New Documentary on Civil Rights Activist Fannie Lou Hamer Awarded Grant

In January, Tougaloo College was awarded a $272,000 grant by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to produce a documentary to chronicle the life and legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer. The film, Fannie Lou Hamer’s America, details Hamer’s story in her own words. Hamer narrates the film through personal letters, speeches, and video footage recorded during her 15 years of activism.

Monica Land, an award-winning journalist and Hamer’s great-niece, is producing the documentary. Keith A. Beauchamp and Joseph Davenport also are working on the project as executive producer and director, respectively. Beauchamp, known for his film, The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till, has experience in articulating the perils of racism in the South. While, Davenport has familiarity with the activist’s work, as his film, M.F.D.P., recounts the establishment of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.

Born on October 6, 1917, Hamer was the youngest of 20 children born to sharecroppers in Montgomery County, Mississippi. When she was just six years old, she began working in the fields to pick cotton with her family. Despite having to drop out of school to work full time at 12, Hamer continued to develop her reading skills.

Fannie Lou Hamer was still working as a sharecropper, in 1962, when she decided to become an advocate for civil rights. After being fired from the plantation for registering to vote, she chose to work as a community organizer to help others do the same. However, this courageous act did come with risks. Hamer was threatened, shot at, beaten, and assaulted on many occasions just for exercising her right to vote.

Consequently, Hamer co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) to act as a voice for the disenfranchised of the black community. Although Hamer unsuccessfully ran for the Senate, she was able to speak on a national scale and bring awareness to the voter suppression and discrimination in Mississippi. In 1964, at the Democratic National Convention, Hamer gave a powerful testimony that shared her experience and would become one of her most iconic speeches.

It is fitting that Tougaloo College, located in Tougaloo, Mississippi, was chosen as the recipient of the grant due to its connection to the civil rights figure. In 1969, Hamer received an honorary degree from the institution for her prolific work in the Civil Rights Movement. Tougaloo College, a historically black college, provided a place of support for many activists during the 1960s, thus making it an appropriate place to honor her legacy.

The grant from the Kellogg Foundation also partially will fund the development of, Find Your Voice, a corresponding K-12 civil rights educational curriculum. Dr. Maegan Brooks and Dr. Davis Houck will design the curriculum to be an ongoing program to teach students the art of digital storytelling.

Fannie Lou Hamer’s America is currently in production. Find out more about the upcoming documentary here.