Photo Credit: (Original Caption) 8/25/1964-Atlantic City, NJ- Convention Hall. Mrs. Fannie Hamer, member of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, was one of the exciting highlights of the National Democratic Convention. Here, she walks firmly toward the convention hall entrance, to which she and other members of her group were finally admitted.
Fannie Lou Hamer’s America is a new documentary from filmmaker Joy Davenport and producers Monica Land, the great-niece of Fannie Lou Hamer, and Selena Lauterer. Through rare archival recordings, footage, and photos, Fannie Lou Hamer’s America brings audiences the story of the human rights icon through her own words and voice. Through her songs, speeches, and interviews, Hamer herself acts as narrator to her story, bringing viewers from her youth as the daughter of sharecroppers in Mississippi to her historic work to bring greater voting rights to Black Americans on the national stage.
At a time when unprecedented actions are being taken to remove voting rights from millions of Americans across the nation and erase honest discussion about race in America, Hamer’s story and legacy are more vital than ever for a new generation of people. A trailblazer in the fight for voting rights for all and in the fight to end systemic poverty in America, Hamer’s work is still relevant today as millions of Americans are still in the same battle.
In a captivating portrait of one of the civil rights era’s preeminent icons through her own speeches, interviews, and songs, Fannie Lou Hamer’s America follows the life of Fannie Lou Hamer from the cotton fields of Mississippi to the halls of Congress. Through rare footage and recordings, Hamer tells her story and that of America more than four decades after her death. The directorial debut of Davenport and the brainchild of Monica Land, the film offers photos, documents, performances, and sources, some unearthed by family members, to a new generation of audiences called upon to take up the mantle of preserving American democracy.
Despite her many contributions to the Civil Rights movement, Hamer’s story remains unknown by many today. One of the major obstacles the film team faced during the making of the documentary was identifying archives and footage in which Hamer was depicted because the archives were not labeled with her name, they were marked rather with descriptions such as “Black woman speaking.” The film airs at a time when Black women are being acknowledged for their work at the forefront of the fight for voting rights amidst unprecedented voter suppression efforts targeting citizens of color in the spirit of Hamer’s famous quote, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
The Chicago Defender recently spoke with Fannie Lou Hamer’s great-niece Monica Land about the documentary and her great aunt’s legacy.
Chicago Defender: This documentary really paints a three-dimensional view of Fannie Lou Hamer as a woman, wife, and activist. Was that intentional?
Monica Land: The idea stemmed from a lot of documentaries I saw on Aunt Fannie Lou. One of the elements that were always missing was the family element. I thought it would be so cool to see that side of her life. That was my initial focus. I wanted to show that private side and personal side. Fannie Lou Hamer’s America tells her story in her voice. We were adamant in that we did not want any talking heads. We did not want any narration. We really did not want any other voice, other than hers, telling her story.
Chicago Defender: As her great-niece, what does that feel like to make this documentary and carry that part of her legacy with you?
Monica Land: It was important to me to make this film. I wanted her to get the credit she so deserved. She did so much and suffered so much. She had a life filled with pain and sorry and sacrifice. Many people do not know who she is or what she contributed to. I wanted to preserve that memory.
It’s not just through this documentary either, we created a website, a place where anyone could go to find out any information on this historical figure. Aunt Fannie Lou Hamer deserves a place. A historical figure of her stature needs a place.
Fannie Lou Hamer’s America will also be available for streaming starting on February 22. Audiences can stream the film on worldchannel.org, the WORLD YouTube Channel, and on all station-branded PBS platforms including PBS.org 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.
For more information on Fannie Lou Hamer, please visit their website at https://www.fannielouhamersamerica.com/.