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Original Essays | September 18, 2014

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Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in Sncc


Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in Sncc Cover


Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:


In Hands on the Freedom Plow, fifty-two women--northern and southern, young and old, urban and rural, black, white, and Latina--share their courageous personal stories of working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement.
The testimonies gathered here present a sweeping personal history of SNCC: early sit-ins, voter registration campaigns, and freedom rides; the 1963 March on Washington, the Mississippi Freedom Summer, and the movements in Alabama and Maryland; and Black Power and antiwar activism. Since the women spent time in the Deep South, many also describe risking their lives through beatings and arrests and witnessing unspeakable violence. These intense stories depict women, many very young, dealing with extreme fear and finding the remarkable strength to survive.
The women in SNCC acquired new skills, experienced personal growth, sustained one another, and even had fun in the midst of serious struggle. Readers are privy to their analyses of the Movement, its tactics, strategies, and underlying philosophies. The contributors revisit central debates of the struggle including the role of nonviolence and self-defense, the role of white people in a black-led movement, and the role of women within the Movement and the society at large.  
Each story reveals how the struggle for social change was formed, supported, and maintained by the women who kept their "hands on the freedom plow." As the editors write in the introduction, "Though the voices are different, they all tell the same story--of women bursting out of constraints, leaving school, leaving their hometowns, meeting new people, talking into the night, laughing, going to jail, being afraid, teaching in Freedom Schools, working in the field, dancing at the Elks Hall, working the WATS line to relay horror story after horror story, telling the press, telling the story, telling the word. And making a difference in this world."

Book News Annotation:

52 women share their experiences as civil rights activists with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in the 1960s. Involvement with SNCC, a controversial and radical offshoot of the larger civil rights movement, had lasting effects on the young women who fought for equality in the deep South. The contributors, now in their sixties and seventies are all activists who have continued their work against poverty and injustice and relate in these short personal narratives, why they joined SNCC and what it was like to be a woman organizing under dangerous conditions in rural areas. Many of the accounts are quite harrowing. The work contains a small selection of b&w photos. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

About the Author


"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
"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
"The testimonies of these remarkable women are an indispensable part of the history of the southern movement against racial segregation. They enable us to see the Movement up close through essays that are intensely personal, and at the same time they thoughtfully illuminate the larger struggle for justice."--Howard Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present


"Hats off to the Hands On sisters! Each story is a treasure, each woman a measure of the Civil Rights Movement's strength. An overdue and indispensable contribution to the Movement's historiography."--Julian Bond, Chairman Emeritus of the NAACP Board of Directors
"This amazing book rethreads the needle of memory with a stronger cord woven of the testimonies of sisters who never gave up or in. Its gifts are immeasurable as a historical document and a blueprint for ongoing national and international struggles for human rights. We must take our cue from the lessons they teach and tighten our grip on freedom's plow, pushing on, regardless."--Darlene Clark Hine, coauthor of The African American Odyssey

Product Details

Holsaert, Faith S. (edt)
University of Illinois Press
Richardson, Judy
Holsaert, Faith S.
Prescod Norman Noonan, Martha
Smith Young, Jean
Richardson, Judy
Jean Smith Young
Zellner, Dorothy M.
Martha Prescod Norman Noonan
Holsaert, Faith S.
Prescod Norman Noonan, Martha
Betty Garman Robinson
Garman Robinson, Betty
United States - 20th Century
African Americans - Civil rights - History -
United States Race relations History.
Women's Studies - General
Political Freedom & Security - Civil Rights
Gender Studies-General
Politics-United States Politics
Edition Description:
1st Edition
Publication Date:
25 black and white photographs
9.00 x 6.13 in

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Related Subjects

Business » Communication
Business » General
History and Social Science » African American Studies » Civil Rights Movement
History and Social Science » African American Studies » General
History and Social Science » Gender Studies » Womens Studies
History and Social Science » Politics » United States » Politics
History and Social Science » US History » 20th Century » General

Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in Sncc New Hardcover
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