Silence filled the air of the Ramsay-McCrummen Chapel on the night of March 2, 2018 as Dr. Billie Jean Young’s voice sang the concluding line of her one-woman show, “Fannie Lou Hamer: This Little Light.” The final note echoed across each individual in the chapel, eliciting a moment of awe from the audience, before those in their seats burst into applause and rose from their chairs as Young took a final bow.
“Fannie Lou Hamer: This Little Light” is a two-act drama both written and performed by Judson’s very own Artist-in-Residence, Dr. Billie Jean Young. The show, which first premiered in 1983, has been performed over a staggering eight hundred times on four different continents, as well as in nearly all of the fifty states. “This Little Light” reveals the story of Fannie Lou Hamer, a Mississippi-born sharecropper whose desire for equal voting rights and equality as a whole for all American people played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement. Hamer’s stirring valor and bold courage inspired a generation of Southern civil rights activists to step up and join the fight for equality. Her message still has great impact on millions of American citizens today.
Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer was born in Montgomery County, Mississippi on October 6, 1917. At a young age, Hamer began working in the fields, eventually dropping out of school at age 12 in order to work full-time and help support her family. In 1944, she was married to Perry “Pap” Hamer; afterwards, the couple worked on a cotton plantation near Ruleville, Mississippi.
However, in the summer of 1962, Hamer’s life would be forever changed by her decision to attend a meeting held by the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, where she, along with a group of other African Americans, were encouraged to register to vote. In the following August, she and seventeen others set out for the county courthouse in Indianola to do just so—but during their journey, the group endured intense opposition from both local and state law enforcement.
Ultimately, only two individuals from the group were allowed to fill out a voter’s application form—one of whom was Fannie Lou Hamer
Hamer’s brave actions did not follow through without a price, however; as a result of her courage, she lost both her job and the home that she and her husband had shared for nearly two decades. Rather than cease and desist, these events only strengthened Hamer’s robust determination to aid in the battle for the right of the African-American vote.
Young’s show observes Hamer’s journey on the path to finding equality in a society where oppression ruled, following Hamer’s life from the early days of movement to the times of injustice that Hamer and her fellow civil rights activists suffered, as well as Hamer’s passionate testimony at the nationally-televised 1964 Democratic National Convention. It was at this convention that Hamer’s most famous declaration was made: “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired!”
Victoria Smith, a freshman who attended the drama, gives her own account of her experience at the show. “Fannie Lou Hamer was an amazing woman. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard about all of her accomplishments before,” she exclaimed. “The play was amazing, and it helped me understand more of what was really going on during the Civil Rights Movement. I never really understood how great a struggle it was for black women during that time, but the play helped me get a new perspective, one that I can share with other young women who may not realize all that happened during the Civil Rights era.”
“The Judson community is so fortunate to have Dr. Billie Jean Young as our Artist in Residence and Associate Professor of Fine and Performing Arts,” proclaimed Ms. Angela Dennison. “Because she walks with us on a daily basis, we may not all realize what an amazing actress, playwright, director, and author we have here. Her one-woman show, “Fannie Lou Hamer: This Little Light” is truly remarkable and is world-renowned. Once you see it, you will know what a force for good Mrs. Hamer was and what a talent Dr. Young is. Everyone at Judson should avail themselves of the opportunity to see this show at least once, though once is really not enough. It is so very powerful.”
Young’s internationally-acclaimed drama depicting Hamer’s story is one that brings light to the struggles, hardships, and dangers that Hamer endured to gain the rights she was due, but wrongfully denied for so long. By tapping into Hamer’s spirit, Young’s performance not only reminds her audience of the life of Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer; it also reminisces life of a woman whose fearlessness and determination made a significant impact on the betterment both of the world around her and the world that was yet to come.