VOICE OF FREEDOM: FANNIE LOU HAMER, by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. by Ekua Holmes
Published August, 2015
"Weatherford’s latest picture-book biography (Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, rev. 11/06; I, Matthew Henson, rev. 3/08; among many others) chronicles the life of civil rights icon Fannie Lou Hamer, from her beginnings as the youngest child of Mississippi sharecroppers, through the evolution of her political awareness, to her lasting impact on the civil rights movement. Weatherford incorporates direct quotes (indicated by italics and sourced in the endnotes) into her free-verse text, using a conversational, colloquial voice that makes the transitions seamless. The book tackles complex and little-addressed aspects of life under Jim Crow (such as Hamer’s forced sterilization under a Mississippi law) and of the civil rights movement (such as the battle she waged at the 1964 Democratic convention against proposed compromises that would have weakened the movement). Artist Holmes, in her children’s literature debut, elevates an already excellent narrative with richly colored collage illustrations that layer meaning upon meaning with scraps of historical photos, newsprint, maps, musical scores, and more. Using shadows, patterns, and alternately vast and intimate perspectives, she adds emotional heft to the contrasts between Hamer’s public stature and personal experiences. This majestic biography offers a detailed, intelligible overview of Hamer’s life while never losing the thread of her motivations, fears, and heroic triumphs, and places the civil rights movement in personal, local, national, and international contexts. An extensively detailed timeline, an author’s note, source notes, and a bibliography are appended."
-Horn Book(Starred Review)
"A welcome addition to civil rights literature for children. Ask American children to recall a book on Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks, and most can. Fannie Lou Hamer? They will likely come up short. This expansive, richly illustrated biography about the 'voice of the civil rights movement' recounts Hamer's humble and poverty-stricken beginnings in 1917 as the 20th child of Mississippi sharecroppers through her struggle to fight for the rights of black people on local, regional, and national levels. Hamer's quotes appear frequently in Weatherford's free-verse poetry, giving readers a sense of how and what she spoke: 'Black people work so hard, and we ain't got nothin' / to show for it.' The author also includes painful truths, describing the 'night riders' ' pursuit of Hamer after she attempted to register to vote and a brutal beating at the hands of police following her arrest, from which she suffered lifetime injuries. Hamer's determination, perseverance, and unwavering resolve come through on every page. Holmes' quiltlike collage illustrations emphasize the importance Hamer placed on community among African-Americans. Young readers who open this book with just a vague notion of who Fannie Lou Hamer was will wonder no more after absorbing this striking portrait of the singer and activist. Bold, honest, informative, and unforgettable. (author's note, timeline, source notes, bibliography) (Picture book/poetry/biography. 10-14)"
–Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
"This welcome biography brings to light one of the civil rights movement’s most inspiring leaders. The youngest of 20 children, Fannie Lou Hamer grew up in a family of sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta. Forced to leave school after sixth grade, she joined the rest of her family in the fields picking cotton. Hamer still hungered for knowledge, however, and she found strength in the love of her family and through her Christian faith. Weatherford describes the hardships that Hamer endured. For instance, in 1961, while she was having a small tumor removed, a doctor performed a hysterectomy on her without her consent; at that time, Mississippi law allowed poor women to be sterilized without their knowledge. Hamer was in her 40s when young activists spoke at her church; until that point, Hamer hadn’t known that she could vote, and she volunteered to register. Though she faced threats and in 1963 was brutally beaten, she spent the rest of her life rallying others. Told in the first person from Hamer’s own perspective, this lyrical text in verse emphasizes the activist’s perseverance and courage, as she let her booming voice be heard. Holmes’s beautiful, vibrant collage illustrations add detail and nuance, often depicting Hamer wearing yellow, which reflects her Sunflower County roots and her signature song, 'This Little Light of Mine.' Pair this title with Don Mitchell’s The Freedom Summer Murders (Scholastic, 2014), which features a short chapter on Hamer, for a well-rounded look at this tumultuous, turbulent era. VERDICT Hamer’s heroic life story should be widely known, and this well-crafted work should find a place in most libraries.–Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA"
–School Library Journal (Starred Review)
"In this stunning biography of Fannie Lou Hamer, we walk beside her through tears and smiles on a remarkable journey of resilience and determination that leaves us transformed. The narrative is organized into a sequence of free-verse poems that stand alone as successfully as they link together. They describe what it was like to begin life under Jim Crow oppression and emerge a national hero. We learn that she cared for her aging mother, married, and adopted children; that she was forcibly sterilized, arrested, beaten, and most important, remained an activist her entire life. Caldecott Honor winner Weatherford (Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom, 2006) has rendered Hamer’s voice so precisely that it is like sitting at her knee as she tells her story. Holmes’ multimedia collages perfectly capture the essence of each poem. Like Hamer’s life, the illustrations are filled with light, texture, movement, and darkness. They are both abstract and realistic, brilliantly juxtaposing gentle floral motifs with protest placards and Fannie Lou Hamer’s face in bold relief. Ultimately, though this is Hamer’s story, it includes the collaborative struggles of others with whom she worked and fought for a different America.