Hands on the Freedom Plow
Earlier this month, I discovered a magical package waiting on my doorstep containing the new book Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC. This anthology is compilation of oral history pieces edited by Faith S. Holsaert, Martha Precod Norman Noonan, Judy Richardson, Betty Garman Robinson, Jean Smith Young and Dortothy M. Zellner. Fifty-two different women contributed to the book resulting in a rich collection of personal histories of SNCC, sit-ins, voter registration, the Freedom Rides, and more.
So far, I'm taking a few things from this unique book.
First, women, and people, of every size, shape, color and background were crucial to the SNCC and civil rights movements. Black and white, straight and queer, Southern and Northern, urban and rural. In my own years of organizing, I too often feel that folks are stuck in the small silos of their work. "We'll take care of homophobia in schools over here- you focus on equity for immigrants over there." But the SNCC movement and most other successful movements are adept at bringing folks from diverse backgrounds together under an umbrella of shared values and common concerns.
I'm also struck by the age-old truth that women are often expected to do 'traditional women's work' at the same time that they often are the real heart, soul and fuel of the movement. The women in this anthology talk about expectations, stereotypes and sexism that they dealt with in their families, communities and in their organizing groups. This was true in SNCC and it remains true, too often, in modern day social change work.
Lastly, for me, the book affirmed what I already knew about Miss Ella Jo Baker- she was a rare and exceptionally inspirational leader who pushed the movement forward through group-centered processes. Joanna Grant recalls in Hands on the Freedom Plow, "We were all her children." This book affirms what I have heard and read from other mentees and peers of Miss Baker- her style of leadership fully believed that each participant had the power and wisdom within themselves to contribute and lead, and helped them manifest that power. In my mind, Miss Baker was a lifelong student and a lifelong teacher who learned from everyone around her and role modeled critical thinking. At her funeral, Anne Braden said that Ella "wanted to know what people thought, but mostly she wanted them to think."
I hope that this book will become a staple of herstory classes and self-motivated students for years to come. You can order your copy here.