INDIANOLA – In a state where there’s limited civil rights education being taught in the classroom, the community here lacks the resources to learn about one of their own – a native to the area – who was one of the most prominent heroines from the civil rights movement.
But when scholars of Fannie Lou Hamer – a sharecropper and civil rights activist – became aware of this fact in 2012 before the unveiling of Hamer’s statue in Ruleville, they began to find ways to give teachers the artifacts they needed to better educate their students about Hamer’s significance to the civil rights movement.
Even if it meant physically copying songs and speeches to a CD-ROM.
“We’re talking a week before the ceremony. I coupled together some resources and burned them on a CD. This is 2012. So I burned a CD with her songs and her speeches. I tried to send them some transcriptions of things of some speeches I’d found — just giving them anything that might get students excited,”said Dr. Maegan Parker Brooks, assistant professor at Willamette University, in a telephone conversation with Mississippi Today.
“That just really hit me hard and I thought, ‘That’s tragic – right here in Sunflower County, right here in her hometown, right here in her own county – teachers do not have the resources to get students excited about this amazing, incredible, inspirational woman from their community.’ ”
Hamer was instrumental in fighting to help African Americans obtain first-class citizenship and equality. She became a civil rights activist who served as a voice for her people. She was known for her inspirational songs and her strength to speak out on injustices for the African American community.
And after researching her for over a decade or so, conversations about creating a documentary film about the life and legacy of the Ruleville native led a current ongoing production.
The documentary, Fannie Lou Hamer’s America, set to debut in Spring 2019, is told through Hamer’s voice using public speeches, personal interviews, and songs.
And now, this summer, in a collaborative effort to include the community in the research of Hamer, students and teachers from the Sunflower Consolidated School District will aid researchers in constructing a K-12 curriculum while learning the inner workings of filmmaking and digital studies.
Because of funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Mississippi Humanities Council, and other Delta grants, lead researchers and film crew of Fannie Lou Hamer’s America, are hosting two free workshops at Gentry High School for students and teachers in the area.
Students received a $500 stipend and teachers received a $200 honorarium and a childcare stipend if needed for participating.
Spearheaded by professional filmmakers Pablo Correa and Joseph Davenport, 17 high school students from the Sunflower district are currently participating in The Young Filmmaker’s Workshop. Students are being trained to use video and sound equipment to tell their stories and how it intersects with Hamer while giving them a summer job and internship experience, said Brooks.
Students are learning how to produce their own films from start to finish. This workshop started on June 11 and lasts through July 9. Students work Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The equipment the students are using will be donated to the district for future use.
“One of the outcomes that I hadn’t quite anticipated was the way that this reconnects the students with local area history and with history of their ancestors and recognizing the older generations and their families as resources of knowledge that they can gain better understanding of the movement from and really have more confidence in themselves and their importance… the significance of this place and the national renowned of people who come from the Delta and just seeing themselves in a new light,” said Brooks after observing the students earlier this week.
This workshop hopes to encourage minority students to go into the field of digital media production, according to a news release. This district has a 95 percent African-American population.
“I am excited to introduce students to new media technology and filmmaking as a possible career path or course of study,” said Correa in a news release. “The workshop will provide them with a hands-on opportunity to learn industry equipment and editing techniques, as well as engage students in studying the life and legacy of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.”
Teachers, however, will take on a different task.
For two days, June 26 and 27, Brooks and Hamer historian Davis Houck, are conducting an Educator’s Workshop for 11 teachers from different towns across the Delta to help develop the Fannie Lou Hamer-inspired K-12 curriculum, Find Your Voice.
Teachers will receive lead authorship of the lesson plans and a line credit in the film, said Brooks.
“Last summer we started writing up these proposals like, what if we could get into the Delta and get into some classrooms and work with K-12 educators who are just doing this on the ground everyday and they know what’s going to inspire and excite the students?” said Brooks.
Although the workshop is two days, Brooks and Houck created lesson plans ahead of time and are using those as a backdrop to receive feedback, suggestions, and revisions from the Delta educators.
Brooks added that their hope is to continue to host these workshops in the years to come and reach more teachers.
“We really want this to be something rooted in the Delta and grows out of the Delta community where she was from,” said Brooks.