Cover image for For freedom's sake : the life of Fannie Lou Hamer
For freedom's sake : the life of Fannie Lou Hamer
Lee, Chana Kai, 1962-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Urbana : University of Illinois Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 255 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Delta daughter -- Black woman leader -- Winona -- Local need and electoral politics -- The national stage -- Returning home -- The Mississippi freedom labor union -- Poverty, politics, and the freedom farm -- Last days.
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E185.97.H35 L44 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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The youngest of twenty children of sharecroppers in rural Mississippi, Fannie Lou Hamer witnessed throughout her childhood the white cruelty, political exclusion, and relentless economic exploitation that defined black existence in the Delta. In this intimate biography, Chana Kai Lee documents Hamer's lifelong crusade to empower the poor through collective action, her rise to national prominence as a civil rights activist, and the personal costs of her ongoing struggle to win a political voice and economic self-sufficiency for blacks in the segregated South.

Lee traces Hamer's early work as a field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in rural Mississippi, documenting the partial blindness she suffered after being arrested and beaten by local officials for leading a group of blacks to register for the vote. Hamer's dramatic appearance at the 1964 Democratic National Convention, where she led a group from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in a bid to unseat the all-white Mississippi delegation, brought both Hamer and the virtual powerlessness of black Mississippians to the nation's attention; but the convention also marked her first debilitating encounter with the middle class of the national civil rights movement.

Despite her national visibility, Hamer remained a militant grassroots leader who never stopped working for the betterment of her own community in Sunflower County, Mississippi. Among many local initiatives, she established the Freedom Farm Corporation, a revolutionary cooperative venture aimed at facilitating economic self-sufficiency for the rural poor.

Lee renders Hamer's acute political instincts, her rhetorical prowess, and her skill inretooling her past to serve strategic political purposes, as well as her deep frustration with a society that was willing to hold her up as an example of individual heroism but resisted her efforts at collective transformati

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 lifeÄthe 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 policeÄthe 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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

To relate the life of Fannie Lou Hamer accurately demands a fundamental understanding of the politics of class and gender, as well as race. It also requires an attention to detail about the complex history of the struggle for civil rights. Lee successfully negotiates the difficult terrain of this amazing woman's life with remarkable skill. Lee offers far more than a chronology of events, and thereby presents a rich picture of an extraordinary and complex figure. The youngest of 20 children of a Mississippi sharecropper, Hamer learned her politics literally at the grass roots. She never deserted those roots. Although a national figure, she was unwavering in her commitment to local struggles, even when that drew her into conflicts with the civil rights establishment and other Mississippi activists. Lee is especially effective in presentation and analysis of the 1964 fight to seat delegates from the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic National Convention. Here the author emphasizes the strength of Hamer's convictions and the obstacles she faced. Lee also addresses with sensitivity and compassion the personal issues that make Hamer such a compelling historical actor. That, perhaps, is the book's most significant achievement. Recommended for college and university libraries. All levels. E. Broidy; University of California, Irvine