“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired” are words from Fannie Lou Hamer as she expressed exasperation about her work to improve the condition of Black and poor people. “Fannie Lou Hamer’s America” premieres on PBS and WORLD Channel beginning February 22 will show audiences the roots of those words from Hamer and that stressed look she always had on her face.
“The flag is draped with our blood because, you see, we have never accepted slavery,” says Hamer at the beginning of the film and again at the end. That statement ensures viewers understand how this all started.
“Fannie Lou Hamer’s America” opens the 10th season of “America ReFramed,” a Peabody Award-winning documentary series. The film was produced by Hamer’s great-niece Monica Land and directed by Joy Davenport. Co-executive producer was Selena Lauterer. Narrating and singing in this life story is Hamer herself. Songs were combined with spirituals and protest songs that connect and illustrate scenes throughout the powerful documentary.
Hard Life as a Youth
Hamer was the youngest of 20 children born to her sharecropper parents. Her maternal grandmother had 23 children. At age six, Hamer started picking cotton as part of a bribe. The landowner told her if she picked 30 pounds of cotton a day, he would take her to the store to buy things she liked. Candy is always a strong lure with a child. Pretty soon, she was picking 60 pounds. Hamer could see Blacks did not have food or were going to school like Whites. She asked her mother why were they not White? The response would later instill pride in Hamer that guided her conviction and mission for life.
“You won’t understand what I am saying now,” said her mother. “There is nothing wrong with you being Black, and I don’t want you to forget that.”
Hamer understood scales were out of balance for Black and poor people. By the time she was in her early teens, Hammer had vowed to devote her life to making things different in her home state of Mississippi.
Right to Vote
In the ’60s, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) arrived in Mississippi to train volunteers to register people to vote. Hamer was one of those volunteers. The statements from state, county and local leaders sounded like what we hear today when describing voter suppression tactics. The difference is that back in the 60s, those political leaders actually used the n-word on camera. “Fannie Lou Hamer’s America” reminds us that the more things change, perhaps they don’t.
Though threatened repeatedly, SNCC volunteers rallied Mississippians to stay strong because they had a constitutional right to vote. Hamer was severely beaten when a sheriff told two Black men to beat her with a billy club. This horrible incident happened in 1963 after Hamer was arrested with other Black volunteers returning from a voter registration workshop.
“It was teaching us how to tell other people how to pass the literacy test,” said Hamer in the documentary.
Strength endured in Hamer, who was co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party. The party went to the 1964 Democratic National Convention and demanded that their party representatives receive credentials to choose the Democratic presidential nominee.
In addition to voting rights, the film shows Hamer starting the Freedom Farm Coalition, so Black and poor people could grow food to improve nutrition.
The film airs at a period in our history when Black women are being acknowledged for their work at the forefront of the fight for voting rights at this time of unparalleled voter suppression efforts targeting citizens of color. Hamer’s famous quote still holds, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
The trailer for “Fannie Lou Hamer’s America” can be found here: https://worldchannel.org/episode/america-reframed-fannie-lou-hamers-america
The Washington Informer
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