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A Long Road to Freedom (a play): Fannie Lou Hamer

ABOUT THE PLAY

For years, African-Americans were denied equal rights all across this country. In 1962, one woman decided to take a stand. She wanted to vote but was told she couldn't. She wouldn't take no for an answer. Her name was Fannie Lou Hamer. This is her true story.

CHARACTERS

  • Fannie Lou Hamer
  • Pap Hamer, her husband
  • Will, a civil rights worker
  • James, a civil rights worker
  • Mr. Dee, plantation owner
  • Officer
  • Farmer
  • Registrar
  • Sheriff
  • Mrs. Cobb, Fannie's neighbor
  • Mr. Taylor, Fannie's neighbor
  • Narrator 1
  • Narrator 2

SCENE 1

Narrator 1: It's 1962 in Ruleville, a small town in Mississippi. Fannie Lou Hamer lives in a shack on "Mr. Dee's" plantation with her husband, Pap, and their two daughters.

Narrator 2: Early one morning in August, there's a knock. Pap finds two young white men standing at the door.

Will: Good morning, Mr. Hamer. We're having a meeting tonight at the church to talk to black folks about registering to vote. Can you attend?

Pap: We don't vote around here.

James: Don't you want a better life for your children?

Pap: I know you boys mean well, but you better be going.

Narrator 1: Fannie Lou and Pap watch the young men knock on their neighbors' doors.

Pap: Anybody that goes to that meeting is asking for big trouble.

Fannie Lou: I don't know, Pap. We've been waiting so long for things to change. Maybe it's time we did something.

Pap: Maybe it's not. Black folks are murdered for speaking up, and people don't question it when it happens.

Fannie Lou: That's even more reason to stop waiting and start changing things ourselves. Like that man said, don't we want a better life for our children?

SCENE 2

Narrator 2: Fannie Lou is one of the better cotton pickers on Mr. Dee's plantation. This day, she is called in to clean Mr. Dee's house.

Narrator 1: Mr. Dee sits in the kitchen looking at a catalog.

Fannie Lou: Morning, Mr. Dee. What's that you're eyeing?

Mr. Dee: Machines. They pick cotton as quickly as 20 people put together. I'm getting one.

Narrator 2: Fannie Lou gets a worried look on her face.

Fannie Lou (to herself): Picking cotton is hard work, but it's the only decent job a black person can get here. Now even that might be taken away by machines.

Narrator 1: Mr. Dee points to some cleaning supplies.

Mr. Dee: Don't forget to dust under the couches.

Fannie Lou: I thought I'd start in the bathroom.

Mr. Dee: Don't worry about that. It's only the dog's bathroom.

Narrator 2: Fannie Lou starts to get angry. As she cleans, she keeps hearing Mr. Dee's words, "It's only the dog's bathroom."

Narrator 1: Her family doesn't have running water or a toilet inside their shack, but Mr. Dee's dog has its own bathroom!

SCENE 3

Narrator 2: That night, Fannie Lou goes to the voter-registration meeting. The police patrol outside with dogs. The mayor writes down names as people walk in.

Narrator 1: There are 30 people at the meeting. Two people stand up and say they are from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The organization works to help black people win civil rights.

James: I know you risked a lot coming here tonight. And I know you saw the mayor writing down names. But he is an elected official. People voted him into office. People can vote him out.

Will: In order to do that, though, you have to go down to the county office to register. That's the first step on the long road to freedom.

Mrs. Cobb: We'll lose our jobs if we try that! Or worse!

James: If you're fired, we'll make sure your family eats.

Will: We have a bus going down to the county courthouse on Friday. Who will come with us?

Narrator 2: Fannie Lou looks around. Not one hand is up. People are afraid. She's scared too. Slowly she raises her hand.

Fannie Lou: I'll go.

Narrator 1: Fannie Lou's neighbors are inspired. They raise their hands, too.

SCENE 4

Narrator 2: One Friday, Fannie Lou and 15 others ride a school bus to the courthouse. When they arrive, the sheriff blocks the door. His hand is on a gun.

Sheriff: What are you here for?

Will: We came to register to vote.

Sheriff: You can't bring all these people inside. You'll have to go in two at a time.

Narrator 1: Fannie Lou and her neighbors wait for hours. Finally it's Fannie Lou's turn. She steps up to the desk.

Registrar: What's your name?

Fannie Lou: Mrs. Hamer.

Registrar: Who's your boss?

Fannie Lou: Mr. Dee.

Registrar: I want you to interpret the 16th section of the Mississippi state constitution, regarding "de facto" laws.

Fannie Lou: I-I don't know what "de facto" laws are.

Narrator 2: The registrar laughs and slams the voting book shut.

SCENE 5

Narrator 1: Fannie Lou and her neighbors ride back to Ruleville in silence.

Fannie Lou: The test was hard. I guess I didn't pass. Maybe I'm too dumb to vote after all.

Will (angry): They only make the test hard for blacks. Whites get a much easier test. Some can't read and they still pass!

Narrator 2: Suddenly, a police officer stops the bus. Will and James get out.

Narrator 1: Inside the bus, people are nervous.

Narrator 2: Fannie Lou starts singing. She gets everyone to join in. When James and Will return, everyone in the bus is calm.

James: They fined us $30. Our bus is too yellow, they said.

Fannie Lou: Too yellow? What does that mean?

Will: It means they're trying to scare us. They don't want you to vote. They want us to back down.

SCENE 6

Narrator 1: The next morning, Mr. Dee comes over to Fannie Lou's shack.

Mr. Dee: Where were you yesterday? I couldn't find you.

Fannie Lou: Trying to register to vote.

Mr. Dee: We can't have that! Get your name off that list, and everything will be like it was before.

Fannie Lou: I don't want things to be the same as before.

Mr. Dee: I'm warning you only once: Get your name off that list! Or leave this plantation today!

Fannie Lou: Then, I guess I'll have to leave.

Mr. Dee (shouting): You have two hours to get out!

Narrator 2: Pap watches Fannie Lou pack the few things she has.

Pap: Fannie Lou, it's not too late. You could reconsider. This is our home. We've been here for 18 years.

Fannie Lou (angry): For 18 years, I've taken care of Mr. Dee's children and kept his books. I've nursed his family when they were sick. How come I'm good enough to do all that but not good enough to vote?

Pap: Why is voting so important?

Fannie Lou: If all these people are trying to keep us from doing it, it must be pretty important.

SCENE 7

Narrator 1: Fannie Lou moves off the plantation. Will and James hire her to help them register people to vote.

Narrator 2: Soon after, violence breaks out in Ruleville. Houses are set on fire. Two girls are shot and seriously injured.

Pap: This voting drive is getting dangerous, Fannie Lou. We've gotta make sure you're safe until things calm down.

Fannie Lou: I didn't want to drag you and the girls into this, Pap. I'll take care of myself. You make sure the kids are okay.

Narrator 1: Fannie Lou goes to SNCC training classes and meetings across the South. Wherever she goes, she tells people how important it is to register to vote.

Narrator 2: When she comes back to Ruleville, it's winter. People there are hungry. There isn't much work.

Narrator 1: Fannie Lou helps give out clothes and food in town. Hundreds of people line up. She gets an idea.

Fannie Lou: Don't push! There's plenty for everybody. But you have to register to vote first.

Mrs. Cobb: Mrs. Hamer, you got a jacket for my boy?

Fannie Lou: I sure do, but you've got to come down to the county courthouse on Friday.

Mrs. Cobb: Okay. It's a deal.

Mr. Taylor: Forget voting. We've got to eat, Mrs. Hamer!

Fannie Lou: You've got to vote, too, or you'll never be a first-class American.

Mr. Taylor: But look how much you lost for trying to register!

Fannie Lou: Black people have been beaten and killed for no reason. Now at least we are suffering for something positive.

SCENE 8

Narrator 2: Slowly, more and more blacks register to vote. But the test they give blacks to register is still very hard. Fannie Lou has failed the test a few times. This time, she is ready.

James: Good Luck, Fannie Lou.

Fannie Lou: I studied hard and I know every word of the constitution. They won't be able to turn me down this time.

James: Don't count on that, Fannie Lou. The odds are against you. If you were white, you might not even have to take a test.

Fannie Lou: That's why I'm going to keep trying. It's not fair. Nothing's going to stop me.

Narrator 1: Finally, in January 1963, Fannie Lou passes the test. She has registered to vote.

SCENE 9

Narrator 2: In June, Fannie Lou and two of her fellow workers are arrested outside a restaurant in Mississippi.

Narrator 1: The police give no reason for bringing them to jail. They question Fannie Lou.

Officer: Where are you from?

Fannie Lou: Ruleville.

Officer: I just checked the FBI's records on you. You were in South Carolina a few months ago. Why?

Fannie Lou: I was there for citizenship-training school.

Officer: You were there to march. And you were there to see Martin Luther King Jr. We are not going to have that. Understand?

Narrator 2: An hour later, the officer leads Fannie Lou into another cell. He orders two black inmates to beat Fannie Lou.

Officer: I want you to make her wish she was dead.

Narrator 1: The inmates look shocked.

Officer: If you don't do what I say, what I do to you won't be nearly as nice.

Narrator 2: The inmates beat Fannie Lou. The next day, the three women are released.

Narrator 1: The federal government files charges against the officers involved in the arrest and beating. They eventually are found not guilty by a white jury.

SCENE 10

Narrator 2: Will and James hold a meeting shortly after Fannie Lou is released from jail. Will has a new idea.

Will: This must stop! Let's put our own candidates on the ballot for governor and lieutenant governor in November.

James: It's too late for that. Besides, how can we do that when people are being beaten for even trying to register to vote?

Will: What if black people didn't have to register? What if they didn't have to go down to the county courthouse at all?

James: They can't vote without doing that. I don't understand.

Will: The people in charge of voting aren't letting black folks pass the voting test. So let's have our own mock election. We'll call it the Freedom Vote!

James (excited): When politicians see how many black people want to vote, they won't be able to ignore us anymore! We'll have a strong voice!

SCENE 11

Narrator 2: In November, civil rights workers travel across Mississippi. They set up ballot boxes in restaurants, beauty parlors, and on plantations.

Narrator 1: Fannie Lou and the others go around to urge people to vote in the Freedom Vote.

Fannie Lou: Good morning, sir. My name is Fannie Lou Hamer. Have you heard about the Freedom Vote?

Farmer: I don't vote. It's not worth the trouble.

Fannie Lou: You don't have to go down to the courthouse.

Farmer: I don't?

Fannie Lou: You can vote right here.

Farmer: But if my boss sees my name, I'll lose my house and job. I've got children!

Fannie Lou: No one will take down your name.

Farmer: Is that so?

Fannie Lou: That's so. We got "Doc" Henry running for governor, and the Reverend Ed King for lieutenant governor.

Farmer: Doc Henry. He's a good man!

Fannie Lou: He sure is. And if you vote today, someday you'll be able to elect Doc Henry or someone as good as him in the real election.

Farmer: Show me what to do.

SCENE 12

Narrator 2: On the night of the election, civil rights workers have a huge victory party.

Fannie Lou: You might wonder why we're calling this a victory when Doc Henry won't be our next governor. But something important happened today.

Mr. Taylor: It felt good to cast my vote. I liked the feeling of being able to have a say, like other Americans.

Fannie Lou: About 90,000 people voted in our special election.

Mrs. Cobb: I guess people can't keep saying that black folks aren't interested in voting.

Fannie Lou: That's right. But you know what's even more important? Doc Henry got more votes than the man who won the election!

Mrs. Cobb: You mean if they people were registered and actually voted in the real election, Doc Henry could have won?

Fannie Lou: Yes. Until that happens, though, we have to take whatever victories we can. Today was a big victory. We have taken our first steps to freedom!

AFTERWORD

Fannie Lou Hamer continued the fight to make it easier for blacks to vote. She ran for governor and state senator later in her life, but lost both elections.

Fannie Lou died in 1977. But her hard work lives on. Today, Mississippi has more African-American elected officials than any state in the union.

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