For Freedom's Sake: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer

Chana Kai Lee, Author University of Illinois Press $32 (288p) ISBN 978-0-252-02151-0
At the 1964 Democratic National Convention, Fannie Lou Hamer garnered the national spotlight when she and other members of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party attempted to unseat the entirely white official Mississippi delegation. Though the coup failed, and Hamer herself earned the wrath of Lyndon Johnson, she helped draw attention to the ways in which black Southerners were denied political power. At the time, Hamer had only been involved in the civil rights movement for two years; at the age of 47 she reemerged as a natural and vibrant leader who would go on to run (unsuccessfully) for the Mississippi State Senate. Lee's biography is less committed to exploring Hamer's personal life than to charting her growth as an activist and examining the profound impact of gender, sexuality, violence and poverty on the early civil rights movement. By focusing on these issues in Hamer's own life--the repeated rapes her grandmother endured, resulting in 20 illegitimate children, Hamer's own involuntary sterilization and the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of the police--the book highlights the vantage point of African-American women in the fight for basic human rights in the South. Lee handles this difficult material sensitively, placing it in context of the economic and social complexities of Southern life. Never sentimentalizing her subject, Lee honestly discusses the movement's bitter internal struggles, Hamer's severe bouts with depression and her strong disagreements with white feminists. This biography vividly brings to light a crucial aspect of the civil rights movement that until now has not been given its due. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 06/28/1999
Release date: 07/01/1999
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-252-06936-9
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