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!
“Revolutionaries are not interested in the normal operating of society. A revolutionary is the one that transforms that. The way in which they do it is by creating revolutionary movements, revolutionary concepts, revolutionary ideas.” - Kathleen Cleaver
“I believe in we.” Aileen Clarke Hernandez