Fannie Lou Hamer Speak on It

How “woke to the vote” are we? That’s a question playwright Cheryl L. West is posing with her call-to-action work “Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It!” this fall.

Not only is 2020 a crucial election year, it marks a century since ratification of the 19th Amendment when many American women were granted the right to vote. Yet electoral equality was still decades away for American women of color.

‘It’s been nearly 60 years after the Voting Rights Act demolished those discriminatory barriers that kept people of color from exercising their civil liberty,” says West. During that time, voting and women’s rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer defined what it meant to be a true revolutionary as she defied threats, assaults and even bullets while expressing her right to vote.

Now, for the first time, Goodman Theatre is collaborating with the Chicago Park District to bring “Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It!” to nine outdoor locations—for free!

“Knowing that Fannie’s voice needed to be heard during this critical time, we were inspired by the work of El Teatro Campesino and this quote from Luis Valdez, who himself was inspired by the determination of Fannie Lou Hamer—‘If the people can’t come to the theater, then the theater must go to the people.’ That is what this is all about,” explains the play’s director, Henry Godinez.

West’s world premiere adaptation features actress E. Faye Butler and musician Felton Offard performing spirituals such as “I Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round,” “We Shall Not Be Moved” and “I’m on My Way to Freedom.”

The socially-distanced production runs for about 50 minutes with no intermission from September 17 to October 3 originally, now extended to October 8, at DuSable Museum of African American History, Willye B. White Park, Indian Boundary Park, Portage Park, Austin Town Hall, Homan Square, Samuel Ellis Park.

“Theater in Chicago’s parks is a long-standing tradition that we are excited to continue…through our partnership with Goodman Theatre and their outdoor, staged presentation of ‘Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It!’ in nine of our city’s amazing green spaces,” says Chicago Park District General Superintendent and CEO Michael P. Kelly.

Admission is free, but masks are required. The viewing area is seated on a first-come, first-served basis beginning one hour prior to the performance. For a complete schedule, safety precautions and more information, visit

“Fannie Lou Hamer, Speak On It!” is an abridged version of West’s play “Fannie,” which was co-commissioned by Goodman with Seattle Repertory Theater and developed in the 2019 New Stages Festival. A full production of “Fannie” will be staged during Goodman Theatre’s 2021 Season on a to-be-determined date.

“As we continue to prioritize the health and safety of our artists and audiences, we remain flexible in our planning and will share production dates when the time is right,” says the company’s artistic director Robert Falls. “We are proud to announce…Cheryl L. West’s ‘Fannie,’ directed by Henry Godinez, a passionate rallying cry inspired by the life of famed civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.”

In the words of West, “There is courage in the face of fire, hope in tomorrow, and we all have a stake in our country.”

Ms. Arvia is a Rebellious columnist and movie critic; entertainment ghostwriter; award-winning artist; and grant-winning filmmaker.