In a recent post, I wrote about a couple of individuals and events that I wish the March Trilogy spent some more time exploring. As I said in that post, I know that the trilogy could not cover everything and everyone involved in the Civil Rights Movement; however, as we move towards book three, we begin to see more of the movement outside of John Lewis’ direct involvement. I assume this has to do with the success of books one and two and the knowledge that book three would be the culmination of the trilogy. We see references to Virgil Lamar Ware, Johnny Robinson, Viola Lizzuo, James Reeb, and more. We see how the murder of Jimmie Lee Jackson in Marion, Alabama, sparked the Selma to Montgomery March. We see so much more, and yet even when we see so much more, we still do not see everything. Again, that is not a shock, and it goes to show how much more there is to the movement, not just the buttressed years of 1955-1965, but to the lengthy history before 1955 and to the arc of the future following 1965.
While every individual and event couldn’t get covered, I was happy to see a more detailed and in-depth, to a certain extent, depiction of Fannie Lou Hamer and her involvement in the movement, specifically in Mississippi with the Mississippi Democratic Freedom Party. This possibly arose because while I reread book three I also read Keisha Blain’s Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America, so I began to think more broadly about Hamer’s influence and role in Mississippi, nationally, and beyond.
At the age of 44, Hamer attended a SNCC meeting in August 1962 where she heard James Bevel, James Forman, and more speak about her constitutional rights, namely her right to vote. Reflecting on that night, Hamer said,
And he talked about, you know, what we could do if we had the power of the vote. And during that time, Jim Forman was talking about how it was our right and how they’d passed the Fifteenth Amendment that I’d never heard of, I was one of the persons that made up my mind that this was something important to me. And it seemed like it was something that I wanted to take a chance on.
A few days after the meeting, Hamer went to Indionloa, MS, along with others, to register to vote. When she returned to the plantation where she lived with her husband, the owner, W.D. Marlow, kicked them off unless Hamer withdrew her registration. Hamer detailed this moment numerous times during her life, most notably at the Democratic Convention in 1964 when she spoke, as part of the MDFP, in front of the Credentials Committee in order to get Black representation in the Mississippi Democratic Party.
March details this speech, driving home its historical importance in helping to sway individuals towards the movement. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell’s depiction of Hamer’s speech is powerful, especially the ways that Powell’s panels work, focusing not merely on Hamer’s face as she speaks but on various aspects and angles to drive home the importance of what Hamer told the nation and the world on that August day in Atlantic City in 1964.
The sequence begins with Lewis narrating, “But one testimony shook the nation,” as we see Hamer walking towards the table from where she will deliver her comments. Next, we see a horizontal row of three panels. The first shows Hamer’s hand as she places her purse down on the table. The next shows someone placing a mic on Hamer’s lapel as her eyes glance down at the table and towards her purse. The third shows Lewis and others from behind as they watch Hamer’s speech on a television in another room down the hall. These panels, combined with the earlier part of the sequence that depicts the hearing, highlights the reach and the power of this moment. We see the news crews. We see the impact it will have. We see Hamer’s strength as she stapes to the table to begin her comments.
As she begins, Powell shows Hamer’s face then moves out to show her, full-bodied, sitting at the table as those in the conference room listen to her words. On the next page, as she begins to talk about Marlow kicking her off of the plantation, Powell splits the panel in two. The top half shows Hamer’s eyes and nose against a black background as she talks about working as “a timekeeper and a sharecropper for 18 years.” The panel then splits, and on the bottom we see Hamer’s mouth, against a white background as she tells the committee that when she returned to the plantation her kids met her and told her what Marlow had said. This split, especially with the background colors, is interesting because at the top she talks about working, as a Black woman, on the plantation, and on the bottom, she talks about what the white man, Marlow, did to her, kicking her family off the plantation, for attempting to secure her rights as a citizen.
Continuing, we see an over-the-shoulder angle form Hamer’s perspective as she looks at those gathered in front of her and the multitude of cameras. She talks about Marlow coming up and asking if the kids or her husband told her what he said, and she said, “Yes, sir.” The next panel focuses on Hamer’s hands sitting on top of the table. They are in view of everyone, not fidgeting or nervously moving as she speaks. Instead, they rest on the table, defiant and powerful as she relays the truth of her life in Mississippi as a Black woman for a national and even international audience. Here, she relays what Marlow told her, “If you don’t go down and withdraw your registration, you will have to leave. Then if you go down and withdraw, you will might have to go because we’re not ready for that in Mississippi.”
Powell moves from Hamer’s hands on the table to a profile panel showing her at the table with lights behind her to a panel closeup on her face, only showing Hamer’s eyes, nose, and mouth, where she says, “I addressed him and said, ‘I didn’t try to register for you. I tried to register for myself.’ I had to leave that same night.” This sequence does a few things. For one, it shows Hamer’s defiance to Marlow. The focus on her hands as she relates how Marlow told her to get off the plantation, shows that she was not hiding what she did or hiding from what Marlow might do to her and her family. Her hands rest on the table, not under it, out of view, as if scared. She stands firm. Moving to her face as she tells Marlow she registered for herself, not for him, underscores her deficance and fight as well, pulling in to show her speaking directly to him, even though she is merely relaying what he said to her.
As well, this sequence shows her power and voice. Something I will talk about more in the next post as I finish looking at Hamer’s speech and the ways that Lewis, Aydin, and Powell depict it. Until then, what are your thoughts? Let me know either in the comments below or on Twitter at @silaslapham.