cover image Walk with Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer

Walk with Me: A Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer

Kate Clifford Larson. Oxford Univ, $27.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-19-009684-7

Biographer Larson (Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter) delivers a moving and in-depth portrait of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer (1917–1977). The youngest of 20 children born to tenant farmers in the Mississippi Delta, Hamer left school at age 13 to work the fields full-time after an accident sidelined her mother, Ella, a “fierce and protective” woman known to carry a gun in order to protect her children from racial abuse. In 1961, while seeking treatment for pelvic pain, Hamer was sterilized without her consent, an experience that left her furious and “fueled her long simmering passion for change.” Soon thereafter, she began participating in voter registration drives organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in Mississippi. Larson details the backlash to the civil rights movement in Mississippi, including the withholding by county agents of federal commodities from Black families and nighttime attacks on Black homes, and in the book’s most harrowing chapter, she describes Hamer’s vicious beating by white police officers in 1963. Profiles of other women civil rights leaders, including Septima Clark and Ella Jo Baker, are interwoven throughout, and Larson sheds light on the conflicts within the movement, in particular the points of contention between middle-class leaders and grassroots organizers like Hamer. This comprehensive account gives a lesser-known activist her due. (Sept.)