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Book Review


“TheSenator and the Sharecropper”is a book written by Chris Myers Asch, which focuses on the freedomstruggles by recounting the lives of two personalities Fannie LouHamer and James O. Eastland. The book documents the conflict andstruggle for black equality that took place in the mid-twentiethcentury between Senator James Eastland and the sharecropper FannieLou Hamer. Through the eyes of Hamer and Eastland, Asch reveals thetroubled ties in Sunflower County, Mississippi, as well as thepersistence struggle for civil rights, social and economic justice.In this fascinating book, race, economic, social injustice andpolitics play a major role.

SunflowerCounty, according to the author, is a mysterious land known to be ofseeming contradictions. At one point, the land is known to have therichest soil, but, on the other hand, it has widespread poverty thatcontinues to linger (Asch, p.12). Although, the County is renowned asthe source of civil right movement, it continues to struggle withissues of racial inequality. Asch introduces the readers to the twocharacters and personalities to provide a contrast between twopivotal figures who confronted one another at the height of thestruggle for civil right on the political stage. James O. Eastlandwas the senator, a wealthy cotton planter, as well as, a powerfulpolitical figure since he was in the U.S Senate while Fannie LouHamer was a sharecropper, poor, civil rights activist, and barelyeducated female who lived next to Eastland’s plantation.

Inthe book, Eastland represents the side of a deep opposition againstthe civil rights movement. During Eastland’s occupancy in office aschairman in the Senate Committee, he is well known for beingruthlessly and a strong supporter of the rights of the states as hebolted up civil right legislation. For this reasons, he also stronglyopposed the civil rights movement. One the other hand, Hamer rose andbecame a spiritual leader, despite her low origins, where she led theMississippi movement, which struggled for civil right.

Accordingto Estes (p.62), the Mississippi project raised broad questions aboutgender, sexual mores of the segregated South, and racialdiscrimination. However, the Mississippi fought back against racialdiscrimination and oppression in a nonviolent political protest as itwas the safest way of protecting families especially for men.Although nonviolent activism was perhaps seen as more passive form ofresistance, it was the potent moral force and savvy politicalstrategy that brought real change in the southern society (Estes,63). Eventually, it was evident that the nonviolent protest was aneffective way to undercut the white supremacy and gain politicalpower as James O. Eastland was eventually brought down the by Civilright movement. For this reason, many refer to Hamer as a woman whoshook the nation’s foundation.

ChrisM. Asch’s book uses various sources, which portrays that theinformation therein is well researched, as it is also incrediblydetailed. According to Asch (p.1258) in the Journal of the Americanhistory, he claims that the book grew out of his own dissertation inthe University of North Carolina, as well as, his own public servicein Sunflower country, one of Mississippi poorest counties. Aschadmits that he spent most of his early adulthood in Sunflower Countyfirst as an elementary school teacher, and later as the co-founder ofa non-profiting organization. Having worked and lived in the county,holds that he is part of this troubled place and can relate andobtain first hand information on the progress of the county ascompared to its historical events. Asch also uses the historicalrecord of the county to give a detailed story that follows the lifeof two high-profile Mississippians by offering a broad overview ofthe international and national trends that impacted the life in the19th century to the present in the County. Thus, the bibliographiesof Hamer and Eastland are quite an effective source for Asch’s bookin understanding the history of Sunflower County, economicprogression and stagnation, as well as, the predominant racialsegregation and interaction.

Inmy opinion, the book gives a fresh insight that traces back thehistorical events that took place around the 1950s to 1960s. Thishistory illuminates issues such as racial inequality, poverty, andsegregation that shed understanding, and continues to define life formany living in the county. The sobering reflection allows the readerto understand why economic divisions and racial mistrust remainprofound, and why the culture of segregation persists in thecommunity, and continues to take on the children. Furthermore, theauthor’s aim, which is to explain why Sunflower country it is theway it is, is achieved as he talks about the ingrained poverty andeconomic stagnation evident in the county. For this reason, I foundthe book informative and especially relevant for contemporary readersin the county. Political leaders are also enlightened about peoplelike Eastland and heroic activists such as Hamer, as well as, theneed for social justice, equality, and social changes.


Asch,Chris. TheSenator and the sharecropper: The freedom struggle of JamesO.Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer.The Journal of American History. NY: New York press. 2008. Print

Asch,Chris. TheSenator and the sharecropper: The freedom struggle of JamesO.Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer.NY: Univof North Carolina Press.2011. Print

Estes,Steve. IAm a Man!: Race, Manhood, and the Civil Rights Movement: Race,Manhood, and the Civil Rights Movement. NY:University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Print