Fighting for Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer | Biography Reviews

Keisha N. Blain offers a manifesto for anyone committed to social justice. Kate Clifford Larson writes an in-depth portrait of the civil rights activist. 

Until I Am Free by Keisha BlainBlain, Keisha N. Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America. Beacon. Oct. 2021. 224p. ISBN 9780807061503. $25.95. BIOG
Blain (history, Univ. of Pittsburgh; Set the World on Fire; Four Hundred Souls) blends biography with intellectual history to discuss Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–77), her instrumental civil rights activism, and her influence which resounds in the 21st century. Hamer was a grassroots organizer who came from a sharecropping background in Mississippi. Her main civil rights concerns were voter suppression and police brutality—the same battles being fought by contemporary Black Lives Matter activists. Blain uses extensive primary sources (including excerpts from Hamer\'s speeches, and accounts of her experiences of sexual assault and medical trauma) to illustrate how Hamer "turned her pain into political action." Blain effectively conveys the racism and sexism Hamer faced in her fight for equality and liberation and shows how it impacted her relationships to both the civil rights movement and the women’s liberation movement; she also establishes the modernity and contemporary relevance of Hamer's proto-intersectional politics (Kimberlé Crenshaw would coin intersectionality in 1989). VERDICT This excellent introduction to Hamer and her life is well-contextualized; recommended for all readers.—Maria Bagshaw, Elgin Community Coll. Lib., IL

Walk With Me by Kate Clifford LarsonLarson, Kate Clifford. Walk with Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer. Oxford Univ. Sept. 2021. 448p. ISBN 9780190096847. $27.95. BIOG
Larson (women’s studies, Brandeis Univ.; Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman) explores the life of Mississippi sharecropper and civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–77) in this gripping new book. Like she did with her biographies of Harriet Tubman and Rosemary Kennedy, Larson uncovers new sources to tell an in-depth, revelatory narrative about Hamer, who suffered immense hardships and political violence and became, against the odds, one of the most powerful leaders of the Southern Freedom Movement. When the college students of SNCC arrived in her hometown of Ruleville to encourage local residents to register to vote, Hamer became both an activist and a target of local white supremacists and law enforcement. Larson details Hamer’s arrest on a bus trip with other activists in Winona, MS, where she was beaten so badly that she was permanently disabled, and the months-long campaign to establish the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which led to Hamer’s famous speech at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Even after Hamer became an in-demand orator and ran for office in Mississippi, she was often derided by other civil rights leaders, including Roy Wilkins, and died in poverty. VERDICT An inspiring read for activists fighting for voting rights and against racism.—Kate Stewart, Arizona State Museum

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