In 1961, Fannie Lou Hamer underwent surgery for a uterine tumor, and the white doctor operating on her removed her entire uterus without her consent. Forced hysterectomies on Black women is a tragically consistent element of U.S. history. The medical field has a history of exploiting Black women’s bodies in the name of unethical research and racist beliefs. And forced sterilization is not a thing of the past. There have been tens of thousands of recorded cases in the 20th century, and 1,400 recorded cases in California prisons between 1997-2010. Mrs. Hamer’s experience was one of her motivating factors in getting involved in the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi, where non-consensual hysterectomies were called “Mississippi appendectomies” due to their prevalence. Mrs. Hamer once claimed that 60% of Black women who went to the hospital experienced forced sterilization.
Following a performance of Fannie:The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, we hosted a panel discussion that explored the history and present-day atrocities around the experimentation and sterilization of Black women's wombs. During this post-show conversation, Black femme leaders in health, wellness, art, and activism shared their knowledge, resilience, and brilliance about the past and present.