The granddaughter of slaves and the child of Mississippi Delta sharecroppers, Fannie Lou Hamer always knew the cards were stacked against her and her family. She knew it wasn’t right that she had to drop out of school in sixth grade to work alongside her parents and older siblings in the cotton field. She knew the white landowners made sure sharecroppers stayed in debt and did pay them enough for their cotton. When she grew up, the state of Mississippi forced Hamer and other poor black women to undergo sterilization. But in middle-age, she became involved with the Civil Rights movement. She worked on voter registration drives, sang spirituals at rallies, and even participated in politics at the national level. For her efforts, she endured threats, a brutal beating, and even attempts on her life. But Hamer kept fighting and never lost hope.
In Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, Carole Boston Weatherford celebrates the remarkable activist. Her first-person narrative captures Hamer’s warm and direct voice: “Chile, I am proof that the Delta birthed the blues,” she tells an unidentified listener. The book offers an unflinching look at the indignities and injustices African Americans endured under Jim Crow and the violence Civil Rights workers, black and white, encountered. For that reason, as well as the length of the text, Voice of Freedom is best suited to middle grade and young adult readers, despite its picture-book package.
Ekua Holmes’ vibrant mixed media illustrations convey Hamer’s strength and vision. Yes, one painting depicts the brutal beating she suffered at police hands. However, other spreads show Hamer standing atop a sunlit hill with her adopted daughters, singing at a rally, and proudly raising her hand when she registers to vote. Despite the obstacles and cruelty she encounters, she never loses hope for the future.
It would be impossible to teach children about the Civil Rights movement without a frank discussion about life under segregation and acknowledgement of the activists’ bravery. Voice of Freedom does both beautifully – and introduces readers of all to an important figure in the struggle.
-Dorothy A. Dahm