Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

A Voice That Could Stir an Army: Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rhetoric of the Black Freedom Movement

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

A Voice That Could Stir an Army: Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rhetoric of the Black Freedom Movement

Article excerpt

A Voice That Could Stir an Army: Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rhetoric of the Black Freedom Movement. By Maegan Parker Brooks. Race, Rhetoric, and Media Series. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2014. Pp. [viii], 314. $60.00, ISBN 978-1-62846-004-9.)

Maegan Parker Brooks's recent volume on Fannie Lou Hamer's rhetorical life is a significant and welcome contribution to several historiographies, including Hamer biographies, the black freedom movement, and the rhetorical strategies of African American speakers. Brooks aptly describes the volume as a rhetorical biography that simultaneously relates the pertinent details of Hamer's life while investigating the rhetorical strategies that she employed and developed from 1962 until her untimely death in 1977. As she reveals in the afterword, Brooks aims to complicate Hamer's legacy, reminding readers that Hamer was not only a "plainspoken sharecropper and a warrior" but also a willing crusader for justice and truth, a leader who attacked injustice under nearly any circumstance (p. 244).

Perhaps this book's finest contributions are its deep evaluation of Hamer's speeches and its convincing argument that Hamer was a shrewd strategist and gifted speaker who was in control of her message and willing to evolve with changing contexts. While Hamer's rise to prominence is sometimes understood as the confluence of the right voice emerging in the right location at the right time. Brooks accurately asserts that Hamer's initial and continuing success was as much due to her intellect and rhetorical strategy as it was to fortunate coincidence.

Brooks skillfully uses rhetorical analysis to build a case for Hamer's development as a speaker and public persona. Each chapter delves deeply into Hamer's speeches (some of which have only recently been recovered) by examining the strategic rhetorical decisions she made in response to a rapidly changing context and ultimately in the face of her declining health in the mid-1970s. …

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