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Standing on My Sisters’ Shoulders cover photo

Standing on My Sisters’ Shoulders 2002

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; 212-925-0606
Produced by Joan Sadoff, Dr. Robert Sadoff, Laura J. Lipson
Directed by Laura J. Lipson
VHS, color, 88 min.

Jr. High - Adult
African American Studies, Human Rights, Multicultural Studies, Women's Studies

Date Entered: 02/06/2004

Reviewed by Patricia B. McGee, Coordinator of Media Services, Volpe Library & Media Center, Tennessee Technological University

This fast paced inspiring documentary reveals that the backbone of the Mississippi Civil Rights movement was a small group of dedicated, strong, black women, poor, uneducated, but fiercely determined to have their share of America’s promise. Their skills honed and strengthened by their role in the black churches, women like Fannie Lou Hamer, Mae Bertha Carter, Unita Blackwell, Annie Devine, and Victoria Gray Adams were determined to give their children a better life. In their three part drive for equality these women risked great danger and physical violence to register to vote, integrate the public schools, and integrate the political structure of the state.

In 1955 the brutal murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till galvanized the Mississippi Civil Rights movement at a time when it was very dangerous to be working for change. In Indianola, home of the White Citizens Council, the plantation owner threw Fannie Lou Hamer off the property for her civil rights activism. Ironically, that was a very liberating experience. With nothing left to lose she was free to channel to energies into the struggle and to work to integrate the local Democratic Party and seat the delegates of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the 1964 national convention. Hamer ignited the Democratic convention with her eloquence, and she, Gray and Devine became the first African-American women to ever be seated on the floor of the U. S. House of Representatives.

The more the white establishment worked to thwart racial integration, the more determined the women became to achieve equality. Sharecroppers Mae Bertha Carter and her husband, Matthew, defying the threats of the overseer and the shots fired at their home, sent their seven school-aged children to an all white school under Mississippi’s Freedom of Choice Plan. Seven of their children went on to graduate from the University of Mississippi. Unita Blackwell was elected the mayor of Mayersville, the first African American female mayor in the state, while Constance Slaughter was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Mississippi Law School.

In a seamless blend of archival footage, still shots, and contemporary interviews with the survivors of those turbulent days, this film succeeds in capturing the determination of these pioneering women and the peril they withstood. The audio and video are of excellent quality; the music enhances the story. This film is an excellent counterbalance to the traditional focus on the male civil rights leadership.