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 remarkablestrength 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."
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. These stories demonstrate the strength and bravery required to stand against repression and brutality in the fight against segregation. Included are the newly gathered personal recollections of more than 50 women, black and white, northern and southern, who describe their participation in events that transformed their lives and also helped change the world. The activists, including high school students, were jailed, beaten, threatened, and treated inhumanely at sit-ins to desegregate lunch counters, on Freedom Rides to challenge segregation on public transportation, and in doing field work to register voters while enduring the oppression and discrimination of Jim Crow laws. Together, the overlapping stories create an indelible portrait of the Civil Rights Movement in Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Maryland where women such as Diane Nash, SNCC's first female field secretary; Joann Christian Mants, an activist who was jailed 17 times by the time she was 16; and many others, worked for social justice. VERDICT Essential reading for anyone interested in the Civil Rights Movement and crucial for all collections documenting the era.—Donna L. Davey, New York Univ. Lib.