Fannie Lou Hamer Human & Civil Rights Symposium

Fannie Lou Hamer Human & Civil Rights Symposium

Twenty years of civil rights and social justice. Where are we now?

Shirley N. Weber, Ph.D.

Tuesday, October 10, 2023  2:30 p.m.

Stockton Performing Arts Center

Shirley N. Weber, Ph.D.

Shirley Nash Weber, Ph.D. was nominated to serve as California Secretary of State by Governor Gavin Newsom on December 22, 2020 and sworn into office on January 29, 2021. Voters elected her for a full term on November 8, 2022. Weber is California’s first Black Secretary of State and only the fifth African American to serve as a state constitutional officer in California’s 173-year history.

Weber was born to sharecroppers in Hope, Arkansas during the segregationist Jim Crow era. Her father, who left Arkansas after being threatened by a lynch mob, did not have the opportunity to vote until he was in his 30s. Her grandfather never voted as custom and law in the South, before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, systemically suppressed voting by Blacks. Although her family moved to California when Weber was three years old, it was her family’s experience in the Jim Crow South that has driven her activism and legislative work. She has fought to secure and expand civil rights for all Californians, including restoring voting rights for individuals who have completed their prison term. 

Dr. Shirley Weber

About Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer was among the most significant participants in the struggle launched in the latter half of the twentieth century to achieve freedom and social justice for African Americans.

Mrs. Hamer’s historic presence in Atlantic City at the 1964 Democratic National Convention brought national prominence with her electrifying testimony before the convention’s credentials committee. She sought to prevent the seating of the all-white Mississippi delegation. While this effort failed, the Democratic Party agreed that in the future no delegation would be seated from a state where anyone was illegally denied the vote. Roughly a year later, the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed. 

Learn more


Africana Studies Program, Unified Black Students Society, Office of the Provost, The Council of Black Faculty and Staff,  Office of the President, Office of Institutional Diversity and Equity and the Office of Student Development. 

Past Speakers

Dr. Keisha BlainDr. Keisha Blain

Dr. Keisha N. Blain is one of the most innovative and influential young historians of her generation. Her research and writing examine the dynamics of race, gender and politics in both national and global perspectives. She completed a Ph.D. in History from Princeton University in 2014. She is a Professor of Africana Studies and History at Brown University, a columnist for MSNBC, and former president of the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS). She is the 2022 recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship and a 2022 Andrew Carnegie Fellow.

Dr. Blain is the author of Set the World on Fire: Black Nationalist Women and the Global Struggle for Freedom (2018), winner of the First Book Award from the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians and winner of the Darlene Clark Hine Award from the Organization of American Historians. Dr. Blain’s most recent book Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America (2021) was nominated for an NAACP Image Award and selected as a finalist for the 2022 National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography.


Dr. Bettina L. Love

Dr. Bettina L. LoveDr. Bettina L. Love is an award-winning author and the Athletic Association Endowed Professor at the University of Georgia. Her writing, research, teaching, and educational advocacy work meet at the intersection of education reform, anti-racism, carceral studies, abolition, and Black joy. The aim of her scholarship is twofold: firstly, to advance how the field of education understands and critiques the systemic and structural racism of public education within the U.S.; and secondly, to advocate for abolitionist approaches in the field of education that seek new possibilities for educational justice. In the pursuit of making her scholarship a reality, she works with activists, communities, youth, families, and school districts to build communal, civically-engaged schools rooted in the aspirations of abolitionist strategies that love and affirm Black and Brown children. In 2020, Dr. Love co-founded the Abolitionist Teaching Network (ATN). ATN’s mission is simple: develop and support teachers and parents to fight injustice within their schools and communities. In 2020, Dr. Love was also named a member of the Old 4th Ward Economic Security Task Force with the Atlanta City Council. The goal of the Task Force is to advance dialogue and form tangible solutions for guaranteed income.

Dr. Love is a sought-after public speaker on a range of topics, including: Abolitionist Teaching, anti-racism, Hip Hop education, Black girlhood, queer youth, Hip Hop feminism, art-based education to foster youth civic engagement, and issues of diversity and inclusion. She is the creator of the Hip Hop civics curriculum GET FREE.

In 2014, she was invited to the White House Research Conference on Girls to discuss her work focused on the lives of Black girls. For her work in the field of Hip Hop education, in 2016, Dr. Love was named the Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. In April of 2017, Dr. Love participated in a one-on-one public lecture with bell hooks focused on the liberatory education practices of Black and Brown children. In 2018, Georgia’s House of Representatives presented Dr. Love with a resolution for her impact on the field of education. She has also provided commentary for various news outlets including NPR, Ed WeekThe Guardian, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. 

She is the author of the books We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom and Hip Hop’s Li’l Sistas Speak: Negotiating Hip Hop Identities and Politics in the New South. Her work has appeared in numerous books and journals, including Educational Researcher, Urban Education, The Urban Review, and the Journal of LGBT Youth. 


Dr. Zoe Spencer

Dr. Zoe SpencerDr. Zoe Spencer, or Dr. (Auntie) Z, as she is affectionately referred, is an Emmy Award-winning writer and scholar-activist and a beloved Virginia State University (HBCU) professor from Barry Farms Projects in Southeast Washington, D.C.  Despite her struggles, she received her Ph.D., M.S.W., and B.A from “the Mecca,” Howard University and her Master of Legal Studies (M.L.S.) from the Washington University St. Louis School of Law.   As a staunch “freedom fighter”- she has unapologetically dedicated her life to addressing all forms of oppression and disparity, no matter the construct.  As such, she has not confined her work to the halls of academia and professional spaces.  Instead, she has advocated for victims of state-sponsored violence, organized direct actions, one of which was featured in Ava Duvernay’s Documentary, 13th, and committed to serving as a regular speaker, presenter, and educator in men’s Level II, III, and IV correctional facilities in Virginia.

She is a highly sought after presenter and lecturer with hundreds of professional presentations to her credit.  Her critical and creative work is dedicated to addressing “neo lynching” and state-sponsored violence in America and includes, her Emmy Award-winning spoken word piece “Say Her Name,” which pays homage to the victims of historic and contemporary lynching in America. Her scholarly publications include: Sassy Mouths, Unfettered Spirits, and the Neo-Lynching of Korryn Gaines and Sandra Bland: Conceptualizing Post Traumatic Slave Master Syndrome and the Familiar “Policing” of Black Women’s Resistance in Twenty-First-Century America, published in the renowned feminist journal Meridians and Why Welcome Back Jim Crow: Jim Crow, Neo Lynching, and the Criminalization of the Right to Resist in 21st Century America published in The Criminal Justice Journal and Law Review, Special Edition.

But most importantly to her divine purpose, she is “Ma” to her Sun, Grandma to her future freedom fighter Islah Sevyn Kemet, “Auntie” to her beautifully brilliant HBCU students, who are on the front lines of this resistance movement; and “an unapologetically Black” “Z” to any power structure that is oppressive to the people. To the struggle, she is a comrade and an ally to the Queens and Sistars from races, identities, and spaces, who stay on the front lines in the battles against all forms of oppression and brutality. 


W. Paul CoatesW. Paul Coates

W. Paul Coates is the founder and director of Black Classic Press, which specializes in republishing obscure and significant works by and about people of African descent. A leader in the field of independent publishers, Coates founded BCP Digital Printing in 1995 to produce books and documents using digital print technology.

Coates formerly served as an African American Studies reference and acquisition librarian at Howard University’s Moorland-Springarn Research Center.  He is a graduate of Atlanta University (M.S.L.S.), and Sojourner-Douglass College.  A former member and Maryland state coordinator of the Black Panther Party, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Black Panther Party Archives at Howard University. Coates has served on the boards of The National Book Foundation, the Publishers Marketing Association, Baltimore Reads, and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, Baltimore. He is co-editor of Black Bibliophiles and Collectors: Preservers of Black History. He formerly owned and operated The Black Book, a Baltimore-based bookstore.  His experience with the purchase, sale and collection, and publishing of books by and about Black people is a love affair that has continued for more than five decades.

Lt. Governor Sheila Y. Oliver

Sheila Oliver took the oath of office as New Jersey’s 2nd Lieutenant Governor on January 16, 2018. She is the first woman of color to serve in statewide elected office in New Jersey history. She was appointed Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs by Governor Phil Murphy.

Lt. Governor Oliver is a 40-year resident of East Orange, and a native of Newark.

First elected to the General Assembly in 2003, she became Speaker in 2010 – the first African-American woman in state history to serve as such, and just the second in the nation’s history to lead a state legislative house.

She has chaired the Assembly Human Services Committee, and served on the Labor, Higher Education, Women and Children, Commerce and Economic Development, and Transportation and Independent Authorities committees. She also sat on the Joint Committee on the Public Schools and the Joint Committee on Economic Justice and Equal Employment Opportunity.

She also has served as an Essex County Freeholder, from 1996 to 1999, and was a member of the East Orange Board of Education.

A graduate of Newark’s Weequahic High School, she earned a Bachelor’s Degree, cum laude in Sociology, from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. She also holds a Master of Science Degree in Community Organization, Planning and Administration from Columbia University.

Lt. Governor Oliver began her career in public service as the Director of the Office of Youth Services and Special Projects for the City of Newark, where she focused on preparing young people ages 14 to 21 for post-secondary education and entry into the workforce. She later became the Development Director for The Newark Literacy Campaign while working at Caldwell College as the Coordinator of Career Guidance within the Educational Opportunity Fund Program.

She has taught college courses in Achievement Motivation, Non-Profit Management, and Pre-College Preparation, served as a consultant to a variety of non-profit organizations, and spent several years as the Director of the Essex County Division of Community Action, an anti-poverty initiative. 

Lt. Governor Oliver has served on the boards of numerous non-profit organizations, including the East Orange General Hospital Board of Trustees, the United Way, the Newark Coalition for Neighborhoods, the Newark Collaboration Group, the Rutgers-Newark Educational Opportunity Fund Advisory Council, the Global Women’s Leadership Collaborative of NJ, the Essex County and East Orange Committees on the Status of Women, Programs for Parents, and a number of other community-based entities. She has held memberships in the Women’s Political Caucus of NJ, the NAACP, and the Urban League.

Shaun KingShaun King

Shaun King is one of many voices—though an increasingly prominent voice—within the Black Lives Matter movement. By using social media to highlight, amplify, and discuss news of police brutality, racial discrimination, and other civil rights issues, King has become an indispensable source for extending crucial conversations about social justice and equality. 

Shaun King has written extensively about the Black Lives Matter movement, covering discrimination, police brutality, the prison industrial complex, and social justice in the wake of violence in New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, Ferguson, Missouri, Charleston, South Carolina, and other cities. He is now the Writer-in-Residence at Harvard Law School’s Fair Justice Project. In his position as Senior Justice Writer at the New York Daily News, King wrote over 630 columns. He is a regular political commentator for The Young Turks and on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, and was formerly Justice Writer for Daily Kos.

Widely known for using Twitter and Facebook to tell micro-stories of injustice, King’s social media updates have influenced how the world knows about those most affected by racism and police brutality. A strong advocate for families, Shaun has become an extremely visible fundraiser for victims of injustice. 

As a social entrepreneur, King worked as the CEO and founder of both TwitChange (which won the Mashable Award for the Most Creative Social Good Campaign) and HopeMob, whose social media footprint grew to become one of the 10 largest of any charity. King is the author of The Power of 100!, and has spent much of the past 15 years raising nearly $10 million for charities and causes across the globe. King is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Epoch Humanitarian Award and the Hometown Hero Award from the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He was also included in MSNBC’s The Grio Top 100 History Makers. Onstage, he draws from his oratorical skills developed, in part, from the fifteen years he spent as a local pastor.

Dr. Donna Murch, associate professor of History at Rutgers University

Panel Discussion:

  • Pastor William Williams, Asbury United Methodist Church, Atlantic City
  • Dr. Adam Miyashiro, associate professor of Literature
  • Dr. John O’Hara, associate professor of Critical Thinking and First Year Studies
  • Dr. Christina Jackson, assistant professor of Sociology, moderator

“America has become a prison nation” as civil rights rebellions in the 1960s led to “the elevation of punishment as the solution to all social problems,” said Donna Murch, an author and associate professor of History at Rutgers University, in her keynote speech at Stockton University’s 13th Annual Fannie Lou Hamer Human and Civil Rights Symposium, held on Oct. 11, 2016.

“Mass incarceration is the new Jim Crow,” Murch told the audience. She said the challenges for today’s generation include downward mobility, state violence, mass incarceration, climate change and a sense of scarcity.

But there are also exciting possibilities ahead, she said, including young people’s openness to gender, sexuality and different roles; political activism, the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements, non-acceptance of state sanctioned violence; and a pushback against austerity and neoliberalism.

Donnetrice Allison, associate professor of Communication Studies and coordinator of Africana Studies, organized this year’s program. She noted that Stockton is “the only institution of higher education” to consistently honor Hamer, who fought for the right to vote.

“We must exercise our right to vote this November,” Allison said. She thanked Patricia Reid-Merritt, Distinguished Professor of Social Work & Africana Studies, for instituting the symposium.

Christina Jackson, assistant professor of Sociology, moderated a discussion on civil rights with panelists Adam Miyashiro, associate professor of Literature; John O’Hara, associate professor of Critical Thinking and First Year Studies; and Pastor William Williams of the Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City.

Article originally appeared in the October 13, 2016 edition of the Stockton Times.

U.S. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman

Panel Discussion:

  • Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER and founding pastor of Living Water United Church of Christ
  • Dr. Janice Joseph, Distinguished Professor of Criminal Justice
  • Dr. Anne Pomeroy, Associate Professor of Philosophy
  • Dr. Donnetrice Allison, associate professor of Communications and Africana Studies, moderator 

The 12th Annual Fannie Lou Hamer Human and Civil Rights Symposium was held on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015 featuring U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-12. Watson Coleman, New Jersey’s first black congresswoman, served as the keynote speaker for the symposium: “Race and Social Justice: Do Black Lives Matter?” 

Watson Coleman was also the first African American woman to lead the New Jersey Democratic State Committee when she was elected chair in 2002. She served as the Majority Leader of the New Jersey General Assembly from 2006 to 2010. 

In addition to her service to the state, Watson Coleman served as a member of the Stockton Board of Trustees from 1981-1998 and was the board‘s chair from 1990-91. She represents the 12th congressional district, which includes municipalities in Mercer, Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties. 

After Watson Coleman addressed the audience, Distinguished Professor of Criminal Justice Janice Joseph, Associate Professor of Philosophy Anne Pomeroy and Bishop Dwayne Royster, executive director of POWER and founding pastor of Living Water United Church of Christ, participated in a panel discussion on race and social justice. Donnetrice Allison, associate professor of Communications and Africana Studies, served as moderator. 

The program included a selection of freedom songs performed by Stockton’s Highest Praise vocal group, and a tribute to “The Women of Selma,” was performed by Afro-One Dance, Drama and Drum Theatre, Inc. 

Hamer was a civil rights activist who helped organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer voter registration drive for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1964. She also helped found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to oppose her state’s all-white delegation at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. Hamer, who died in 1977, brought Mississippi’s civil rights struggle to the national stage during a televised speech at the convention. 

Learn more about Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman.

Carmen Berkley, national director of Civil, Human and Women’s Rights for the AFL-CIO

Panel Discussion:

  • Hon. Zulima V. Farber, former New Jersey attorney general
  • Dr. Anne Pomeroy, associate professor of Philosophy and president of the Stockton American Federation of Teachers
  • Dr. Patricia Reid-Merritt, Distinguished Professor of Social Work, Africana Studies and program coordinator 

“Racism is not over, brothers and sisters,” said Carmen Berkley, the keynote speaker today at the Eleventh Annual Fannie Lou Hamer Human and Civil Rights Symposium. “In 2014, it’s built into our system,” which includes a lack of economic opportunities, unequal justice and recent court rulings making it harder for people to register to vote, she said. 

“You’re going to have to make a choice,” said Berkley, who at 29 is national director of Civil, Human and Women’s Rights for the AFL-CIO. “Be a part of something greater than yourself,” she told students and others in the audience. 

“The fact that people of color are being killed for the color of their skin sounds like something out of slavery,” she said, citing the cases of Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown in Missouri. She urged black people to unite with Latinos, gays, immigrants, women and others who are discriminated against. 

“We are not in the minority any more, we are the majority,” said Berkley. “They don’t want us to vote.” 

She noted however, that New Jersey has progressive voting laws, not requiring special voter identification and allowing convicted felons to regain the vote two years after paying their debt to society. 

“Dream your highest dream of racial equality and economic justice,” Berkley told the college audience. “Dream and then act and unite. Black people and white people have to dream together.” 

Berkley also said protest marches aren’t enough. “Vote - participate - speak up about problems and be ready to fight back,” she said. “There is nothing more important than taking risks,” she added. 

The Fannie Lou Hamer Human and Civil Rights Symposium at Stockton celebrated the 50th anniversary of Mrs. Hamer’s historic protest at the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City. 

The theme of this year’s program, "Fifty Years After the Protest: The Enduring Legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer,” continued Stockton’s tradition of bringing informative educational programs that speak to the life and legacy of Mrs. Hamer to the college and the wider community. 

The program, with welcoming remarks by President Herman Saatkamp, included a selection of freedom songs performed by members of Stockton’s Vocal Jazz Ensemble and led by Dr. Beverly Vaughn, professor of Music. Actress Mattilyn Rochester portrayed Mrs. Hamer to illustrate her struggles and strength in the face of arrests and beatings. 

The program also included a panel discussion with Zulima V. Farber, former New Jersey attorney general, Dr. Anne Pomeroy, associate professor of Philosophy and president of the Stockton American Federation of Teachers, and Dr. Patricia Reid-Merritt, Distinguished Professor of Social Work, Africana Studies and program coordinator. 

Farber, who graduated from Rutgers University law school in 1974, said she found there were very few women - and even fewer women of color - practicing law. “You have to work harder and be better,” she said of the challenges. “But if I made it through, you can do it.” 

She urged students to take care of themselves and their families, while striving to succeed and help their communities. Farber advocated taking a high-paying legal job instead of only working for non-profits or government, because it offers “the resources to help the cause.” 

And once you’ve made it, “Open the door to those behind you,” Farber said. 

The event was sponsored by the Stockton Africana Studies Program and the Unified Black Students Society. 

“Fannie Lou Hamer remains an inspirational role model for me,” said Dr. Reid-Merritt. “These annual tributes to her legacy continue to educate a new generation and, hopefully, will encourage young people to work for social change and social justice.” 

Learn more about Carmen Barkley.

Article originally appeared as a press release in October 7, 2014.

Dr. Cornel West

Panel Discussion:

  • Dr. Gwendolyn Long Harris, director of the Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers University, and former Commissioner of Human Services, State of New Jersey
  • James Harris, president, New Jersey NAACP
  • Dr. Michelle McDonald, associate professor of History at Stockton

Dr. Cornel West, public intellectual, weekly radio host and television commentator, told a sold-out audience Thursday at the 10th Annual Fannie Lou Hamer Human and Civil Rights Symposium at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey to “question America,” as Hamer did.

He told the students in the audience, “You all like to be unsettled and pushed” to levels of academic achievement, but you have to “get beyond the me, me, me, I, I, I, selfishness of our market-driven culture – that’s Fannie Lou Hamer.” He said the civil rights activist for whom the symposium is named was “committed to integrity” and exemplified what education should be about – “turning away from petty things and fleeting pleasures” and working on behalf of rights of “the ordinary people.”

“There is no Barack Obama without Fannie Lou Hamer and her legacy,” West said. “I love the brother, but I hate injustice and folks suffering,” he added, questioning Obama’s use of drone warfare.

“A baby killed in Yemen or Somalia by a drone, is just as precious as a baby killed in Newtown, Connecticut … or a baby killed on the east side of Los Angeles,” he said.

West, perhaps best known for his classic, Race Matters, Democracy Matters, is professor of Philosophy and Christian Practice at the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and has taught at Princeton, Harvard and Yale.

He frequently appears as a commentator on networks including CNN, MSNBC and PBS and programs such as Real Time With Bill Maher and The Colbert Report. He made his film debut in The Matrix and has appeared in over 25 documentaries and films. He can be heard weekly on his national public radio show with Tavis Smiley, “Smiley & West.”

West was introduced by President Herman Saatkamp, who called him “one of the most thoughtful, challenging, democratic intellectuals in the country.”

The symposium, which also included a panel discussion, was co-sponsored by the college’s Africana Studies Program and the Unified Black Students Society.

At Thursday’s event, West noted that “no other institution of higher learning in the United States salutes this giant, this freedom fighter, Fannie Lou Hamer.”

“What is it about Stockton College that led to you all falling in love with Fannie Lou Hamer?” he asked.

Dr. Patricia Reid-Merritt, Distinguished Professor of Social Work and Africana Studies, brought Dr. West in as a speaker. She also chaired the committee that successfully advocated for the creation and 2012 installation of a statue to honor Hamer in her home of Ruleville, Mississippi. 

West told the audience to focus on the fundamental questions of life, as Hamer did.

“What does decency do in the face of deception? How does virtue meet brute force?” he asked.

He said they should not give in to “inertia and apathy” when confronted with inequalities, such as in education, where “the rich get taught and the poor get tested.”

“I never allow despair to have the last word,” West said. 

This article is based on a press release from October 3, 2013.

Julianne Malveaux (2012) Erasing the Double Standard: Enduring Social Obstacles to Equality and Social Justice

Molefi Asante (2011) Important Lessons from Our Past: The Far-Reaching Effects of the Modern Day Civil Rights Movement

Rev. Regena Thomas, Chad Lassister, Rev. Dr. Frank Portee, III (2010) Panel Discussion: Honoring Our Elders by Continuing Our Struggle: New Voices in the Civil Rights Movement

Donna Brazile (2009) Civil Rights and Social Activism in the Age of Obama: What’s Next?

Barbara Ransby (2008) No Justice, No Peace: Radical Voices of the Civil Rights Movement

Vanita Gupta (2007)

Nina Mitchell Wells, Antoinette Ellis-Williams, Edith Savage Jennings (2006) Panel Discussion: Women in the Civil Rights Struggle: Legacies of Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King and Dr. C. Delores Tucker

Regina Thomas (2005) No Justice, No Peace: Radical Voices of the Civil Rights Movement

Rev. Edwin King, Victoria Gray Adams, Lawrence Guyot, June Johnson (2004) Panel Discussion: We Were There:  Oral History Interviews