Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Power of an Audience

Did a good job on my speech today. Although I'd practiced many times in front of the mirror and reading the speech to my empty living room, the performance jitters, combined with my material and a rapt audience, made the experience really intense.

I read an edited-down version of Fannie Lou Hamer's testimony for the Credentials Comittee of the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Hamer was a part of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which had created a group of 66 delegates (44 regular and 22 alternate) who traveled to Atlantic City that year in order to be a part of the convention. Although many blacks had tried to participate as regular delegates, they were blocked by various means, and the delegation was all-white.

Her testimony is plainly worded and powerful. Fannie Lou Hamer recounts two instances of abuse (by State Highway Patrol officers and municipal police) of herself and other civil rights workers. It's the kind of thing that most of us are aware happened to people during the era, but standing up and reading it to my class was extremely powerful. As I said the words I'd read so often over the past few days, my voice began to shake, not from fear but emotion.

She closes, after describing a brutal beating at the hands of the Mississippi Highway Patrol, with this:

All of this on account of we want to register, to become first-class citizens.
And if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America.
Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off of the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?

As I read this last part I struggled to keep tears back. It was a wonderful exercise, and I'm really gratified that I stuck with this piece (it was so different from other things people had chose, I wasn't sure it was appropriate). I'm thinking I should develop the intro more and see if there is somewhere I can give this as a speech! It would be a great thing to share.

1 comment:

Jean Walker Rawlings said...

Thanks for keeping the legacy of Mrs. Hamer alive.