In Until I Am Free, Blain asks us to revisit the activist’s achievements through the lens of the current civil rights movement. She argues that Hamer pioneered an approach to fighting racism, sexism and class discrimination that is relevant today ... Brilliantly constructed to be both forward and backward looking, Blain’s book functions simultaneously as a much needed history lesson and an indispensable guide for modern activists.
As white conservative backlash grows in the United States, Keisha N. Blain’s new biography of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer stands out for its relevance. Until I Am Free: Fannie Lou Hamer’s Enduring Message to America is a deft, eloquent, and deeply engaging narrative of one of the fiercest and most formidable Black female activists of the 20th century ... Blain’s book differs in that each chapter identifies the work of present-day activists and draws parallels to the battles that Hamer herself joined ... a deft examination of Fannie Lou Hamer, one of our nation’s greatest civil rights heroines, who unfailingly spoke truth to power.
Blain is forthright in acknowledging complexities...but nonetheless she uses modern terms such as 'intersectionality,' 'reproductive rights' and 'racial capitalism' to describe Hamer’s philosophy and its legacy. Yet one gets the sense that these terms don’t entirely capture Hamer’s core concerns ... Hamer is an essential and inspirational figure for anyone seeking an honest accounting of America’s troubled past and for those who set themselves to the still-unfinished struggle for change, and Blain does an excellent job of reminding us of her importance. Every generation deserves to be reminded of her legacy, even as the temptation to press Hamer into the service of our own struggles remains irresistible.
... for all that Until I Am Free does to remind us of Hamer’s importance, perhaps the book’s most notable gambit involves the passages beginning each chapter, when Ms. Blain plots out a contemporary example of how the issues Hamer grappled with are still relevant today -- for instance, the tragic 2015 death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail, and the creation of the Black Lives Matter movement ... Most striking is Ms. Blain’s discussion of intersectionality.
Blain uses extensive primary sources (including excerpts from Hamer’s speeches, and accounts of her experiences of sexual assault and medical trauma) to illustrate how Hamer 'turned her pain into political action.' Blain effectively conveys the racism and sexism Hamer faced in her fight for equality and liberation and shows how it impacted her relationships to both the civil rights movement and the women’s liberation movement; she also establishes the modernity and contemporary relevance of Hamer’s proto-intersectional politics ... This excellent introduction to Hamer and her life is well-contextualized; recommended for all readers.
Although Blain occasionally neglects to situate Hamer’s ideas in the broader context of her time, 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.
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.