Gender History in the Americas Seminar 6th June, 17:30 IHR

The last Gender and History in the Americas seminar of the term will be held on the 6th of June at 17:30 in the Peter Marshall Room 204 at the Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, Malet Street, London WCIE 7HU.

Stephen Robinson (York St John University) will be presenting his paper titled ‘The (Re)Presentation of Fannie Lou Hamer: Race, gender and Celebrity in the Civil Rights Movement’.

Abstract: This paper builds on my current project on African American celebrity in the age of Jim Crow. Taking the definition of celebrity as a “mediated public persona,” this paper takes as a case study the celebrity status of the civil rights leader, Fannie Lou Hamer. Hamer rose to national prominence in 1964 following her appearance on live television testifying to the violence experienced by African Americans in their struggle for equality. Hamer was a new kind of black celebrity: someone who had no perceived credentials to be a spokesperson, but in whom the media instantly recognised as someone who was representative of the evolving civil rights movement. Through a study of Hamer’s autobiographical writings, speeches, media interviews, and oral testimony, this paper explores how Hamer’s status as an African American celebrity was (re)constructed by the media. This approach provides us with a means of understanding how U.S. celebrities have been, and continue to be, used as sites on which to project U.S. myths about individual success and respectability. I will argue that Hamer’s celebrity status was a contested site, where these U.S. myths were both confirmed and challenged by Hamer within a gendered discourse centred on her testimony as an African American woman. In short, a study of Hamer as a celebrity places her at the centre of the Civil Rights story, and forces us to de-centre the so-called representative (male) leaders as personified in the media by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Subject to speaker consent, podcasts of the seminars are made available afterwards on the IHR’s History Spot page.

Convenors: Mr Jon Coburn (Northumbria University), Dr Inge Dornan (Brunel University London), Dr Dawn-Marie Gibson (RHUL), Dr Helen Glew (University of Westminster), Dr Althea Legal-Miller (UCL – Institute of the Americas), Professor Jay Kleinberg (Brunel University London), Dr Sinead McEneaney (Saint Mary’s University), Dr Rachel Ritchie (Brunel University London), Dr Imaobong Umoren (University of Oxford).