Fannie Lou Hamer grew up poor, uneducated and powerless.
But she didn't let that stop her.
She gained a richness that cannot be measured in dollars, wisdom generated by a discerning mind, and a moral authority commanded by unfettered integrity.
Many people tried to bring her down. But she stood up for herself, and carried herself with dignity. That's why she inspired the original musical, Fannie Lou.
The public side of Fannie Lou Hamer begins with voting rights.
In August 1962, at the age of 44, Mrs. Hamer decided she had had enough of being treated like a second-class citizen. She volunteered, along with 17 other prospective voters, to travel to the county seat to register to vote.
They were turned away. In fact, for their effort their bus was pulled over by law enforcement officers on the charge that the vehicle's color was "too yellow."
This didn't deter Mrs. Hamer. She kept trying, and eventually won the right to vote. Needless to say, it was a hard-fought victory. One of the repercussions of her attempt to register was being kicked out of her home by the owner, who was adamantly against voting rights for African Americans.
After she gained her voting right, Mrs. Hamer determined to help other citizens exercise their rights as well. Because of that effort, she was jailed and beaten.
The musical Fannie Lou focuses on these early stages of Mrs. Hamer's social activism. Come to future productions to experience the unique telling of her story.
Composer-lyricist Felicia Hunter takes the audience through a sea change of emotions as Mrs. Hamer and people around her experience a community in the midst of indelible transformation.
While showing sides of Mrs. Hamer that reveal her human qualities, the production also focuses on the seemingly other-worldly courage that allowed her to rise above cultural restrictions of her time.
The dialogue is riveting, the music is captivating and the storytelling is dynamic.
"I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired."
-- Fannie Lou Hamer
It's a phrase for which Mrs. Hamer is well known. It refers, of course, to the ongoing social battle she fought in trying to gain various rights, and the personal price she had to pay for doing so.
The first battle was for voting rights. But Mrs. Hamer didn't stop there. She sought to become an elected official by running for public office several times. Voter fraud was suspected in elections for which she was a candidate, as well as others. Mrs. Hamer was among complainants seeking legal remedy for restrictive voting practices that endured after African Americans demanded they be allowed the right to vote.
There were other battles, as well, for Mrs. Hamer. She was concerned about youngsters receiving a proper education. She wanted to make sure her fellow residents had enough clothing and adequate nutrition. To address the latter, she established a community farm that she hoped would become self-sustaining.
She worked hard all of her life helping others experience a better life. It took a toll on her own health. Mrs. Hamer suffered from a number of illnesses, including cancer, diabetes and hypertension.
She died March 14, 1977, at age 59. The legacy she leaves behind is one of hope, faith and determination. By example, she demonstrated that much can be accomplished through hard work and perseverance.
For more information about Mrs. Hamer, please go to the Fannie Lou Hamer Resources page on this site.