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Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC Hardcover – September 30, 2010

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Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC + Local People: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Mississippi (Blacks in the New World)
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 656 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press; 1st Edition edition (September 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252035577
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252035579
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #850,927 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews



"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

About the Author


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.

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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See all 17 customer reviews
This should be required reading!
Miriam Pickens
The personal accounts are candid and unassuming, and at the same time deeply moving and immensely heroic.
552 page read, worth everything.
Renaud Brown

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Hartford on December 15, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful and fascinating book that illuminates the soul of the Freedom Movement of the 1960s. There are many excellent histories of the Civil Rights Movement that provide the chronologic details of events & outcomes, and many fine biographies that examine the lives of the central figures. But the movement was at heart a mass movement of ordinary people transforming their lives, and the lives of others, with extraordinary courage. In Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC 52 women describe in their own words the roots, the meaning, and the personal effect of their own participation.

James Baldwin once observed that: "The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do." No book in recent memory better illustrates the essential truth of that observation than Hands on the Freedom Plow.

This is not a book that has to be read in sequence first page to last. Rather, it reminds me of the Talmud, a sea of subjects, insights, experiences, points of view, and historical periods that you sail on voyages of discovery. Each time you dip into it, in whatever chapter, it reveals something new and fascinating.

--Bruce Hartford
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By AfroAmericanHeritage on May 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was the cutting edge of the Civil Rights Movement. Born out of the student sit-ins that erupted on February 1, 1960 in Greensboro North Carolina, within months thousands of students across the south were engaged in similar non-violent protests against racial segregation, risking their lives in the process. But it was far from a spontaneous uprising; the organizers (though mostly college age) were well trained and deeply committed to building a grassroots movement within the communities of the Deep South, working with local people to bring about change.

This well-organized book shares the personal narratives of 52 women - northern and southern, young and old, urban and rural, black, white and Latina - who served on the front lines of freedom. The narratives are grouped by regional movements, and also by themes such as issues of personal identity.

There are similarities found in some of the narratives; many relate terrifying encounters with the Klan and the public authorities who were supposed to protect them, beatings and deprivations in jail, but also love and overwhelming support from local people who lifted them up, fed them, and sheltered them to the best of their ability in the Jim Crow south.

One recurring theme that touched me deeply was how many of these women were just girls, often the first in their family to attend college, terrified not only of being murdered in the Deep South but equally terrified about disappointing their parents by postponing (or sometimes being expelled from) college. Some recount having broken bonds with family which were never mended.

But beyond these similarities each woman's story is related through a very personal lens.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By brownx on November 3, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Years before the women's movement, black women and white women risked their lives and livelihoods in the struggle for racial justice in the South. This is their story, largely untold before this book. Each account is a unique take on the civil rights movement and its impact on our country, our culture, and, most certainly, its participants. You have to be filled with admiration for the bravery of these strong women, and fascinated by the ways their lives were permanently altered by the civil rights movement.

The accounts also remind us, in a very personal way, of the terrible injustices of segregation and of our national government's indifference to the violence directed against African Americans and their allies. Will the same kind of stories be told in fifty years by Latino immigrants to our country?

This book should spark great discussions about civil rights, human rights, women's rights, and the rule of law in almost any book discussion group. It's also a wonderful book for high school civics and history teachers to excerpt for their classes. And it is a fascinating study of the organization of a mass movement.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Renaud Brown on January 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I am inspired by these 52 accounts during the most important time in our Civil history, the 60s. My choir director fought for the desegregation of the city of gREENSboro and my piano teacher was inspired to do an oral history for her dissertation on Prince George's County educators who desegregated the school system in the 50's and 60's. I am glad to know Betty Garman Robinson(objected parents' racism and become a lifelong organizer for social justice) and was thrilled to have witnessed the editors in a book signing gathering on November 30, 2010 as Judy Richardson joined us ( Charm City Labor Chorus, Baltimore, MD) in procession of We Are Soldiers. There are a combination of black, white, latina, old, young women in this collaboration. Regions of desegragation include: Maryland, Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. 552 page read, worth everything.
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