Beacon Press: Until I Am Free
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Until I Am Free

Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America

Author: Keisha N. Blain

Explores the Black activist’s ideas and political strategies, highlighting their relevance for tackling modern social issues including voter suppression, police violence, and economic inequality.

“We have a long fight and this fight is not mine alone, but you are not free whether you are white or black, until I am free.”
—Fannie Lou Hamer


A blend of social commentary, biography, and intellectual history, Until I Am Free is a manifesto for anyone committed to social justice. The book challenges us to listen to a working-poor and disabled Black woman activist and intellectual of the civil rights movement as we grapple with contemporary concerns around race, inequality, and social justice.

Award-winning historian and New York Times best-selling author Keisha N. Blain situates Fannie Lou Hamer as a key political thinker alongside leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Rosa Parks and demonstrates how her ideas remain salient for a new generation of activists committed to dismantling systems of oppression in the United States and across the globe.

Despite her limited material resources and the myriad challenges she endured as a Black woman living in poverty in Mississippi, Hamer committed herself to making a difference in the lives of others. She refused to be sidelined in the movement and refused to be intimidated by those of higher social status and with better jobs and education. In these pages, Hamer’s words and ideas take center stage, allowing us all to hear the activist’s voice and deeply engage her words, as though we had the privilege to sit right beside her.

More than 40 years since Hamer’s death in 1977, her words still speak truth to power, laying bare the faults in American society and offering valuable insights on how we might yet continue the fight to help the nation live up to its core ideals of “equality and justice for all.”

Includes a photo insert featuring Hamer at civil rights marches, participating in the Democratic National Convention, testifying before Congress, and more.
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“Blain backs up her trenchant analysis with extensive research and relevant quotes from her subject. The scholarly text brims with heart, and the author’s affection for Hamer infuses every line. Readers will walk away both informed and inspired . . . . A highly readable, poignant study of the life and influence of a civil rights legend.”
Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review

“[A] vivid, passionate biography. . . . the author’s rightful and infectious admiration of Hamer shines through on every page. Until I Am Free is a must-have for readers interested in American history and civil rights activism.”
Booklist, Starred Review

“As talented a storyteller and cultural critic as she is a historian, Keisha Blain has written a history of Fannie Lou Hamer that also challenges readers to look to her legacy as a guide for tackling current issues of voter suppression, state-sanctioned violence, women’s inequality, and racism.”
Ms. Magazine, “Most Anticipated Reads for the Rest Us – 2021”

“Dr. Keisha Blain’s beautiful prose and infectious passion for uncovering our historical roots tells Hamer’s amazing life story. If America truly respected its own roots, they would see a ‘Fannie Lou Hamer’ defending the US Constitution to include ‘We the People.’ Dr. Blain unveils Hamer’s leadership in this historical documentation, once again demonstrating that when Black women sit down and demand a seat on the bus or simply get let into the room, we spend the next generation demanding a seat at the table. Until I Am Free allows the reader to see a long part of the political and cultural lines from Fannie Lou Hamer to Vice President Kamala Harris.”
—Donna Brazile, former chair of the Democratic National Committee

“Keisha Blain brings Fannie Lou Hamer and her fight for liberation to life in the exhilarating Until I Am Free. Alight with curiosity and passion, Blain’s view of Hamer is both intimate and political, exquisitely sensitive to the challenges faced by a Black woman sharecropper whose body was too often the site of white supremacist, misogynist violence, and whose revolutionary story has too rarely been framed as such. Until I Am Free corrects that omission and will be an invaluable resource for generations to come.”
—Rebecca Traister, author of Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger

“We all know Fannie Lou Hamer, the courageous civil rights icon who survived white violence and stood up to Lyndon B. Johnson and the Democratic Party. Keisha Blain’s magnificent Until I Am Free introduces us to Hamer the political thinker, the strategist and theorist, the internationalist whose expansive vision of freedom embraced the oppressed everywhere. A pathbreaking contribution to our history and a precious guide for today’s activists fighting for the world Hamer envisioned.”
—Robin D. G. Kelley, author of Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

“With elegant, passionate, and powerful prose, award-winning historian Keisha Blain weaves together the political and intellectual legacy of Mississippi sharecropper and visionary political leader Fannie Lou Hamer with the contemporary struggle for racial justice and human freedom. With ‘boldness and radical honesty,’ Hamer confronted in her own time many of the issues that Black activists are confronting today: state violence, sexism and white supremacy, political disenfranchisement, and economic exploitation. Grounded in the material conditions of her lived experience, Hamer crafted a worldview and a politics of radical inclusivity that guided her actions and inspired others. This book expands the boundaries of the Black radical political and intellectual tradition, and re-centers a voice that is too prescient to be ignored.”
—Barbara Ransby, author of Making All Black Lives Matter: Reimagining Freedom in the Twenty-First Century

“Keisha Blain’s insightful new book . . . leaves us yearning to live in an America guided by Hamer’s unyielding commitment to justice, her full embrace of community, her creative spirit of collective problem-solving, and her unreserved love for Black people. This is a book for everyone who doesn’t know the legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer and for everyone who thinks they do.”
—Melissa Harris-Perry, author, media host, and the Maya Angelou Presidential Chair of Politics at Wake Forest University

“In Until I Am Free, Dr. Keisha N. Blain has written a rich, detailed, and moving portrait of a woman who was one of the most important civil rights activists in American history. In this meticulous biography of Fannie Lou Hamer, Dr. Blain puts her life and work in conversation with the world around us. In doing so, she gives the reader a profound sense of how Hamer’s too-often-ignored-contributions helped shape and lay the groundwork for so much of the work that activists continue to do today. This incredibly important book provides new ways of understanding a woman who saw this country for what it was, and demanded that it be better.”
—Clint Smith, author of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America

INTRODUCTION
A Long Fight Ahead

CHAPTER ONE
Let Your Light Shine

CHAPTER TWO
Tell It Like It Is

CHAPTER THREE
We Want Leaders

CHAPTER FOUR
The Special Plight of Black Women

CHAPTER FIVE
An Expansive Vision of Freedom

CHAPTER SIX
Try to Do Something

CONCLUSION
Until All of Us Are Free

Acknowledgments
Notes
Index
Image Credits

Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America by Keisha N. Blain

Readers’ Guide Discussion Questions

Download the readers’ guide.

  1. Keisha N. Blain notes that Fannie Lou Hamer, like many other hidden figures, is largely left out of mainstream historical narratives on Black social movements. Why are figures like Hamer often erased, and how can we combat this harmful pattern?
  2. How did Hamer’s upbringing, of being trapped in poverty by the exploitative nature of the sharecropping system and enduring life as a poor, Black disabled woman in Mississippi, influence her relationship to the Black struggle? How did Hamer’s experiences make her an effective organizer and activist?
  3. Why do you think Hamer centered voting rights and voters’ empowerment in her political work? What is the significance of this goal in our current context, and how has a national perspective on Black voting shifted or stayed the same since Hamer’s spirited campaigns?
  4. Blain writes that “combining faith with action, Hamer fought to secure the rights and liberation of Black people and all oppressed groups.” How did faith directly shape Hamer’s activism, and how is faith incorporated into or absent from modern-day activist movements?
  5. Hamer believed that “Americans committed to social justice could build an inclusive democracy that lived up to the promises of the US Constitution.” What did her investment in the Constitution demonstrate about her political beliefs? How has the role or influence of the Constitution in protecting the rights of American citizens shifted in the decades following Hamer’s activism?
  6. How did the gendered and racialized politics of respectability inform Hamer’s personal life and work? How did Hamer challenge notions of Black women’s respectability?
  7. What does Blain mean when she says that Hamer understood her life in intersectional terms? How can Hamer’s work and life inform our modern-day understanding of intersectionality? Where do Hamer’s politics align with current Black feminist thought, and where do they diverge?
  8. Why did Hamer emphasize the contributions of leaders with limited formal education? What does Hamer’s insistence on a grassroots approach and local leaders tell us about the needs and goals of the movement at the time? Who exemplifies this type of leadership today?
  9. Blain ties in current cultural moments with historical ones throughout the text, particularly in reference to acts of violence committed against Black women in the twenty-first century. What makes Hamer’s story and legacy so deeply relevant to the stories of so many Black women today?
  10. What is distinct about Hamer’s definition of liberation? How does it compare to national perspectives on liberation? How does it compare to definitions of liberation within anti-racist movements of the time?
  11. Hamer opposed women’s reproductive rights while working to expand women’s political leadership. What does this reveal about her politics? Should we view this as a contradiction, and if so, why?
  12. How can Hamer’s message of “until I am free, you are not free either” offer hope and guidance to those advocating for social justice today?

Until I Am Free

ISBN: 978-080706150-3
Publication Date: 10/5/2021
Size:6 x 9 Inches (US)
Price:  $24.95
Format: Cloth
Not Yet Published
Will Ship On: October 2021
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