Chana Kai Lee is an associate professor of history and
women's studies at the University of Georgia.
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.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
"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... Vividly brings to light a crucial aspect of the civil rights movement that until now has not been given its due." - Publishers Weekly "To relate the life of Fannie Lou Hamer accurately demands a fundamental understanding of the politics of class and gender, as well as race... 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." - Choice "Far more prominent in the historical record than in the history books, black women in the post-World War II freedom movements are the subject of exciting recent scholarship. Lee's portrait of Fanny Lou Hamer stands among the best of those works... This is the best book on a crucially important subject." -- Timothy B. Tyson, Journal of American History "Excellent biography ... [Lee's] most important contribution is her portrait of Hamer as a sensitive and sometimes troubled person, not just a symbol... A biography worthy of its subject." -- Paul T. Murray, Multicultural Review "Emerging frmo the lowliest rungs of Mississippi's segregated world, Fannie Lou Hamer became an icon of black protest during the 1960s... Lee's biography polishes the icon but also probes it to discover a flesh-and-blood woman whose frailties make her achievements -- and her tenacity -- all the more notable... This book will win recognition for ably showing Hamer as a warrior at once valiant and vulnerable." -- Robert Weisbrot, American Historical Review "Comprehensive research, lyrical yet accessible writing, and brilliant analysis come together in what constitutes the most definitive critical biography to date of famed civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer... A biography that deserves to be emulated." -- Priscilla A. Dowden, The North Carolina Historical Review "This biography [of Hamer] is one of the best ways to experience this charismatic personality." - The Socialist "Lee's incisive biography breaks new ground on Hamer scholarship... A balanced account that advances Hamer scholarship... The result is more defining and dimensional, of a very human, but flawed figure, fiercely individualistic, yet a symbol for emerging social change in a critical, turbulent time in the South's history." - Dan Ruff, Southern Historian "Hamer emerges from the pages as a complex, sophisticated and truly revolutionary individual. This book will, no doubt, be a major contribution to the ongoing commentary on race, gender, and class relations in southern life." - The Gaitherreporter "An excellent analysis of Hamer's life and work. Lee's extensive research allows her to turn Hamer from a mythic icon of the civil rights movement into something more powerful: an ordinary woman who withstood obscene violence and resistance to fight for her rights." - Selika Ducksworth Lawton, Michigan Historical Review "A vivid and complex portrait of Hamer and her lifelong pursuit of political and economic freedom effectively situated in the major events and themes of her time." -- Emily J. Crosby, The Southern Quarterly ADVANCE PRAISE "Chana Kai Lee's accessible, elegant, and comprehensively researched biography of Fannie Lou Hamer reminds us that even cataclysmic changes in social relations start with the experiences, aspirations, and imagination of ordinary people. An unknown plantation field hand and timekeeper until her forties, Mrs. Hamer emerged as the quintessential rank and file activist and grass roots leader of the Mississippi Freedom Movement. Lee shows how the civil rights movement was not just a battle to end segregation, but rather functioned as a broad based battle against poverty, illiteracy, economic exploitation, and all forms of dehumanization and oppression. More than any other individual, Fannie Lou Hamer embodied the extraordinary changes provoked in U.S. society by the civil rights movement of the 1960s. In Chana Kai Lee, she has found a biographer worthy of her story."-George Lipsitz, author of A Rainbow at Midnight: Labor and Culture in the 1940s "Chana Kai Lee has written a remarkable biography of a remarkable woman. Of all the local people who guided and sustained the civil rights movement in reshaping the South and America during the second half of the twentieth century, Fannie Lou Hamer stands at the top... Lee has given us a brilliantly textured portrait of the public and private life of a wife, mother, civil rights organizer, and mentor to young people struggling for freedom. For Freedom's Sake provides a truthful and sensitive portrait of a poor, southern black woman who transformed herself and countless others, while at the same time experiencing intense personal disappointment and pain. Not merely a story of one woman's triumph and tragedy, Lee's revealing book presents a moving and perceptive study of the human condition."-Steven F. Lawson, author of Running for Freedom: Civil Rights and Black Politics in America since 1941 "An extremely valuable addition to the historiography of the civil rights movement."-John Dittmer, author of Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi "Enlightening, moving, and inspirational."-Beverly Guy-Sheftall, author of Daughters of Sorrow: Attitudes toward Black Women, 1880-1920