We are remembering Nan Freeman, a social justice advocate who gave her life 50 years ago while supporting the farm worker movement. At 3:15 a.m. on Jan. 25, 1972, Nan Freeman, 18, a native of Wakefield, Massachusetts and a student at New College in Sarasota, Florida, was picketing with striking farm workers at the Talisman Sugar Plant near Belle Grade, Florida. She was passing out leaflets to drivers when a truck carrying 70,000 pounds of sugar cane drove into the entrance. The truck and trailer were not properly aligned, and the trailer cut too sharply, knocking Nan into the guard rail, killing her.
Nan is considered the first martyr of La Causa, the UFW’s movement for justice for farm workers. The loss of such a promising young woman was a blow to her family and friends as well as the farm worker movement.
“To some [Nan Freeman] is a young girl who lost her life in a tragic accident,” Cesar Chavez wrote in a statement after learning of her death. “To us, she is a sister who picketed with farm workers in the middle of the night because of her love for justice. She is a young woman who fulfilled the commandments by loving her neighbors even to the point of sacrificing her own life. To us, Nan Freeman is Kadosha in the Hebrew tradition, a holy person to be honored and remembered for as long as farm workers struggle for justice.”
“Nan did not go to Belle Glade to be a martyr or posthumously famous. She went to accompany, to support people who all too often are invisible. She went to say “you matter” – and your lives matter. She went to say that it is wrong to be complacent about injustice to others. She went to demonstrate that there were people like her who cared about people like farm workers.” Sam Trickey, NFWM Board Member, offered these words at a memorial for Nan Freeman in January 2020.
In remembrance of this brave activist, a memorial is being planned in her honor at New College in Sarasota, FL for later this spring. NFWM donated to this memorial. The memorial will include a reflection space and two inspirational murals encouraging others to commit to social action.
Nan’s death still resonates today, and her commitment to farm workers is an inspiration to us all. May her legacy continue to remind us to fight for justice and dignity for all.
- Explore UFW’s 50th anniversary of Nan’s passing.
- See NFWM’s 50th Anniversary feature on Nan Freeman.
- Liz Freeman is the sister of the late Nan Freeman and an advocate in the farm worker movement. Read a 2018 conversation between Liz Freeman and NFWM Executive Director, Julie Taylor.