Telling it from the Mountain: A Rhetorical Analysis of Fannie Lou Hamer’s Speech before the Democratic National Convention

  • Erin Ryan Pennsylvania State University


Fannie Lou Hamer delivered a speech on behalf of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party to the credentials committee of the Democratic National Convention in 1964 to highlight the gruesome realities facing African Americans, especially those who attempted to vote. Her revelations about the methods used to withhold voting rights and the violent discrimination against blacks who tried to vote shocked the nation, but the most disturbing aspects of her speech were personal stories of the brutality wrought upon her. Hamer’s speech is reflective of the obstacles she faced throughout her life. Her depiction of racist atrocities gripped the attention of the nation at a time when President Johnson was trying to shift the focus to avoid a divisive reelection issue and segregationists were aligning the integrationists’ ideals with a Communist agenda. Hamer’s speech ends with a dramatic questioning of America, forcing the congressmen and people throughout the nation watching the event on television to confront and accept the challenge to acknowledge grievous civil rights violations and begin to take steps to improve social and political standards. Fannie Lou Hamer took the horrendous experiences of her life and transformed them into such powerful, persuasive rhetoric that the nation could no longer accept the current state of the Jim Crow–infested South.

Author Biography

Erin Ryan, Pennsylvania State University

Erin Ryan is currently a junior at the Pennsylvania State University majoring in Labor Studies and Employment Relations and minoring in Rhetoric. Her article was written in the class “Rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement” and sought to highlight the lesser-known orations of that time period.

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