• Until I Am Free

  • Fannie Lou Hamer's Enduring Message to America
  • By: Keisha N. Blain
  • Narrated by: Tyra Kennedy
  • Length: 7 hrs and 1 min
  • 4.7 out of 5 stars (68 ratings)

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Until I Am Free  By  cover art

Until I Am Free

By: Keisha N. Blain
Narrated by: Tyra Kennedy
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Publisher's Summary

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 this book, 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”.

©2021 Keisha N. Blain (P)2021 Beacon Press

Critic Reviews

“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” 

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Great book, couple pronunciation glitches

Great book, second bio of Fannie Lou Hamer I've read, but unique in that it draws links between her struggles and work and those of modern day figures like Rev Barber, Breonna Taylor, and Kamala Harris, making Ms Hamer's legacy feel real and not a bit of dusty history. My only complaint is that this narrator, while generally good, does not seem to know anything about SNCC or W.E.B. DuBois and her pronunciation is distracting whenever they come up. She spells out SNCC each time "ess, en, see, see" as if it were the same as SCLC, though anyone connected to these movements would pronounce "SNCC" as "snick". And she mispronounces DuBois as "doo-bwah", French style, whereas his name is actually "doo-boys" again, as anyone with even a passing familiarity with him would know. Editors should have caught these as they took away from the flow of an otherwise excellent narration. Apart from those minor critiques, an excellent book about an incredibly important woman.

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know thyself by knowing thy history

Very well written history of Mrs. Hamer's life and impact. For someone who suffered so much, she gave her all and more. It is a good lesson for all who want to make the world a better place. There is so much WORK to be done. Thank you Dr. Blain!

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A must have!

Dr. Keisha N. Blain nailed it! One of the best books ever on the life and time of Fannie Lou Hammer!

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Recording

Great story, poor recording. Choppy delivery, different volumes, obvious when recording was turned on and off by narrator.

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Underappriciated figure

I have known about Fannie Lou Hamer for a while. She was a figure in many histories of the civil rights era and a character in several biographies I have read, but this is the first book I have read primarily about her. I decided to pick it up after listening to an interview with the author on the Pass the Mic podcast and because I needed to use some credits on Audible. It is a brief biography, and the context is very helpful. But I also wanted a bit more. In print, it is just under 140 pages of text. Given that brief length, I wish there were an appendix with the text of several of her speeches. On the other hand, the book is well documented, with more than 30 pages of endnotes and a ten-page index. That high level of documentation is great, but it reads as a very accessible biography.

After the first, each of the chapters opens with a short passage detailing violence against black women. That framing of the book by connecting Hamer with the current civil rights struggle gives context for why we need to pay attention to Fannie Lou Hamer and other relatively unknown figures today.

Traditionally I have used Julia Child as an example of someone that did not start what they are known for until later in life. Julia Child did not take her first cooking class until she was 36. She didn’t start writing her first cookbook until her early 40s and didn’t start her TV show until she was 50. By comparison, when she was six, Fannie Lou Hamer started working cotton fields when she was trapped into a work contract as a sharecropper. She was sterilized without her consent during surgery to remove a tumor as a young woman. Because of this, she was unable to have biological children but did adopt two daughters and raised two additional girls. It was not until her mid-40s that Fannie Lou Hamer started working in civil rights.

At a church meeting organized by SNCC, she learned that she had a right to vote for the first time. On Aug 31, 1962, Fannie Lou Hamer and 17 others attempted to register to vote, and they were all arrested. She and her husband were immediately fired. Over the next couple of weeks, she regularly moved and went into hiding. She was shot at 15 times in an attempt to intimidate her. She and her husband left the county for three months for their safety. In December 1962, she again attempted to register to vote but was denied because of failing a literacy test. She returned in Jan 1963 and passed the literacy test but was denied the ability to vote that fall because she could not produce receipts for the two poll taxes. She eventually was able to vote, but the violence and repercussions against her left her unable to find work. Finally, she was hired by SNCC in 1963.

In June of 1963, returning from an SNCC meeting, she was arrested and beaten so severely that she was left permanently disabled. She spent three months recovering out of state before returning to her work in Mississippi. Despite being widely known, running for Congress and other political offices multiple times, and working for SNCC, she and her family were destitute. One of her daughters died after being weakened by severe malnutrition in 1968. Another daughter was hit by a car in retaliation for her mother’s work on voting rights, she was refused admittance to a hospital and died. Fannie Lou Hamer herself died of breast cancer in 1977 when she was only 59.

Fannie Lou Hamer’s work to force the national Democratic party to change southern segregated primaries and her work creating an alternative political party in Mississippi changed politics across the country. She may not be the best-known civil rights figure, but the work she did was done in only a nine-year time period.

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Necessary History Lesson

This work is a heartfelt look at the life of an extraordinary Black- American/world leader in relationship to the initiatives and insights about the marginalized and disenfranchised! The impact of Fannie Lou Hamer is far understated and her noble vision far from realized!

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She was a force and power house

Fannie Lou we need you now telling it like is! WOW! It's unfortunate too few know of her. She served her country well.

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Must read for allies.

Dr. Keisha N. Blaine exercises her formidable talents as an historian and writer here. Will be in the pantheon of great books of our time, with "Stamped at Birth.." and "Caste..." I thought I knew the basic story, but the details, especially with regard to Ms. Hamer's experiences with feminist and global intersectionality were particularly instructive. Do yourself a favor and read this.