Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by Ekua Holmes

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, 
Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement 
illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Library copy purchased with district funds

Written in free verse poetry and accentuated with quotes from Fannie Lou Hamer, Weatherford and Holmes give readers a much needed addition to the narrow shelves of biographies of civil rights leaders. Weatherford and Holmes chronicle a harsh childhood shaped by extreme poverty and racism. Hamer was one of twenty children of sharecroppers who could never get ahead, a white neighbor poisoning the livestock her father managed to buy. But Hamer was loved by her family and spoiled by her mother, who taught her to "respect yourself as a Black child, and as you get older, you respect yourself as a Black woman. If you respect yourself enough, other people will have to respect you." Hamer experienced an equally harsh adult life plagued by the brutality and violence of racism and segregation. A victim of forced sterilization, a common practice at the time in Mississippi, targeted at poor Black women, Hamer and her husband adopted two daughters, one of whom died after being refused admission to a hospital. 
Unaware that voting was her right, Hamer's curiosity drew her to a meeting hosted by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee where she and others volunteered to go to the county courthouse to register to vote. Met by armed men and asked to explain parts of the Mississippi constitution, Hamer failed the test and returned home to the loss of her job, home and family and harassment in the form of "night riders" shooting at whatever home they thought Hamer was staying in. This violent resistance increased along with Hamer's growing social and political activism. Her presence, her persistence, her leadership and her ability as a public speaker inspired others to call her "the spirit of the civil rights movement."

In 1963, on her way back from attending citizenship school, Hamer and other trainees were arrested after ordering food from a whites-only lunch counter. In jail, they were beaten relentlessly by police and other prisoners, with Hamer suffering injuries that would affect her the rest of her life. The federal government filed charges against the police and Hamer testified, but the all-white jury sided with the police. Hamer continued her work, running for Congress and gaining more prominence as she fought the Southern Democrats who locked her and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party out of the electoral process. Hamer fought again for a seat at the table during the 1964 Democratic National Convention, meeting with Hubert Humphrey, Dr. Martin Luther King, turning down a final offer of two at-large delegates, with the rest of the party staying on as non-voting honored guests. Hamer ran for Congress again, hoping to call attention to the fact that the state had blocked so many African Americans from voting, with Annie Devine and Victoria Adams joining the fight and joining Hamer as they became the first black women ever to sit in Congress on the House floor. Hamer continued to tour and speak and educate voters. At home, Hamer helped start a Head Start preschool program as well as a farm project to reduce hunger. She also led the cotton pickers resistance movement and cofounded the National Women's Political Caucus. Hamer died in 1977 at the young age of sixty, yet she accomplished so much, changed so many lives and, for a woman who was known for saying, "I'm sick and tired of being sick and tired," worked relentlessly for change.

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