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The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer
     

The Senator and the Sharecropper: The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer

by Chris Myers Asch
 

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In this fascinating study of race, politics, and economics in Mississippi, Chris Myers Asch tells the story of two extraordinary personalities--Fannie Lou Hamer and James O. Eastland--who represented deeply opposed sides of the civil rights movement. Both were from Sunflower County: Eastland was a wealthy white planter and one of the most powerful segregationists in

Overview

In this fascinating study of race, politics, and economics in Mississippi, Chris Myers Asch tells the story of two extraordinary personalities--Fannie Lou Hamer and James O. Eastland--who represented deeply opposed sides of the civil rights movement. Both were from Sunflower County: Eastland was a wealthy white planter and one of the most powerful segregationists in the U.S. Senate, while Hamer, a sharecropper who grew up desperately poor just a few miles from the Eastland plantation, rose to become the spiritual leader of the Mississippi freedom struggle. Asch uses Hamer's and Eastland's entwined histories, set against the backdrop of Sunflower County's rise and fall as a center of cotton agriculture, to explore the county's changing social landscape during the mid-twentieth century and its persistence today as a land separate and unequal. Asch, who spent nearly a decade in Mississippi as an educator, offers a fresh look at the South's troubled ties to the cotton industry, the long struggle for civil rights, and unrelenting social and economic injustice through the eyes of two of the era's most important and intriguing figures.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Arch, co-founder of the U.S. Public Service Academy and a former elementary school teacher in Mississippi's Sunflower County, chronicles the life and times of two Sunflower natives who became central civil rights figures: U.S. Senator James Eastland, scion of one of the region's oldest plantation families, and Fanny Lou Hamer, the sharecroppers' daughter who led the drive for voting rights in Mississippi. Hamer's involvement began in August, 1962, when she joined a group of 17 other African-Americans registering to vote; that courageous decision got her kicked off the plantation where her family eked out an existence. After that, "the movement" literally became her home, and she worked feverishly overly the following years to challenge the status quo. As the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Eastland fought long and hard against the demands of Hamer and others, successfully watering down civil rights initiatives in 1957 and killing them outright in '66. Asch does a commendable job illuminating mid-twentieth century cotton kingdom economics while keeping his narrative moving. Though Eastland looms larger in these pages, it's satisfying to watch the tide of history overtake the largely unrepentant (and all but forgotten) senator, and see Hamer, famously "sick and tired of being sick and tired," become a legend in the Delta and throughout the country.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A plantation-owning senator and an impoverished farmer face off in the Mississippi Delta. There is little doubt that the author is deeply invested in Sunflower County, Miss., where he worked for years as an educator and activist, but Asch may have stuffed too much information about his adopted home into a single book. It not only chronicles the life and work of Sunflower's most renowned residents, longtime Senator James Eastland and civil-rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, but also the intricate details of the Delta cotton industry and the origins of pioneer Dixie settlements. The spotlight shines brightest on Eastland, scion of Sunflower's most prestigious plantation family, who was elected to the Senate in 1942 on the strength of his pro-cotton platform. When the Jim Crow status quo was threatened, he found his voice as one of the country's most devout white supremacists. Eastland eventually landed the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee, affording him significant power until his retirement in 1978, and capably dispatched several key civil-rights bills. But back home in Sunflower, he found a formidable opponent in Hamer, the youngest child in a brood of 20 born to sharecropping farmers. After a failed attempt at voter registration led to her arrest, unemployment and indigence, Hamer joined the civil-rights movement. She took on everyone from Democratic Party demagogues to Big Cotton. However, remarks the author in closing, Sunflower County today remains "resiliently separate and unequal." The book sometimes suffers from Asch's overuse of his meticulous research: Countless, often tangential quotations crowd lengthy passages of pedantic exposition, slowing the narrative flow.Hamer doesn't make much of an appearance until well into the book's second half-a shame, as she's far more compelling than the exhaustive catalogue of Eastland's policy work the author provides instead. However, Asch has crafted an objective, engaging and authoritative portrait of two polarizing figures. Eminently readable despite its narrow academic lens.
From the Publisher
Asch does a commendable job illuminating mid-twentieth century cotton kingdom economics.—Publisher's Weekly

Asch's book is a well-researched, incredibly detailed look at the Delta and continuing challenges to social justice.—Booklist

Weaves a story around these two main characters that is all too familiar to those who understand the tragic history of racism in the South.—The Journal of Mississippi History

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780807878057
Publisher:
The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date:
02/01/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
392
File size:
3 MB

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
Asch's history traces and illuminates the development of white racism and total political domination over the majority black population in Sunflower County. The last chapter was so riveting that I was reading past midnight.—Charles McLaurin, former field secretary, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

Through vivid, accurate portraits of two Mississippians locked in deadly embrace, Chris Myers Asch shows why blacks remain on the bottom in Sunflower County, Mississippi, today. We may still blind ourselves to the ways that the social system after 1990 is still totally unfair to African Americans, but to do so, we will have to burn—or ignore—The Senator and the Sharecropper.—James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me

Meet the Author

Chris Myers Asch teaches history at the University of the District of Columbia.

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