Fannie Lou Hamer: Celebrating the life, legacy, and accomplishments of a Mississippi trailblazer

Published: Feb. 20, 2022 at 7:33 PM CST
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) -As WLBT continues celebrating Black History Month, we highlight trailblazer and Mississippi native Fannie Lou Hamer. She fought for voting rights, civil rights, and equality for all.

When you say the name Fannie Lou Hamer, many will agree that words like strength, tenacity, and resilience come to mind.

Just ask Oscar Nominee and Mississippi native Anjuanue Ellis.

“Mrs. Hamer has created the road for me to walk down. It’s time for people to know Mrs. Hamer. It’s time for people to understand her resonance — her prophetic voice.”

Pamela Junior is the director of Two Mississippi Museums. An exhibit that honors the Civil Rights crusader is featured in the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.

“I don’t think she knew in the beginning, but she was an amazing change agent,” said Junior.

“Fannie Lou Hamer (was) born in 1917, and she was the youngest of 20 children. She only had an 8th grade education. An amazing change agent who saw living on the plantation just was not going to work for her basically because she couldn’t vote. The owner of the plantation told her if you are going to vote then you don’t need to be here. That is why she left the plantation.”

This Mississippi Delta sharecropper wanted the same freedoms and rights as other Americans. So she began her fight for civil and voting rights, even joining the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to register black voters.

Joy Davenport is the director of a new film called Fannie Lou Hamer’s America: An America ReFramed Special.

“She wanted to have a movement of good people who wanted to see a better country.”

The powerful documentary will premiere on PBS and WORLD Channel this week. It’s produced by Hamer’s great-niece Monica Land.

“Everything she did was to empower the poor people of Mississippi, White and Black. That was her entire goal. So, after she started registering people to vote, she got a lot of attention by the white supremacist’s power structure in the state. She was arrested in Winona, Mississippi after coming back from the voter registration drive and beaten viciously within an inch of her life, and the people who came to bail her out were also arrested and beaten.”

The brutal beatings and the threat of violence didn’t stop Hamer. She was on a mission. In the 1960′s, the political activist helped organize Freedom Summer, which brought hundreds of college students, Black and White, to help with voter registration in the segregated South.

Hamer also co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

It challenged the local Democratic Party’s all-white delegation and its efforts to prevent blacks from participating.

In fact, this outspoken leader brought her fight for equal justice to the national stage.

“She was one of the speakers at the National Democratic Convention. Fannie Lou Hamer, an eighth-grade education, how amazing is that. And when she got up there, she just gave her speech very passionately and from her heart. That she was sick and tired of being sick and tired of being treated as a non-citizen. People from all over the world heard her.”

“She spoke to the Democratic National Convention of 1964. It was so powerful at the time that Lyndon Johnson, the president at the time, cut her off from TV because he didn’t want the country to hear what she had to say. What was funny, it was like the Streisand effect because then all the networks carried her speech when they saw he cut her off, so this must be big news. So then the other networks played the whole speech. What came of that is the Democratic Party changed the bylaws so you can no longer see the segregated delegation. So, the white power structure in the South were cut off at the knees at point. So they had to include black people if they wanted to be a demarcated party delegate.”

Mrs. Hamer didn’t stop there. The civil and human rights activist ran for Congress, worked to combat food insecurity, and established the Freedom Farm Cooperative in Sunflower County to help poor Black farmers and sharecroppers.

She also co-founded the National Women’s Political Caucus, which trains and supports women seeking election to government offices.

“When women think about Fanny Lou Hamer, they think about healthcare,” said Junior. “We think about the Democratic Party — we think about our state of Mississippi.”

Hamer died in 1977 at age 59.

Davenport believes the documentary airing this week will help keep her life and legacy alive.

“The film is entirely told in Mrs. Hamer’s voice. It is her telling her story,” said Davenport.

“Mrs. Hamer is responsible for how we vote now, and I am not overstating this,” said Ellis.

“An amazing woman who gave us all that wonderful feeling that we have to be fearless, and we have to go out there and march because this is our America, this is our Mississippi, and we do it best when we think of people like Fannie Lou Hamer,” said Junior.

These women say it is important we never forget the sacrifices, the determination, and the accomplishments of this courageous leader.

Fannie Lou Hamer’s America is airing as part of the documentary series America ReFramed, presented by WORLD Channel and American Documentary, Inc. The film’s premiere launches America ReFramed’s landmark 10th season.

Fannie Lou Hamer’s America will have its world premiere as a special presentation from PBS and WORLD Channel on Tuesday, February 22 at 9 p.m. ET on PBS stations nationwide. Viewers will have a second chance to see the film on Thursday, February 24 at 8:00 p.m. ET (7:00pm Central/ 9:00 p.m. Pacific) on WORLD Channel stations nationwide.

In addition to airings on PBS and WORLD Channel, Fannie Lou Hamer’s America will also be available for streaming starting on February 22. Audiences can stream the film on, the WORLD YouTube Channel and on all station-branded PBS platforms including and the PBS Video app, available on iOS, Android, Roku streaming devices, Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO.

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