By GLYNN A. HILL
In the documentary short “This Little Light of Mine: The Legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer,” director Robin Hamilton explores the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi sharecropper who became a prolific voting rights activist for African Americans during the civil rights movement.
Hamilton, an Emmy-award winning journalist, television host, producer and writer, counts Hamer among her inspirations in life and did this film in an attempt to enliven the legacy of one of the voting rights struggle’s most polarizing heroines.. She describes Hamer—who endured a near-fatal beating in a county jail in addition to attacks against her family and death threats—as “short in stature but tall in spirit.”
The film tells the story of a bold, unlettered woman who was physically and mentally brutalized in the Jim Crow South but fought back to become an unstoppable force during the Civil Rights Movement. By 1964, the world learned of Hamer when she challenged President Lyndon Johnson during the Democratic National Convention and became a spokesperson for so many like her who had little else to lose and everything to gain.
Hamilton said the film, shown during the opening night of the March on Washington Film Festival on July 15 in the nation’s capital, is particularly timely in light of the “renewed spirit” of the civil rights movement in recent months, spurred by the murders of black bodies like Trayvon Martin and Freddie Gray.
“There are parallels between [now] and the civil rights movement,” Hamilton said. “People say ‘I can’t believe that happened to [Hamer] and it still happens to people now.’”
Hamilton said she wanted to present Hamer as raw, honest, strong, and vulnerable. Her film features footage of members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (which Hamer helped organize), speeches by Hamer and interviews with SNCC members.
After the film screening, Hamilton sat on a panel with Hamer’s daughter, Vergie, as well as other prominent activists and organizers. Hamilton talks about a “spark” she felt being around the group as they reminisced about Fannie Lou and her legacy.
The film, which will play at several festivals later this year, will also be shown coupled with a conversation with NPR Host Michel Martin at the Hill Center at the Old Naval Hospital in Washington, D.C. on August 5.
Hamilton considers Hamer one of the most intriguing figures of the civil rights movement. She believes Hamer, like many women of the movement, don’t get enough credit for their contributions.
“The freedom that I have to pursue an education and things like that are because of women like Ms. Hamer. I don’t think the movement would have been what it was without women like her,” Hamilton said. “Nothing came easy, but she found a way.”