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

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

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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.
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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
Compelling...Asch uses the stories of Hamer and Eastland to understand the Sunflower County of the present, to comprehend the economic stagnation that African American residents still face today and to make sense of the unspoken rules that continue to govern racial interactions in the twenty-first century.--Reviews in American History
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781595583321
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 5/1/2008
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

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


Preface     xi
Prologue: Sunflower County, 1994     1
Sunflower County, 1904     6
Planter's Son, Sharecroppers' Daughter     33
"Cotton Is Dynamite": New Deals in Sunflower County     65
"An Enormous Tragedy in the Making": Revolutions in Sunflower County and Abroad     99
"From Cotton-to Communism-to Segregation!": The Senator's Rise to Power     132
"No One Can Honestly Say Negroes Are Satisfied": The Sharecropper Embraces the Movement     167
1964: Confrontations     198
"This Is America's Sickness"     221
"The Pendulum Is Swinging Back"     253
"Right on Back to the Plantation"     279
Notes     299
Index     355
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 22, 2008

    A reviewer

    Asch has achieved a riveting and remarkably even-handed analysis of the history of these two remarkable people, both of whom are from Sunflower County, MS. With rich details and enlightening notes and references, he explores the historical context of a time and place that produced two such differing world views. As a historian, Asch gives the back story of how and why the plantation owners in a cotton economy dependent on a 'cheap and docile labor force' believed so passionately in white supremacy and how and why a sharecropper named Fannie Lou Hamer became one of his greatest antagonists. As a man who has lived and worked in Sunflower County for several years, Asch also shows great insight into the legacy of racism and economic deprivation that persists today. The book is remarkable in its thorough and fair treatment of both sides of the issues. As a child of Mississippi, I grew up in the 60s and 70s. This book helps me make sense of what I can only recall in fragmented, but vivid scraps of overheard adult conversations, local and national news media coverage widely divergent in their perspectives, and black and white film clips of the era. Today, I live only six miles from Sunflower County and I have friends of both races who live there. Each time I drive through Ruleville and see the rows of substandard housing, the idle men sitting on front porches, and poorly supervised children wandering into the streets, I am saddened by the obvious crushing poverty and racial separation that continue to pervade this small town. As an educator in a nearby university which is about half white/half black in its student body composition, I have hope that for the next generation, things will be better. Asch's book helps readers understand the historical context so necessary in comprehending how things got to be the way they are today. It is so riveting, I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. reading it because I could not bear to put it down.

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    Posted May 6, 2010

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