Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer:
Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement
by Carole Boston Weatherford
illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Candlewick Press, 2015
The reviewer received a copy of the book from the publisher.
Voice of Freedom is a beautiful tribute to Fannie Lou Hamer, civil rights activist and voting rights champion. Fannie Lou Hamer, also known as the spirit of the civil rights movement, was a respected leader and politician who didn't back down from fighting for voting rights even when she was threatened and physically harmed. This is a timely books since the Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Johnson 50 years ago this month.
The picture book biography uses poems to describe pivotal events in Hamer's life beginning with her childhood as she toiled in cotton fields while her school was open only four months each year. Weatherford does an excellent job of highlighting turning points and crucial events. When Hamer registered to vote in Mississippi in 1962, she faced discrimination and hatred from the circuit clerk, area police, and the plantation owner where she lived. This did not deter her from standing up for her rights; it made Hamer even more determined to vote.
"Before I could cast a single vote,
I had to pay a poll tax I couldn't afford-
and dodge the night riders
who cruised slow as molasses
past my house with guns
after my name was printed in the paper.
Too bad a voter registration card
could't pay the rent.
When Pap lost his job, we got by
on ten dollars a week raised
by those young voting-rights workers
who opened my eyes
to the change a-coming.
I hopped aboard that train." (p.17)
Ekua Holmes' vibrant and sometimes dark, paper collage illustrations pair perfectly with the poems. The paint, paper and maps used in the collages give the illustrations a rich texture. Back matter includes source notes, a time line, and bibliography.
All middle grade students should learn about the brave and inspiring Fannie Lou Hamer who fought for civil liberties including voting rights, fair wages, and decent schools. She went on to run for Congress, started the Head Start Program and paved the way for many African American politicians and activists who came after her. Voice of Freedom is a recommended purchase for upper elementary and middle school libraries, and it would make a strong mentor text for a poetry unit.