Fannie Lou Hamer may be best known for saying “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired,” while fighting for Black Mississippians’ voting rights in 1964. That same year, she made an impassioned plea at the Democratic National Convention that then-president Lyndon Johnson tried to silence. But his attempt to censor Fannie Lou Hamer only raised her profile.
Award-winning actress Aunjanue Ellis powerfully re-enacts this moment in history in the short film “Fannie.”
“While she was speaking, Lyndon Baines Johnson called a press conference in the middle of her speech. The networks shut down their coverage of her speech to do this phony press conference that he had,” Ellis told ESSECE over IG Live.
Johnson’s plan backfired, as his silencing became a news story in itself. Media outlets played Hamer’s full testimony that night, and it replayed for days in the news.
In the speech, Hamer recalled the violence and brutality she faced by police and racist Mississippians just to register to vote.
“[S]ixteen bullets was fired into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Tucker for me. That same night two girls were shot in Ruleville, Mississippi. Also Mr. Joe McDonald’s house was shot in,” she said in her address.
After Hamer described being sent to jail and beaten by Black prisoners who were ordered by police to assault her, she closed out her speech: “Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?”
Over 50 years later, Hamer’s voice continues to grip audiences, with Ellis recreating the testimony in her one-woman short film. A fellow Mississippi native, Ellis was inspired by the activist’s story.
“She essentially became my North Star in terms of how I am able to be someone who takes care of my family, supports my community, and fights the confederacy. That’s what I have to do in my state of Mississippi. And we’re living in confederate times right now. I wanted to do something to honor her,” Ellis says.
“We are always the foundation of these movements that move this country forward towards the better,” Ellis adds. “And Mrs. Hamer is central to that.”
WATCH: Aunjanue Ellis as “Fannie”
Watch the full conversation with Aunjanue Ellis, an ESSENCE Black Women In Hollywood honoree, below:
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