Remember the Titans scribe Gregory Allen Howard has teamed with Chris Columbus’ 1492 production company to tell the story of Fannie Lou Hamer, a sharecropper with a sixth-grade education who became an important voting-rights advocate and founded the first integrated political party in the South in mid-’60s Mississippi.
Hamer grew up in a family of 20 kids and picked cotton for most of her life. After going to a doctor to have a tumor removed, she discovered she was given a hysterectomy at age 47 by a white doctor, without her consent, because of a movement by the state to sterilize women to reduce the number of poor blacks in Mississippi.
Hamer became a Civil Rights activist, surviving assassination attempts
and a near-fatal beating to get her moment at the Democratic National Convention, where she challenged President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 with her legendary, “Is This America?” speech.
While LBJ hastily called a ruse press conference in the hope of diverting attention away from her speech, Hamer’s powerful words were widely broadcast and reverberated around the world. Howard, who studied Hamer’s accomplishments as a college student, has long been obsessed with bringing her story to the screen. Hamer died in 1977.
The photograph, scratched and undated, is captioned ‘Brother Jordan Anderson‘. He is a middle-aged black man with a long beard and a righteous stare, as if he were a preacher locking eyes with a sinner, or a judge about to dispatch a thief to the gallows.
Anderson was a former slave who was freed from a Tennessee plantation by Union troops in 1864 and spent his remaining 40 years in Ohio. He lived quietly and probably would have been forgotten, if not for a remarkable letter to his former master published in a Cincinnati newspaper shortly after the Civil War.
Treasured as a social document, praised as a masterpiece of satire, Anderson’s letter has been anthologized and published all over the world. Historians teach it, and the letter turns up occasionally on a blog or on Facebook. Humorist Andy Borowitz read the letter recently and called it, in an email to The Associated Press, “something Twain would have been proud to have written.”
Addressed to one Col. Patrick Henry Anderson, who apparently wanted Jordan to come back to the plantation east of Nashville, the letter begins cheerfully, with the former slave expressing relief that ‘you had not forgotten Jordon’ (there are various spellings of the name) and were ‘promising to do better for me than anybody else can’. But, he adds, ‘I have often felt uneasy about you’.
He informs the colonel that he’s now making a respectable wage in Dayton, Ohio, and that his children are going to school.