Among the many heroes of the civil rights movement, Fannie Lou Hamer stands out as a burst of spirit and power in the face of unthinkable forces. Robin N. Hamilton’s documentary short offers a brief yet effective portrait of a woman who rose from the poverty of Mississippi sharecropping to challenging the Democratic Party’s embrace of racist politics.
Hamer was the subject of violent physical abuse – a white doctor performed a hysterectomy without her consent, she was fired and evicted for attempting to register to vote, and she was severely beaten in 1963 a Winona, Mississippi, jail on her way back from a civil rights planning meeting. During the Democratic National Convention in 1964, she gained wider prominence as the vice-chairman of the Mississippi Freedom Party in her eloquent challenge to the segregated, anti-civil rights delegation representing her state. No less a figure than President Lyndon B. Johnson was caught off-guard by the power of her testimony to the convention’s credentials committee – the film severely bowdlerizes Johnson’s response to Hamer – and a nationwide television audience was transfixed by her moving testimony of racist forces that prevented African-Americans from exercising their right to vote. Hamer’s time in the national spotlight was relatively limited – she returned to Mississippi where she conducted two unsuccessful bids for Congress and was a civil rights advocate until her death from breast cancer in 1977.
This compelling film provides rare news footage and some rather startling photographs that show Hamer’s efforts to secure her constitutional rights in an environment where white political and police leadership refused to see her as an equal. This production offers a sterling reminder of Hamer’s influence in bringing freedom and justice to disenfranchised African-Americans.