A Voice That Could Stir an Army

A Voice That Could Stir an Army: Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rhetoric of the Black Freedom Movement

Maegan Parker Brooks
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    A Voice That Could Stir an Army
    Book Description:

    A sharecropper, a warrior, and a truth-telling prophet, Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977) stands as a powerful symbol not only of the 1960s black freedom movement, but also of the enduring human struggle against oppression.A Voice That Could Stir an Armyis a rhetorical biography that tells the story of Hamer's life by focusing on how she employed symbols-- images, words, and even material objects such as the ballot, food, and clothing--to construct persuasive public personae, to influence audiences, and to effect social change.

    Drawing upon dozens of newly recovered Hamer texts and recent interviews with Hamer's friends, family, and fellow activists, Maegan Parker Brooks moves chronologically through Hamer's life. Brooks recounts Hamer's early influences, her intersection with the black freedom movement, and her rise to prominence at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Brooks also considers Hamer's lesser-known contributions to the fight against poverty and to feminist politics before analyzing how Hamer is remembered posthumously. The book concludes by emphasizing what remains rhetorical about Hamer's biography, using the 2012 statue and museum dedication in Hamer's hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, to examine the larger social, political, and historiographical implications of her legacy.

    The sustained consideration of Hamer's wide-ranging use of symbols and the reconstruction of her legacy provided within the pages ofA Voice That Could Stir an Armyenrich understanding of this key historical figure. This book also demonstrates how rhetorical analysis complements historical reconstruction to explain the dynamics of how social movements actually operate.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-033-4
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-2)
  3. INTRODUCTION “I Don’t Mind My Light Shining”
    (pp. 3-10)

    “I NEVER THOUGHT IN A MILLION YEARS THAT FANNIE LOU HAMER WOULD be on a postage stamp,” Vergie Hamer Faulkner exclaimed as the United States Postal Service included her mother among the twelve civil rights pioneers honored in celebration of the NAACP’s one hundredth anniversary.¹ The previous week, on February 17, 2009, the International Slavery Museum recognized Hamer as a “Black Achiever,” hanging a portrait of her in their permanent exhibit next to one of President Barack Obama.² For many, placing Hamer’s portrait next to Obama’s made good sense—during his 2008 presidential campaign, national commentators pointed out that Obama’s...

  4. CHAPTER 1 A Rhetorical Education, 1917–1962
    (pp. 11-43)

    OVER FIFTY YEARS AFTER PRATHIA HALL EXPRESSED THIS CONVICTION, America still has much to learn from people who not only carved out an in the Mississippi Delta, but who also left an indelible mark on this nation.¹ I traveled to the Delta in search of one particular source of this wisdom. On a humid June morning in 2007, I first made the two-and-a-half-hour trek from Jackson. That day, I brought flowers to set upon Fannie Lou Hamer’s grave—a small cement headstone with a marble placard echoing her now words of determination—“I’m sick and tired of being sick and...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Through the Shadows of Death, 1962–1964
    (pp. 44-85)

    “‘THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME BECAUSE HE HAS ANOINTED ME TO preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captive . . . to set at liberty to them who are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.’” This verse, taken from the fourth chapter of Luke, serves as both the introduction to Fannie Lou Hamer’s first recorded speech and as her personal conviction for joining the ranks of prophetic movement orators. Addressing an audience of black Deltans at a Freedom Vote rally in...

  6. CHAPTER 3 “Is This America?,” 1964
    (pp. 86-120)

    IN THIS CHAPTER I SLOW DOWN THE CHRONOLOGY OF HAMER’S LIFE BY pausing at two significant rhetorical moments in the late summer and early fall of 1964. Focusing specifically on the MFDP’s 1964 challenge to be seated at the DNC, this chapter provides both the context for Hamer’s memorable testimony and a sustained analysis of the testimony itself. My analysis of Hamer’s most famous speech does not just argue that it was compelling. In contrast to past accounts, I provide a detailed consideration of Hamer’s visual image, the vernacular quality of her speech, and the content of her testimony to...

  7. CHAPTER 4 “The Country’s Number One Freedom Fighting Woman,” 1964–1968
    (pp. 121-166)

    IN THE YEARS FOLLOWING HER NATIONALLY TELEVISED CREDENTIALS committee testimony, Hamer crisscrossed the United States and ventured all the way to the West Coast of Africa. She shared platforms with Malcolm X in Harlem and challenged the US congressional representatives sent from her state.¹ She filed a lawsuit against the Sunflower County registrar, which helped secure reelections in the Delta towns of Sunflower and Moorhead. She became a spokesperson for, and an inspiration to, the striking farmworkers who formed the Mississippi Freedom Labor Union (MFLU). And she was instrumental in coordinating local poverty programs made possible by the hard-fought federal...

  8. CHAPTER 5 “To Tell It Like It Is,” 1968–1972
    (pp. 167-207)

    HAMER PLACED HER WHITE-LAPELLED BLAZER ON THE CHAIR BEHIND HER and her purse on the table in front as she rose to speak at the Holmes County Courthouse in Lexington, Mississippi, on May 8, 1969. Her hair was pulled up and back into a beehive; the sleeveless white shell she wore underneath the blazer permitted her greater range of motion as she dove into her passionate address. As vice president of the MFDP, Hamer was in Lexington speaking on behalf of the candidates running for office in the May 13 election. Flanked by such notables as MFDP chair Lawrence Guyot,...

  9. CHAPTER 6 The Problems and the Progress
    (pp. 208-236)

    ON A COLD JANUARY AFTERNOON IN A PAKKED THIRD-FLOOR LECTRE HALL on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Fannie Lou Hamer informed her audience of students, professors, and community members that “we haven’t arrived yet. You know, you here and we there haven’t arrived yet.” In her characteristic confrontational candor, Hamer admitted that “some of you all ain’t going to like it because . . . I am just telling the truth . . . so you can . . . respect the truth because if changes is not made in this sick country, it’s not going to be me crumbling,...

  10. AFTERWORD “We Ain’t Free Yet. The Kids Need to Know Their Mission,” 2012
    (pp. 237-246)

    HAMER SPOKE THESE WORDS OF CONVICATION TO HER LONGTIME FRIEND, fellow activist, and confidante, Charles McLaurin, shortly before her death.¹ As she lay in a hospital bed in Mound Bayou, Hamer also insisted: “Mac, I don’t want to be buried on a plantation . . . I want you to promise me that I will not buried on a plantation. Promise me,” she implored. “Ok, I promise,” was McLaurin’s simple reply. Fairly certain that the legendary Mrs. Hamer would “live forever,” McLaurin did not think too much of the agreement he made with friend that winter day in 1977. But...

  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 247-250)
  12. CODA Listen to the “Voice That Could Stir an Army”
    (pp. 251-252)

    “YOU’VE NEVER HEARD A ROOM FLYING [LIKE ONE] FANNIE LOU HAMER SET afire,” recalls Eleanor Holmes Norton. Hamer’s “speeches had themes. They had lessons. They had principles,” Norton insists, when Hamer spoke “in this extraordinary ringing style . . .[y]ou never needed to hear anybody else speak again.”¹ Norton’s observations about Hamer’s extraordinary speaking style were echoed in the dozens of interviews I conducted. Many of the people met performed for me their own impressions of Hamer’s matter-of-fact delivery and her robust speaking voice. Others shared their personal recordings of her speeches—cassette tapes they had kept safely stowed for...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 253-297)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 298-308)
  15. Index
    (pp. 309-314)