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Author: Maegan Parker Brooks
Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
In 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer delivered a heart-wrenching testimony before the Democratic National Convention’s (DNC) Credentials Committee. In this speech, Hamer represented both the concerns of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and the limits of American democracy when she proclaimed: “I question America. Is this the land of the free and the home of the brave where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily? Because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?” This is the speech that sent President Lyndon B. Johnson into a state of outright panic, as he diverted the media’s attention away from Hamer’s stinging indictment of the nation he led. This is the speech that left most Credentials Committee members in tears, forced Johnson to negotiate with the MFDP, and compelled the Democratic Party to vow they would never again seat a segregated delegation. And this is the speech that television networks, made wise to Johnson’s diversionary tactics, replayed during their evening programs, thereby bringing Fannie Lou Hamer into the living rooms of Americans across the nation. As significant as the 1964 DNC speech is, this book will underscore that Hamer’s testimony was but one moment within a remarkable life that spanned fifty-nine tumultuous years in the history of American race relations. For the first forty-four years of her life, Hamer lived on sharecropping plantations, all the while learning life lessons from her family, the Black Baptist religious tradition, and from the oppressive white supremacist mores surrounding her. Once Hamer’s life path intersected with the mid-century Civil Rights Movement, she spent fifteen years (1962-1977) traveling from the South to the North—and even to the West Coast of Africa—advocating civil rights, economic justice, and interracial cooperation. Hamer shared the platform with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, who introduced her to an audience in Harlem as “the country’s number one freedom fighting woman.” This accessible biography will enrich public memory about Hamer by telling not only the significant story of her riveting testimony, but also by recounting a life filled with triumphs, tragedies, and accompanying lessons for contemporary audiences.