How to Do a Book Reading Like a Jazz Musician

The book, “Mama Fannie,” evolved into a musical instrument as her daughter simultaneously read from the text and addressed the live audience. Jacqueline Hamer Flakes was a guest at the City of Asylum community center in Pittsburgh on January 14. Her presentation was a reading where she shared her new book about her mom, Fannie Lou Hamer. Her reading from the biography was one of the most unforgettable and affectionate I’ve witnessed because Jacqueline Hamer, also known as Cookie, rendered the book a musical instrument – she read a series of short sections, and following each, inspired by memories of her mom, she related her own stories that each narrative in the book motivated her to tell. The result was a splendid and engaging series of riffs on who Fannie Lou Hamer was and how she championed social justice throughout her lifetime. Here is some of what Jacqueline, the daughter, shared:

The chords: Fannie Lou Hamer

The riffs: Born in Montgomery County, Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer was a Civil Rights activist and community organizer who resisted white supremacy by working with both the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and the SCLC (Southern Christian Leadership Conference). During her early forties, she visited a doctor to have a cyst removed, and unbeknownst to her, she was given a complete hysterectomy. Unable to bear children, she eventually adopted four girls, and Jacqueline Hamer Flakes, the author of the biography, was one of them.

The chords: Not just 40 acres

The riffs: Black Folk in the U.S. (and globally) have yet to receive reparations for enslavement, but where there is a will, there is a way. Fannie Lou encountered barriers simply trying to buy a home, and when she did finally acquire one, it was firebombed. Along with Maya Angelou and others, she went on to raise money in 1969 to purchase 40 acres in the Mississippi Delta. That land was central to the founding of Fannie’s Freedom Farm Cooperative which she expanded by an additional 640 acres in 1970.

The chords: Africa

The riffs: Fannie Lou was part of a SNCC delegation sent to Conakry, Guinea by Harry Belafonte. The trip in 1964 proved both life changing and inspirational. A child of the segregated US South, her travels in West Africa opened a window to a view of Black people capable of running their own societies.

The chords: Advice

The riffs: “What would Fannie Lou Hamer tell us today?” Jacqueline Hamer responded by saying her mom, the activist and organizer, would tell Black people to get an education. (Fannie had to labor in the cotton fields starting at age six, consequently she only attended school three months out of the year.) She would advise us to go into communities and help others get an education and to pay it forward and pay it back.

The chords: A pot of peas

The riffs: Jacqueline Hamer criticized how authors have written about her mother and built their own books and reputations without really knowing the real Fannie. She said was wonderful that, in the past, writers interviewed Fannie Lou before they wrote about her. But she reminded us that those who didn’t sit with her mom and shell peas, didn’t really know the real Fannie Lou Hamer.

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