The Senator and the Sharecropper

The Freedom Struggles of James O. Eastland and Fannie Lou Hamer

The epic struggle for black equality in the twentieth century, told through the deeply intertwined life histories of the staunch segregationist and his sharecropper nemesis

“This elegant book yields fresh insight into the tumultuous decades of the 1950s and 1960s and sobering reflection on why segregation, poverty, and racial inequality continues to define life for many in Mississippi and beyond.” —Patricia A. Sullivan, Emory University

The Senator and the Sharecropper is the story of two larger-than-life personalities from one humble corner of the Mississippi Delta: the Senator, James O. Eastland, a fabulously wealthy cotton planter and one of the most powerful figures in the U.S. Senate, and the sharecropper, Fannie Lou Hamer, who grew up desperately poor a few miles from Eastland’s plantation. During Eastland’s long tenure as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he ruthlessly and effectively bottled up civil rights legislation on Capitol Hill. From Hamer’s lowly origins, she emerged as a spiritual leader of the Civil Rights Movement that eventually toppled Eastland—a woman who “shook the foundations of the nation,” in the words of Andrew Young.

The Senator and the Sharecropper tells how these two pivotal figures came to confront one another on the national political stage at the height of the civil rights struggle. Their intertwined histories—set against a backdrop of Sunflower County’s rise and fall as a center of cotton agriculture—offer a powerful window onto the unraveling of Jim Crow during the upheavals of the 1960s and, in our own time, the persistence of profound inequality in the post–civil rights era.