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January 23, 2006

Civil rights activist portrayed in one-woman show January 25

A one-woman show about civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer will be presented at 7 p.m. January 25 at the College Nine/College Ten Multipurpose Room. There is no charge for the show.

Photo of E.P. McKnight

E. P. McKnight portrays civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer on January 25.

“I Question America: The Legacy of Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer” features actress E. P. McKnight, who also wrote the show. McKnight has performed on stage, in films, and on TV.

The production is part of the Rainbow Series, which brings a variety of theater performances to campus. As is customary with Rainbow Series shows, a “talkback” session will follow the performance, allowing members of the audience to ask questions about the performance or theater in general. The performance is in collaboration with Rainbow Theater, Porter, Stevenson, and Merill Colleges as well as College Nine and College Ten and the campus resource centers.

After learning in 1962--in her 40s--that African Americans actually had the right to vote, Hamer became an organizer for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi. She was badly beaten along with other voting rights organizers in a Mississippi jail, but recovered to travel the country telling her story.

"Her deep, powerful voice shakes the air as she sits on the porch or inside, talking to friends, relatives and neighbors who drop by on the one day each week when she is not campaigning,” a Nation magazine reporter wrote in 1964. “Whatever she is talking about soon becomes an impassioned plea for a change in the system that exploits the Delta Negroes. 'All my life I've been sick and tired,' she shakes her head. 'Now I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired.’ ”

Hamer was among members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party challenging the state’s all-white Democratic Party. Her efforts to win a seat at the 1964 Democratic convention were blocked, but she succeeded in 1968.

Biographer Sina Dubovoy described the scene: “Hamer received a thunderous standing ovation when she became the first African American to take her rightful seat as an official delegate at a national-party convention since the Reconstruction period after the Civil War, and the first woman ever from Mississippi.”

A recording of one of Fannie Lou Hamer's 1964 speeches is available online.

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