Fannie Lou Hamer

Fannie Lou Hamer sitting on her porch, circa 1960s, Will D. Campbell Papers, University of Southern Mississippi

Art and activism will intersect again this weekend for The Black Rep when they team up with The Organization for Black Struggle, Better Family Life, and Action STL in the effort to get people active in the upcoming election.

The Black Rep is presenting an abbreviated outdoor staging of “Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It,” the newest play by Cheryl L. West, at a trio of locations from October 2-4. Action STL, Better Family Life and OBS will have representatives on-site for the production to register individuals to vote ahead of the October 7 deadline.

“It’s so very important. It’s important to get the word out – to stand up and make sure that we are getting information out against all of the lies that the current administration is putting forth to suppress the vote,” said Ron Himes, founder and producing director of the Black Rep.

“We just had to make sure that we did our part to get the word out about how important it is to vote and get registered. Your vote is your voice and we want people to speak up – I mean, that’s the name of the piece, ‘Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It.’”

The play tells the story of the famous activist best known for her quote “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” While the organizations pay homage in the present day to how Hamer put her life on the line in the effort to ensure that Black voters in Mississippi had a voice, the play will share her story. 

“Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It” features songs and speeches that inspire and chronicle the story of Fannie Lou Hamer’s experience. This production will feature Thomasina Clarke in the role of Fannie Lou Hamer with accompaniment by Dennis Brock on guitar.

“So much of the work that we do has been ways to hopefully educate the next generation, and there are plenty of people who don’t know who Fannie Lou Hamer was,” Himes said. “They don’t know how hard she worked for voter registration all through Mississippi and fought her way all the way to the Democratic National Convention to have their delegation recognized. The effort that she put forth and the outright racism and violence she experienced just to be able to register to vote and help others register.”

The play was originally set to premiere at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago this year as a full-length production.  With the combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and the upcoming critical election, the playwright and the company worked together to create a 30-minute version for various organizations to produce because as Henry Godinez, director of The Goodman’s production, said, “Fannie’s voice needed to be heard during this critical time.”

Himes says Hamer’s journey and her success were a testament that local politics are just as important – even more important than just voting every four years for the president.

She and others put their bodies on the line when met with walls of oppression and violent racial terror so that Black people across the south could exercise their rights as citizens at the polls in order to make change in their communities.

“Because of that legacy, we owe it them to vote,” Himes said. “For those who fought so hard and sacrificed so much just for you to be in the position to say, ‘I’m not gonna vote.’ You didn’t have the choice to say that before them, because you couldn’t vote.”

Himes talked about the disappointment in seeing people dishonor the legacy of Hamer, the late Congressman John Lewis and so many others that made it possible.

“We are obligated to do all that we can to help get that word out and to help inspire people the opportunity to register to exercise that right,” Himes said.

He hopes to inspire those who come to the one or more of the three presentations of “Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It” are made aware of how others fought for us to have certain rights. But he also hopes to serve of the power that lies within us all to be change agents.

 “Fannie Lou – like many other women in the Civil Rights Movement and throughout our existence here – have always been vital to the movement and the struggle and in many instances their contributions are not recognized,” Himes said. “Especially if they didn’t look a certain way or act a certain way. And Fannie Loui Hamer was like, ‘I’m just me. I talk like I talk. I look like I look. I walk like I walk. But I want my right to vote. And I want my people to have their right to vote.”

The Black Rep’s presentation will take place at 6 p.m. on Friday, October 2 in the parking lot of the Black Rep administrative offices with a preshow spin session by DJ James Biko and Action St. Louis voter registration tables at 5 p.m. The Black Rep Summer Performing Arts students will also perform an excerpt from their final performance.

The Saturday, October 3 production will take place at 1 p.m. as part of the Organization for Black Struggle Community day at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Hodiamont.  This event will have COVID testing as well as health and job vendors.

Better Family Life (5415 Page Blvd.) will host the final performance at 2 p.m., on Sunday, October 4.

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