Hands on the Freedom Plow
Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC
By Faith S. Holsaert (Editor); Martha Prescod Norman Noonan (Editor); Judy Richardson (Editor); Betty Garman Robinson (Editor); Jean Smith Young (Editor); Dorothy M. Zellner (Editor)
(University of Illinois Press, Paperback, 9780252078880, 656pp.)
Publication Date: July 2012
Other Editions of This Title: Hardcover
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In Hands on the Freedom Plow, fifty-two women--northern and southern, young and old, urban and rural, black, white, and Latina--share their courageous personal stories of working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement. The testimonies gathered here present a sweeping personal history of SNCC: early sit-ins, voter registration campaigns, and freedom rides; the 1963 March on Washington, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the movements in Alabama and Maryland; and Black Power and antiwar activism. Since the women spent time in the Deep South, many also describe risking their lives through beatings and arrests and witnessing unspeakable violence. These intense stories depict women, many very young, dealing with extreme fear and finding the remarkable strength to survive. The women in SNCC acquired new skills, experienced personal growth, sustained one another, and even had fun in the midst of serious struggle. Readers are privy to their analyses of the Movement, its tactics, strategies, and underlying philosophies. The contributors revisit central debates of the struggle including the role of nonviolence and self-defense, the role of white people in a black-led movement, and the role of women within the Movement and the society at large. Each story reveals how the struggle for social change was formed, supported, and maintained by the women who kept their "hands on the freedom plow." As the editors write in the introduction, "Though the voices are different, they all tell the same story--of women bursting out of constraints, leaving school, leaving their hometowns, meeting new people, talking into the night, laughing, going to jail, being afraid, teaching in Freedom Schools, working in the field, dancing at the Elks Hall, working the WATS line to relay horror story after horror story, telling the press, telling the story, telling the word. And making a difference in this world."
Faith S. Holsaert, Durham, North Carolina, teacher and fiction writer, has remained active in lesbian and women's, antiwar, and justice struggles. Martha Prescod Norman Noonan, community organizer, activist, homemaker, and teacher of history including the civil rights movement, lives near Baltimore. Filmmaker and Movement lecturer Judy Richardson's projects include the PBS documentary series Eyes on the Prize and other historical documentaries. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Betty Garman Robinson, a community organizer, lives in Baltimore and is active in the reemerging grassroots social justice movement. Jean Smith Young is a child psychiatrist who works with community mental health programs in the Washington, DC area. New York City consultant Dorothy M. Zellner wrote and edited for the Center for Constitutional Rights and CUNY Law School. All of the editors worked for SNCC.
"The stories of the 'beloved community' of unknown women in Hands on the Freedom Plow convey a transcendent message of how history can be changed by committed individuals who stand up to what is wrong and live by that old freedom song 'Ain't gonna let nobody turn me roun.'"--Essence, Charlayne Hunter-Gault "Hands on the Freedom Plow underscores the neglected role women played in the civil rights crusade. Women answered the call, assumed weighty responsibilities, experienced persecution and worked together in the cause of freedom and social justice. Their spirit remains alive in this remarkable book."--Charlotte Observer
"Completely upend[s] both traditional and radical histories of the modern civil rights movement by placing women at the center of their narrative and interpretive process. This is a breathtaking achievement. . . . Because of the power of the storytelling, as a reader I felt as though I were living through events as they were unfolding. I felt the terror of the violence and the euphoria of triumph."--Women's Review of Books "Powerful, inspiring, and tremendously moving, the oral histories collected here highlight the essential role women played as organizers and activists with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the South of the early 1960s. . . . Essential reading for anyone interested in the Civil Rights Movement."--Library Journal
"Page after page reveals remarkable stories of courage and defiance. . . .The book opens a window onto the organizing tradition of the Southern civil rights movement."--The Root
"These primary source documents read like a modern novel. . . . Of immense interest and value to scholars and students of the Civil Rights Movement."--The Journal of African American History