January 18, 2019

New Hamer Film gets $15k Boost from Foundation Started by Mississippi Baker

For Immediate Release

New Hamer film gets $15k boost from foundation started by Mississippi baker

(Jan. 18, 2019) – MERIDIAN, MS - A new documentary featuring rare archival audio and video footage of civil rights icon, Fannie Lou Hamer, has received a $15,000 grant from a foundation started by the owner of a Mississippi bakery that during the 1970s, supplied hamburger buns to McDonald’s restaurants throughout the mid-south region.

The Phil Hardin Foundation, established by its namesake, the founder of Hardin Bakeries Corporation, was created in 1964 for the purpose of funding educational programs and initiatives throughout the state of Mississippi. 

Phil Hardin purchased a bankrupt bakery business in Meridian in the 1930s and turned Hardin Bakeries Corporation into a highly successful business with production plants in Jackson and Tupelo, and a fresh baked sweet goods plant in Columbus. Hardin and his management team not only developed a network of stable and credible national suppliers, including Anheuser-Busch of St. Louis, which used yeast to brew beer and then marketed that yeast to bakeries as a leavening agent for their bread, but they also recognized that their advancement in baking technology was dependent on an educated workforce. It was that sense of community responsibility, corporate citizenship and dedication to Phil Hardin’s vision that moved his estate – upon his death in 1972 - to leave most of his wealth to his foundation. With more than $53 million in assets, The Phil Hardin Foundation awards more than $2.5 million annually to educational endeavors with an emphasis on improving pre-K through 12th grade student achievement and opportunities.

“The Phil Hardin Foundation has long been committed to increasing knowledge and understanding of Mississippi’s history and culture, and there are few Mississippians who have played a more prominent role at a pivotal point in American history than Fannie Lou Hamer,” said Lloyd Gray, Hardin Foundation executive director. “Her story has been an inspiration to so many people, past and present, working for social justice and human dignity, not only in America but around the world.”

Born in October 1917, Mississippi-sharecropper-turned-civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer was the voice of voting rights during the 1960s to mid-1970s. Known for her powerful speeches and impassioned pleas for equal rights, Hamer delivered an emotional plea that was nationally televised at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Following her appearance, Hamer became one of the most sought-after speakers of her time.  A humanitarian as well, Hamer helped provide food, clothing and housing to impoverished Delta residents. In June 1963, Hamer and several others endured a vicious jailhouse beating in a Winona, Miss. jail. Hamer died of cancer on March 14, 1977 at the age of 59. 

The new and original documentary, Fannie Lou Hamer’s America, is part of a global multimodal project that includes a driving tour and interactive website for students and teachers and a K-12 educational curriculum, Find Your Voice, that was piloted in Hamer’s native Sunflower County in the Mississippi Delta. The initiative began with a five-week Young Filmmakers’ Workshop for 17 high school students in Indianola during the summer of 2018. The course taught hands-on filmmaking skills, primary source research, digital studies and oral histories. The curriculum team hopes to interest more minorities in the digital media production field and plans to conduct the workshop annually inviting students across the Delta to attend. The Phil Hardin Foundation grant will contribute to that effort.

“Our board was particularly impressed with the educational component of this project,” Gray said. “This is not just a film – though that is a critically important element – it also builds an overall learning experience for Mississippi schoolchildren to engage with the life of a truly heroic Mississippian. That made contributing to this project an easy decision, since our mission is educational.”

Gray, a former journalist, was named the executive director of The Phil Hardin Foundation in July 2015. Prior to his work with the foundation, he was an editor at several Mississippi newspapers, including 23 years as executive editor of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo. He also worked briefly in state government. But it was his work as a reporter with the Delta Democrat-Times in 1976 that brought him face to face with Fannie Lou Hamer.

“My editor said to me one day, ‘You know, Fannie Lou Hamer is ill and may not be around much longer. We need to get an interview with her before it’s too late’,” Gray remembered.  “So I called her and we met at her home in Ruleville on an October afternoon and we had a wonderful conversation. She was gracious, humble and welcoming, and we talked about the work she was still doing to empower her people in the Delta. It turned out to be the last media interview she gave, and she died a few months later.”

Gray’s article, “The Glitter Is Gone, But The Fight Goes On” was published on October 3, 1976. Hamer died five months later.  

Dr. Davis W. Houck, Fannie Lou Hamer Professor of Rhetorical Studies at Florida State University cited Gray’s article in a book he edited with Fannie Lou Hamer Historian Dr. Maegan Parker Brooks, To Tell It Like It Is: The Speeches Of Fannie Lou Hamer.

“We are grateful to the Hardin Foundation and Mr. Lloyd Gray for helping us complete our work on Fannie Lou Hamer's America,” Houck said. “To have Mr. Gray's personal imprimatur on our project lends a special poignancy given his important interview at the close of Fannie Lou Hamer's life.  We are indeed coming full circle with this gift.”

Houck and Brooks are also consultants and researchers on the film, Fannie Lou Hamer’s America, and designers of the accompanying curriculum, Find Your Voice.  Hamer’s niece, Monica Land, is the producer and developer of the film. Award-winning filmmaker Keith Beauchamp is the executive producer and Joe Davenport is the director and editor. 

Currently in production, Fannie Lou Hamer’s America, allows Hamer to tell her own story in her own words using footage recorded throughout her political and activist career. A rough cut of the film is slated for completion in March 2019. The project was also funded through grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, The Ella Baker Center For Human Rights, the Mississippi Humanities Council, the Women’s Foundation of Mississippi, Freedom Singer Bill Perlman, broadcast journalist Tavis Smiley, Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area (MDNHA) and McDonald’s (Retzer Resources of Greenville).
Facebook: Fannie Lou Hamer’s America and Twitter: @flhamerica.