Voice of Freedom: Author Carole Boston Weatherford's 2016 BGHB NF Honor Speech

I could not have written these poems without the ancestors. I call on them again and again, and their spirits continue to speak to and through me.
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

That African American spiritual was Fannie Lou Hamer’s favorite song.

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Malcolm X called Hamer “the country’s number one freedom-fighting woman.” Yet today — nearly forty years after her death — many people, young and old, do not even know her name. So I am delighted that Voice of Freedom is now inspiring readers of all ages.

Hamer was the youngest of twenty children born to Mississippi sharecroppers. At age twelve, she quit school to work in the cotton fields. She was a forty-five-year-old sharecropper’s wife when young grassroots organizers brought their voter registration drive to Sunflower County in 1962. Before that, Fannie Lou hadn’t even realized that voting was her right as a citizen. But once she found out, she mustered the courage to go the courthouse to register.

Of course she faced opposition: literacy tests, a poll tax, eviction, and death threats. But she eventually prevailed. A rousing singer and orator, she traveled the South advocating voting rights and demanding equality. In a Mississippi jail, she was beaten within an inch of her life for having dared to sit down at a whites-only lunch counter. The beating left her with permanent injuries and worsened her limp. But she kept right on marching toward the Promised Land.

We should remember Fannie Lou’s sacrifice as state legislatures try to erode the Voting Rights Act with policies that limit ballot access for the young, the poor, the elderly, and people of color.

Fannie Lou Hamer is best known for saying, “All my life I’ve been sick and tired. Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

I’d like to close with Fannie Lou’s wisdom in her own words.
“The truest thing that we have in this country…is little children…If they think you’ve made a mistake, kids speak out.”

“When you read…you can help yourself and others.”

“I feel sorry for anybody that could let hate wrap them up. Ain’t no such thing as I can hate anybody and hope to see God’s face.”

“Out of one blood God made all nations.”

I thank Fannie Lou Hamer for shining her light and for allowing me to stand in it.

Can I get an “amen”?

From the January/February 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Read Voice of Freedom illustrator Ekua Holmes's speech here. For more on the 2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, click on the tag BGHB16.

Carole Boston Weatherford

Carole Boston Weatherford received a 2023 Boston Globe–Horn Book Honor Award for Picture Book for Standing in the Need of Prayer (Crown), illustrated by Frank Morrison. She won the 2022 CSK Author Award and a 2021 Boston Globe–Horn Book Nonfiction Honor for Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre (Carolrhoda), illustrated by Floyd Cooper. She has written many other children's books, including 2021 Newbery honoree Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom; 2016 Boston Globe-Horn Book Nonfiction Author honoree Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement (both Candlewick); R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul (Atheneum); and Freedom in Congo Square (Little Bee). She teaches at Fayetteville State University in North Carolina. (Photo by Gerald Young.)

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