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BOOK REVIEW:

Until I am free : Fannie Lou Hamer's enduring message to America

During the summer of 1964, at the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Fannie Lou Hamer brought her voice of discontent about political injustice within the Democratic Party. She was asking for mandatory integrated state delegations, and spoke passionately and eloquently about voter suppression, discrimination and violence leveled at those who were fighting for their civil rights. In co-founding the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party Hamer was challenging local Democratic Party methods to block Black participation and representation in state and national politics. She captured national attention.

Fannie Lou Hammer was born into a world of poverty, deprivation, discrimination and what amounted to de facto slavery. She, her parents and siblings worked as sharecroppers, picking cotton on a plantation where they could never financially escape a financial sytem that indentured them to the owner of the land. As a married woman her pregnancies failed and when she went for a simple medical procedure, she was sterilized without her knowledge or consent. It was a procedure known as a “Mississippi appendectomy”, which was one factor that led to her fight for justice. The other major event came after attending a meeting organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) that encouraged those in attendance to work at registering voters. Word got back to W. D. Marlowe, who owned the plantation where she worked, and he demanded that she not register. Upon her refusal, Marlowe ordered Hamer off the land. Because she challenged the local requirements, a literacy test, in order to register to vote, and her loss of work because she would not obey W. D. Marlowe, she became known to local SNCC organizers who saw her potential as a leader and organizer. At one of the protests, she and others were arrested, jailed, and Hamer was severely beaten, which caused permanent damage to her eyes, legs and kidneys. But that did not stop her fight for justice, both political and social. For the rest of her relatively short life (59-years-old) Fannie Lou Hamer was a fighter for justice. She was an inspiring speaker and organizer.

This new biography is based on extensive research, in part, on Fannie Lou Hamer's speeches, writings and interviews. Professor Keisha N. Blain melds history, signal events and leaders important in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and 1970s, and current events with the life and work of Fannie Lou Hamer. In comparing recent national events involving racial discrimination and violence, it is evident that the struggle for equality and justice is far from over. However, by reading about the life of Fannie Lou Hamer, it is possible to see that her political and social strategies are applicable to today's problems. Professor Blain states, “Hamer emphasized the need for more leaders to engage with the grassroots and common folk–empowering those individuals to emerge as leaders–in order to challenge all forms of social injustices. She knew from past experience that leaders could come from all backgrounds–even those who lacked financial resources and formal education or had a marginalized social status ... Far more than gaining visibility, she argued, the core aspect of effective leadership was to provide people with the necessary tools and resources to expand the fight for social justice."

 

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