Sunday, March 18, 2012

Biography of Fannie Lou Hamer: A study in strength and leadership

Motivation for Reading:

I selected Kay Mills book This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer for my Women's History Month read when Sarah at Citizen Reader wrote the following comment about the book in her post 100 Best-ish Nonfiction Titles: Biography :
Fannie Lou Hamer, born in 1917 to a sharecropping family with 20 children, lived through enormous hardship and poverty and still overcame to become a leading figure in the fight for civil rights. THIS is a book they should be teaching in history and women's studies courses.
My Thoughts:
If every biography was as good as This Little Light of Mine: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, I would definitely read more biographies. The life of Fannie Lou Hamer is an amazing story.  What makes it so remarkable is that from the outside this poor, short black woman seemed like an unlikely candidate to become a civil rights icon. How did this woman who risked everything including her life become so fearless? Kay Mills provides an excellent study of the factors contributing to Fannie Lou Hamer’s strength to carry on despite so many obstacles, set backs and ill health.  Fannie Lou's sources of strength included:

Her mother:
Fannie Lou’s mother was one of the strongest influences of her life. My mother was a great woman.
She went through a lot of suffering to bring us up, but she still taught us to be decent and to respect ourselves. (Pg. 17)
Her faith:
One of the most important principles she was taught was that hating made one as weak as those filled with hatred. The church in Mississippi was one of the most segregated institutions in the state, and still is. Fannie Lou sought to understand, expose and destroy the root cause of oppression. She questioned many things about the misuse of power in this land.

Fannie Lou had learned how to reach down to some deep consciousness, a deeper place inside her in order to survive. As June Sugarman recalled:
I have never been in the presence of someone where I felt that person was so connected to her faith and that was her stability. (Pg. 178)
She loved her country:
Fannie Lou had this knowledge of the constitution, what this country was supposed to be. She believed in her countries promise despite her personal experiences.

There are many examples throughout the book where at just the right moment Fannie Lou would start singing. Music helped her overcome her fears and calm those of others. One of her favorite songs was “This Little Light of Mine.”

Her anger was touched with sorrow, about her lack of control over her life. Her anger after her arrest and subsequent beating at the jail in Winona made her even more determined to become a first-class citizen

Another teaching point of the book is her role as a leader:
Fannie Lou Hamer was also a natural leader with the ability to rally people around her. She was an organizer. She delivered. She prodded people to take an extra step, to think for themselves about their own problems.
When you are talking about important roles, you have to ask which person has the most important role – the one who speaks or the one who got the people there? Fannie Lou Hamer could do both. (Pg. 202)
Bottom Line:
In addition to being an excellent choice for Women’s History Month, this book provides a study of the civil rights movement, the history, culture and politics of Mississippi, and the economic programs and human rights Fannie Lou fought so tirelessly for. Sarah was correct: THIS is a book they should be teaching in history and women's studies courses.

What are you reading for Women's History Month?  Can you recommend additional female biographies that provide a study of strength and leadership?

If you enjoyed this post you may also like:
A Perfect Book for Women's History Month
Nonfiction Books Every Woman Should Read


  1. Oh Savvy,
    I'm SO glad you liked it. It blew me away when I read it and I can't believe how little I heard about it. I don't even know how I found it--accidentally, I'm sure. An unbelievable life, and one that Kay Mills did a good job writing about, too.

  2. CR,
    I actually found very little written around the web on this book. Glad you discovered it and gave a shout out.