Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Book & Media Notes

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Book & Media Notes

Article excerpt

Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC. Edited by Faith S. Holsaert et al. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010. Pp. xvii, 616. Introduction, postscript, index. $34.95.)

This collection of firsthand accounts written by female veterans of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) will be of tremendous significance to scholars of the civil rights movement. The testimonies of fifty-two activists collectively capture a multifaceted historical reality that could not be easily replicated in a work of broad historical synthesis. The SNCC women whose stories appear in Hands on the Freedom Plow are black, white, and Chicana. They are northerners and southerners. They come from a variety of class and educational backgrounds and disagree on some aspects of the history of the movement. They are, however, unified in the sense that their SNCC experiences were transformative, providing, as Doris A. Derby puts it, the "foundation" that they built the rest of their lives upon (p. 445). Hellen O'Neal McCray tellingly confesses, "After my SNCC experience I have been disappointed, because I have not come in contact with people of such dazzling brightness [again]" (p. 66).

In deciding to join the movement, some women "leaped over the expectations of [their] families and communities while others acted out of family and community traditions of social justice" (p. 1). Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, whose lyrical "From Little Memphis Girl to Mississippi Amazon" begins the volume, recalls being heartbroken when her fearful grandmother told her that if she left home to join the civil rights movement she could "never come back" (p. 25). In contrast, Gwen Patton's initiation to civil rights activism came from working with her grandmothers to register black voters in Montgomery, Alabama, before the creation of SNCC.

The contributors do not shy away from controversial issues, such as the status of women in the organization, adherence to nonviolent discipline, and the implications of the organization's shift toward Black Power. Although some women bristled at the expectation that they should perform traditionally female tasks (like taking minutes at meetings), the overwhelming consensus is that SNCC was much more supportive of ideas of gender equality than the society at large. Jean Smith Young emphatically declares, "I never felt discriminated against . …

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