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Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement

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A groundbreaking collection based on oral histories that brilliantly plumb the leadership of African American women in the twentieth-century fight for civil rightsmany nearly lost to historyfrom the latest winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize During the Civil Rights Movement, African American women were generally not in the headlines; they simply did the work that A groundbreaking collection based on oral histories that brilliantly plumb the leadership of African American women in the twentieth-century fight for civil rights—many nearly lost to history—from the latest winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize During the Civil Rights Movement, African American women were generally not in the headlines; they simply did the work that needed to be done. Yet despite their significant contributions at all levels of the movement, they remain mostly invisible to the larger public. Beyond Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Dorothy Height, most Americans, black and white alike, would be hard-pressed to name other leaders at the community, local, and national levels. In Lighting the Fires of Freedom Janet Dewart Bell shines a light on women’s all-too-often overlooked achievements in the Movement. Through wide-ranging conversations with nine women, several now in their nineties with decades of untold stories, we hear what ignited and fueled their activism, as Bell vividly captures their inspiring voices. Lighting the Fires of Freedom offers these deeply personal and intimate accounts of extraordinary struggles for justice that resulted in profound social change, stories that remain important and relevant today. Published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Lighting the Fires of Freedom is a vital document for understanding the Civil Rights Movement and an enduring testament to the vitality of women’s leadership during one of the most dramatic periods of American history.


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A groundbreaking collection based on oral histories that brilliantly plumb the leadership of African American women in the twentieth-century fight for civil rightsmany nearly lost to historyfrom the latest winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize During the Civil Rights Movement, African American women were generally not in the headlines; they simply did the work that A groundbreaking collection based on oral histories that brilliantly plumb the leadership of African American women in the twentieth-century fight for civil rights—many nearly lost to history—from the latest winner of the Studs and Ida Terkel Prize During the Civil Rights Movement, African American women were generally not in the headlines; they simply did the work that needed to be done. Yet despite their significant contributions at all levels of the movement, they remain mostly invisible to the larger public. Beyond Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, and Dorothy Height, most Americans, black and white alike, would be hard-pressed to name other leaders at the community, local, and national levels. In Lighting the Fires of Freedom Janet Dewart Bell shines a light on women’s all-too-often overlooked achievements in the Movement. Through wide-ranging conversations with nine women, several now in their nineties with decades of untold stories, we hear what ignited and fueled their activism, as Bell vividly captures their inspiring voices. Lighting the Fires of Freedom offers these deeply personal and intimate accounts of extraordinary struggles for justice that resulted in profound social change, stories that remain important and relevant today. Published to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Lighting the Fires of Freedom is a vital document for understanding the Civil Rights Movement and an enduring testament to the vitality of women’s leadership during one of the most dramatic periods of American history.

30 review for Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Fifty years ago the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed into law. Most know the name, legacy, and speeches of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. And most have heard of his wife Coretta Scott King and activist Rosa Parks. But what about the countless other women involved with the Civil Rights Movement? Those who did the grunt work, who put their lives on the line, who strove to achieve what the culture said they could not do? When I made my quilt I Will Lift My Voice Like a Trumpet I was inspired Fifty years ago the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed into law. Most know the name, legacy, and speeches of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. And most have heard of his wife Coretta Scott King and activist Rosa Parks. But what about the countless other women involved with the Civil Rights Movement? Those who did the grunt work, who put their lives on the line, who strove to achieve what the culture said they could not do? When I made my quilt I Will Lift My Voice Like a Trumpet I was inspired by the Abolitionists and Civil Rights who I encountered in reading Freedom's Daughters by Lynne Olson. My embroidered quilt includes an image and quote from women who made a difference but are not well known. The quilt appeared in several American Quilt Society juried shows. When I saw Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women and the Civil Rights Movement by Janet Dewart Bell on NetGalley I quickly requested it. I was interested in meeting more of these courageous, but lesser-known women. The author interviewed and collected oral histories of nine women for this book: Leah Chase, whose restaurant was a meeting place for organizers, was a collector of African American art and was commemorated by Pope Benedict XVI for her service. Dr. June Jackson Christmas broke race barriers to gain admittance to Vassar, spoke out against the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, was the only black female student in her medical school class, and fought housing discrimination to change New York City Law. Aileen Hernandez became an activist at Howard University in the 1940s, was the first female and black to serve on the EEOC in 1964, and was the first African American president of NOW. Diane Nash chaired the Nashville Sit-In Movement and coordinated important Freedom Rides. Judy Richardson joined the Students for a Democratic Society at Swarthmore College before leaving to join SNCC. She founded a bookstore and press for publishing and promoting black literature and was an associate producer for the acclaimed PBS series Eyes on the Prize. Kathleen Cleaver was active in SNCC, the Black Power Movement, the Black Panthers, and the Revolutionary People's Communication Network. Gay McDougall was the first to integrate Agnes Scott College; she worked for international human rights and was recognized with a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Gloria Richardson was an older adult during the movement, with a militant edge; Ebony magazine called her the Lady General of Civil Rights. Myrlie Evers's husband Medgar was the first NAACP field secretary in Mississippi. She was officially a secretary, but she 'did everything' and later championed gender equality. I was familiar with Diane Nash, who appears on my quilt. I only knew Myrlie Evers-Williams by association to her martyred husband Medgar. For me, Evers' statement was most moving, revealing more about her emotional life and feelings. Her husband Medgar, a war veteran, was the first African American to apply to Ole Miss when he was recruited to work for the NAACP. Myrlie organized events, researched for speeches, and even wrote some speeches while raising their family and welcoming visitors such as Thurgood Marshall to her home for dinner. It was a lot for a young woman. She is quoted as saying, "It was an exciting but frightening time, because you stared at death every day...But there was always hope, and there were always people who surrounded you to give you a sense of purpose." Medgar knew he was a target and encouraged her to believe in her strength. After her husband was murdered in front of their own home, the NAACP would call on her to rally support and raise money, with no compensation. Meanwhile, she felt anger and outrage at what had happened. Medgar had dreamt about relocating to California some day, so Myrlie and her children moved. Thinking back on the movement, Myrlie recognizes the struggle women had to be recognized for their work. And she bristles at being pigeonholed as Medgar's widow instead of being recognized for her accomplishments. It is wonderful that Myrlie was asked to deliver the prayer before President Obama's inaugural address. Faith and trust and believe she ends, possibilities await. Be open. Be adventurous. Have a little fun. That is good advice to us all. But coming from a woman whose husband made the ultimate sacrifice, it is an affirmation of great importance. I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Glenda Nelms

    Ground breaking and fascinating black women featured in this powerful book. These black women overcame odds and fought for social justice & equality. Published in 2018, This book coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It focuses on nine unsung heroines of the Civil Rights Movement, who achievements were often overlooked. Their stories move from individual acts of resistance to transformational leadership. They helped construct the cultural architecture for Ground breaking and fascinating black women featured in this powerful book. These black women overcame odds and fought for social justice & equality. Published in 2018, This book coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It focuses on nine unsung heroines of the Civil Rights Movement, who achievements were often overlooked. Their stories move from individual acts of resistance to transformational leadership. They helped construct the cultural architecture for change. They answered the call for freedom, showing courage, commitment, and passion.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Greer

    So many great women in this book! I really appreciated that you felt like you were hearing directly from them. So much history. This book really provided a widespread look at the different parts of the movement.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dora Okeyo

    I love how this book sheds light on strong black women who fought for social justice and in their own way, contributed to the civil rights movement in America. These are women whose stories we've barely heard of, yet they exude such strength, wisdom and character. Thank you NetGalley for the advance digital copy in exchange for my honest take on it. There's nothing as exhilarating as knowing more about history and those who shaped it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Avery

    Received a copy in a Goodreads giveaway I had I hopes for this book. I love female centered history and can admit that I never really gave the experiences and voices of women in the Civil Rights Movement much thought. This is a primary source book and I what I would have preferred is something more akin to a secondary source where Bell examined female participation during the era. As a primary source I found it to be just okay. Not all the women had as equally impactful sections of the book. If Received a copy in a Goodreads giveaway I had I hopes for this book. I love female centered history and can admit that I never really gave the experiences and voices of women in the Civil Rights Movement much thought. This is a primary source book and I what I would have preferred is something more akin to a secondary source where Bell examined female participation during the era. As a primary source I found it to be just okay. Not all the women had as equally impactful sections of the book. If all the women were like Myrlie Evers-Williams and Kathleen Cleaver's portions I would have enjoyed the book because they contributed a lot in terms of their perspective on Civil Rights Movement. Not all the women featured had stories of similar weight. In her introduction I wish Bell had spent some time explaining why she choice these women and what the interview process was like. It is a small thing, but definitely something I would have enjoyed knowing. If teaching a course of the civil rights movement to a younger audience I can see this being a different kind of source to pull from but I don't think it did much to further my understanding of the Civil Rights Movement.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kandace Greene

    I enjoyed reading about some of the figures that arent known as well. It can be easy to just care about the well-known people, while forgetting that the movement required many people in order for there to be progress. This book encouraged me so much. It made me think of Newtons quote If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants. I enjoyed reading about some of the figures that aren’t known as well. It can be easy to just care about the well-known people, while forgetting that the movement required many people in order for there to be progress. This book encouraged me so much. It made me think of Newton’s quote “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

  7. 5 out of 5

    Keith Holding

    Very powerful and informative. These kinds of interviews and first hand/second hand accounts are so important to understanding exactly where we were. And how we can do better. With Strong and unbreakable women like this, we can see exactly what kind of fight the human spirit has. For equality, and to overcome dark and hostile times.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lexi Moody

    Read this book if you are unfamiliar with these remarkable women.

  9. 5 out of 5

    T.L. Cooper

    Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement by Janet Dewart Bell highlights how often women get written out of the collective history with this collection of mini-memoirs about women instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement. I've read many books over the past several years that have forced me to think about my history classes in a new way. As I read these women's stories told from each woman's perspective, I found some stories easier to read than others. Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement by Janet Dewart Bell highlights how often women get written out of the collective history with this collection of mini-memoirs about women instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement. I've read many books over the past several years that have forced me to think about my history classes in a new way. As I read these women's stories told from each woman's perspective, I found some stories easier to read than others. Some stories were emotional. Some were more analytical. All provide insight into lives I can only understand through their stories. I saw places where I related and others where I couldn't relate at all. These women's stories exemplified courage, determination, intelligence, and a willingness to work hard without seeking glory. I wanted more. I wanted to know more about each one. I wanted each of these women to receive the recognition they deserve on a larger scale. I wanted to know what other women were left out of the story. I wanted to ask every history teacher I've ever had, "Where were the women when you taught me history?" That's the power of a well-written book of engaging stories. It not only provides information and perspectives one might not have otherwise entertained but pushes one to ask questions. I couldn't get enough of Lighting the Fires of Freedom and didn't want it to end. Lighting the Fires of Freedom lit a fire in my heart and mind pushing me to question the holes in history that might just provide a more inclusive, well-rounded, honest narrative if filled.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Cordell Ford

    I purchased this book and began reading it for a research paper about the impact of African American Women during the Civil Rights Movement. It was a really insightful read. I enjoyed reading the interviews with each woman. I particularly enjoyed learning about Leah Chase and her restaurant in New Orleans. She was actually the inspiration for Princess Tiana in Disney's Princess and the Frog! How cool is that! I definitely recommend reading this book if you are interested in the Civil Rights I purchased this book and began reading it for a research paper about the impact of African American Women during the Civil Rights Movement. It was a really insightful read. I enjoyed reading the interviews with each woman. I particularly enjoyed learning about Leah Chase and her restaurant in New Orleans. She was actually the inspiration for Princess Tiana in Disney's Princess and the Frog! How cool is that! I definitely recommend reading this book if you are interested in the Civil Rights Movement!

  11. 5 out of 5

    TammyJo Eckhart

    Among all the "important" people books I've been reading in the past couple of years, most are mini-biographies. This book standards out not because of the subject but because of the format: 9 interviews with women who were active if not widely known as leaders in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1940-70s and beyond. Except for a brief introduction to each activist, the text is entirely their own words making this a wonderful source of any scholar, professional or lay. Each interview had Among all the "important" people books I've been reading in the past couple of years, most are mini-biographies. This book standards out not because of the subject but because of the format: 9 interviews with women who were active if not widely known as leaders in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1940-70s and beyond. Except for a brief introduction to each activist, the text is entirely their own words making this a wonderful source of any scholar, professional or lay. Each interview had accompany photographs at the beginning, before the introduction, and at the end. This gives us a face to put with the words certainly but when women of color are made invisible by the dominant culture it is also an empowering act. A few extra photos would have been a big bonus but compared to many of these types of books I've been getting to review, these are important and rare. Most interviews list a date and a format label - face-to-face or telephone for example -- but not all of them and that is a criticism because how an interview is conducted can impact the information gathered. Similarly we get the the recollections broken up by section headers but none of the questions that would at the very least need to start off such conversations. Questions impract answers, how the interviewer reacts impacts further sharing, so these are details that I as a historian want to know.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Russell

    If you're looking for a primary source for a research paper, this is great. These women explain in their own words their feelings about the movement and their place in it. Alternatively, they explain it in their own words. Which can be slow or circular at times. While I admire an oral history as much as the next person, for my own casual reading, I would prefer something that does the interpretation for me.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Corinne

    This was an incredible book! It explores different African American Women in The Civil Rights Movement, and each segment had me wanting to learn more about all of them. 2018 Reading Women Challenge - A book by an African American Woman about Civil Rights

  14. 4 out of 5

    Eric Bottorff

    Wonderful work of oral history, and a solid contribution to the literature on women in the civil rights and black freedom movement.

  15. 4 out of 5

    LauraSue

    I learned so much from this book.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ann Lolita

    Awesome stories of brave faithful women fir their cause!!

  17. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    Really interesting to hear, direct from the interviewee/subject/activist/leaders, what they thought of their role, their activism, how they got there, where it was situated in history... Recommend.

  18. 4 out of 5

    TJ

    Interesting read. Not sure what I expected. But a good history lesson. Wanted some interviews to be longer and others shorter but oh well

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carol

    Please see my review on Amazon.com under C.Wong. Thank you.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Shannan Harper

    Finally. A book about some of the women that were an integral part of the civil rights movement. It's about time they got the recognition they so richly deserve.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah - All The Book Blog Names Are Taken

    I received a free digital ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is a highly valuable oral history that any student of the Civil Rights Movement must read, as well as those in general interested in the important figures who are a bit more unknown, despite their significant contributions. See my full review on my blog: https://allthebookblognamesaretaken.b...

  22. 5 out of 5

    Amy Robertson

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mona Ahmadi

  24. 4 out of 5

    Yvonne Sallis

  25. 4 out of 5

    Howard

    This is a seminal text on the role black women played in the civil rights movement. Most of the texts of the movement have been written about men this is based on women. This could be an excellent text for either a womens studies or African American class. I recommend this text. I have already ordered my copy. This is a seminal text on the role black women played in the civil rights movement. Most of the texts of the movement have been written about men this is based on women. This could be an excellent text for either a women’s studies or African American class. I recommend this text. I have already ordered my copy.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jade

    APRIL 22, 2018 IN BOOK REVIEWS, ORAL HISTORY Lighting the Fires of Freedom by Janet Dewart Bell is a collection of oral histories recorded either in person or over the phone of 9 African American women whose involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, and whose accomplishments beyond that were both important and notable. However we rarely, if ever, hear their names mentioned nowadays. Janet Dewart Bell shines a necessary light on these women, on their accomplishments and contributions to the APRIL 22, 2018 IN BOOK REVIEWS, ORAL HISTORY Lighting the Fires of Freedom by Janet Dewart Bell is a collection of oral histories recorded either in person or over the phone of 9 African American women whose involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, and whose accomplishments beyond that were both important and notable. However we rarely, if ever, hear their names mentioned nowadays. Janet Dewart Bell shines a necessary light on these women, on their accomplishments and contributions to the movement and to society, and on the ongoing work they have done through their lives. Lighting the Fires of Freedom gives us the voices of Leah Chase, Dr June Jackson Christmas, Aileen Clarke Hernandez, Diane Nash, Judy Richardson, Kathleen Cleaver, Gay McDougall, Gloria Richardson, and Myrlie Evers. I’ve made it a priority this year to read as diverse as possible, and also as close to the source as possible. I jumped on this book as soon as I saw it as there is so much more to the civil rights movement and beyond that we never hear about. Women, especially African American women seem to be erased from the history they helped create (we never hear about Rosa Park’s activism before the famous bus incident for example), so this book is a much needed, and extremely important read. I love how Janet Dewart Bell makes sure each of the women’s voices is rendered correctly in her own words. It honestly feels as if you can hear them speak, their tone and way of speaking is very clear in the narrative. Oral histories are not always easy to read, and some of them flow more easily than others. I also loved how each narrative encompasses the global theme of leadership in the civil rights movement, and how important women were in keeping the movement actually moving. I have only lived in the US for about 14 years, but still, I feel like I should have known about at least a few of these women before I read this book. Some of these women are now in their 90’s (Aileen Hernandez passed away last year at 90), and their collective and individual contributions are amazing. They are honestly a real inspiration, and I am going to be researching all of them to learn as much as I can about them. Lighting the Fires of Freedom is inspiring and full of strength, purpose, drive, and leadership. It will be published on May 8, 2018 by The New Press. Thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for the advance copy!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Maria

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jbondandrews

  29. 4 out of 5

    Chermaine

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paulo

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