Let It Shine: A Visit with Fannie Lou Hamer
A one-woman show about the life of civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer
Meet Mrs. Hamer
Fannie Lou Hamer, the daughter of sharecroppers, became a voting rights activist after being recruited by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1962. She soon became an important fieldworker, and fundraiser for the SNCC. One of the founders of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, she traveled with a delegation to the 1964 Democratic Convention in Atlantic City to present an ultimately unsuccessful challenge to the all-white, all-male Democratic delegation as not representative of the population of Mississippi. President Lyndon Johnson famously called a televised press conference in order to keep her testimony off the air. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Mrs. Hamer turned her attention to local efforts, developing cooperative farm and building houses for the poor of Sunflower County. Fannie Lou Hamer died in 1977. On her grave in Ruleville, is inscribed her most famous quote: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
In 1999, inspired by Hebert Randall’s photographs of 1964’s Freedom Summer activities in Hattiesburg, Frank Kuhn assembled quotes, news articles, SNCC files, letters to the editor, songs, and speeches into a documentary readers’ theatre piece, called Voices of Freedom Summer, celebrating the people and events of that summer. Sharon Miles was a member of that ensemble, and to her fell Mrs. Hamer’s pithy, incisive lines. For both Sharon and Frank this was their first introduction to that iconic sharecropper/activist, and they were both thoroughly engaged by the woman.
Sharon continued to play Fannie Lou Hamer in Voices of Freedom Summer through revivals at University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg’s Saenger Theatre, and most recently, in 2014, the Mississippi Museum of Art, produced by John Maxwell’s Fishtale Group. Sharon also played Mrs. Hamer in New Stage’s production of All the Way, deepening her relationship with the historical figure. In 2015, missing Sharon’s characterization, Frank offered to create a solo performance piece featuring Sharon as Fannie Lou Hamer, and Sharon jumped at the opportunity. That was followed by two years of intensive research, drafts and redrafts, and rehearsals in Mississippi and New York, as they searched for the woman behind the icon. Sharon and Frank hope to tour throughout the state.
A WORD FROM SHARON
I was first introduced to Fannie Lou Hamer as freshman in college. I had spent my entire life in Mississippi, but I had never even heard of her. That bothered me. I considered myself a lover of history and equally passionate about current events, but the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, a civil rights leader from my Mississippi, had never reached me. I was introduced to Mrs. Hamer before I recognized the power of my own voice and before I had fully grasped the unspoken scars that you carry just growing up black in Mississippi. I recognized apart of myself in her. I saw members from my family, my church and my community in her.
Fannie Lou Hamer’s story challenged me, her faith inspired me, and her voice empowered me to embrace all sides of my identity. She helped me fall deeper in love with history and question who's controlling the narrative? She still inspires me daily. I want to be more like her as she pushes me to be unapologetically me. She challenges me to love America enough to question her, to fight for her to reach her full potential and make tomorrow better for the next generation just as Mrs. Hamer fought to make this day better for me. I consider it a great privilege of my life to honor this remarkable woman.
A BIT ABOUT FRANK
Frank Kuhn directs for theatres and opera companies throughout the country. He recently directed a production of The Barber of Seville for Northern Lights Music Festival in Minnesota. In 2017, he developed and presented Two of Mee, an original work derived from the writings of Charles Mee, for the Rochester, NY Fringe Festival. That same year, he also directed Leah, the Forsaken for Metropolitan Playhouse in New York City, a production praised by the New York Times as a “rare revival” and “a thought-provoking discovery, presented by a first-rate troupe.” The Denver Post named him “Best Director” in their statewide Ovation Awards for a production of Sweeney Todd at Creede Repertory Theatre, and his production of Godspell for Muhlenberg Summer Music Theatre in Pennsylvania was named best professional musical of 2011 by the Lehigh Valley Press. He is a professor of theatre at The College at Brockport, State University of New York, in western New York.