI and Department of Justice files in the National Archives also assisted Kate Clifford Larson in telling Hamer’s story.

Larson’s book Walk with Me has gathered praise from reviewers. Jill Watts, writing for the New York Times, declared, “Walk With Me is a gripping and skillfully researched political biography that embeds Hamer’s personal history within a compelling account of the post–World War II civil rights movement.”

And the Christian Science Monitor’s reviewer, Dwight Weingarten, wrote: “Kate Clifford Larson’s book Walk with Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer brings her story and eventual emergence as a civil rights leader into view, providing a fresh look at the oft-repeated stories of the civil rights movement.”

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Kate Clifford Larson is the author of Bound for the Promised Land, a biography of Harriet Tubman; 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 and lives with her family outside Boston.

Joyce Ladner grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, during the era of racial segregation. During her years of activism in the early sixties, she worked with civil rights martyrs Medgar Evers, Vernon Dahmer, and Clyde Kennard. Even though she was in college, she failed the voter registration literacy test and did not get registered until a federal court order was granted. While enrolled in Tougaloo College, she was arrested for trying to worship at the all-white Galloway Methodist Church and spent a week in jail. She received her Ph.D. in sociology at Washington University. She was the first woman president of Howard University, where she also served as professor of sociology. She was also a member of the United States Department of Justice's Advisory Council on Violence Against Women and the Council on Foreign Relations. She has authored, co-authored, and edited eight books.

Now let’s hear from Kate Clifford Larson and Joyce Ladner. Thank you for joining us today.