Freedom Farm Cooperative

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It seems most fitting that a Fannie Lou Hamer driving tour extends north of Ruleville into nearby Drew.  As one of the toughest places to organize local blacks, Charles McLaurin and Hamer would occasionally venture into this infamously hard town.  Why infamous?  While many believe, thanks to the erroneous history pedaled by William Bradford Huie, that Emmett Till was murdered near Glendora, Mississippi and then dumped into the Tallahatchie River, we know that Till was actually murdered just north and west of Drew in a plantation’s seed barn. Hamer was not only very aware of the Till story, but one of the admitted murderers, J. W. Milam’s brother was a police officer in Ruleville.  Not infrequently would Hamer regale audiences with stories of S. I. Milam’s intimidation tactics; this allowed her to connect her story with the martyred 14-year-old boy from Chicago, who’d been lynched in 1955.

In 1969 Hamer founded Freedom Farm Cooperative, a local co-op near and dear to her vision of local empowerment.  Hamer understood that poverty and hunger lay at the very root of countless social ills, and Freedom Farm was her answer to poor local blacks and whites reclaiming a piece of dignity and a piece of bread to feed their hungry families.  Funded with help from Measure for Measure in Madison, Wisconsin, friends at Harvard University, and the National Council of Negro Women, Hamer’s audacious undertaking would eventually extend to more than 640 acres of prime Delta land, on which locals helped grow vegetables as well as staple crops such as cotton and soybeans.  Freedom Farm Road marks part of the land on which Hamer’s vision for black (and white) self-sufficiency might flourish.

On the way to Freedom Farm Road by way of Brooks Road, note the crossing of Wild Bill Bayou.  A fascinating and very influential part of Fannie Lou Hamer’s life unfolded here on December 14, 1923, when she was just 6 years old.  A local black sharecropper by the name of Joe Pullum killed 4 white men and wounded 15 others, after a dispute with a local plantation owner over wages.  According to local lore, once Pullum had killed that owner, he fled to this bayou where the expert marksman hid out in a hollowed-out cypress tree and began taking down the mob of white men one by one.  It wasn’t until late in the evening that locals finally burned out the bayou by flooding it with gasoline and setting it afire.  Pullum’s body was later paraded through downtown Drew.  Hamer grew up with the legend of Joe Pullum and spoke frequently about the courageous black sharecropper.  In the far western corner of the Drew Cemetery is “Pullum’s Corner,” headstones marked with a December 1923 death date.