By John David Smith
Oct. 23, 2010
In June 1960, Marion S. Barry Jr., chairman of the new Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, sent a statement of purpose to the
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"The Students," Barry explained, "feeling so deeply the evil of
racial segregation and believing in the principles of nonviolent
direct action, have risen to the time - assuming grave
responsibilities, suffering persecution, and pledging cooperation
until the wrongs of injustice and prejudice are removed from our land."
During the 1960s, SNCC membership surpassed 70,000 students - black
and white, male and female. They staged sit-ins at segregated lunch
counters, beaches and churches. Many went to jail for their
courageous acts. SNCC members held the front lines of the civil
Durham activist Faith S. Holsaert is one of the editors of this
extraordinary collection of reminiscences by 52 women, black, white
and Latina, now in their 60s and 70s, who joined SNCC. Their
first-person narratives, spanning the years 1961-1969, provide
stellar insights into how the women overcame fear, gained new skills
and grew in the movement.
In 1961 Holsaert, while still a teenager, left Barnard College to
join SNCC, "a world-class university: Resistance U," she recalls.
There Holsaert "met and learned from great thinkers who might be
domestic workers in Albany, Georgia, or erudite black students at
Jailed for her activism, Holsaert was fondled by police while she was
being booked. "I can still feel the claustrophobic heat of their
bodies," she writes, "and the memory makes me cringe." Holsaert
contracted hepatitis in jail and left SNCC as "an experienced fighter
- defiant and skeptical and at the same time filled with love for
those with whom I had worked."
"Hands on the Freedom Plow" underscores the neglected role women
played in the civil rights crusade. Women answered the call, assumed
weighty responsibilities, experienced persecution and worked together
in the cause of freedom and social justice. Their spirit remains
alive in this remarkable book.