Pairing Picture Books and Primary Sources: Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford

Voice of Freedom

Voice of Freedom

Many of my pairings of picture books and primary sources lead me to photos and newspaper articles, but when searching for primary sources to pair with Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford, I found multiple radio and television clips that could help students make a connection to Hamer when paired with the picture book.

Voice of Freedom follows the life of Fannie Lou Hamer who grew up in a family of sharecroppers. Told as a first-person narrative, the book gives an account of Hamer trying, unsuccessfully, to register to vote because of Jim Crow laws and that experience being one of several moments of injustice that drove her to play an important role in the Civil Rights Movement.

Exploring Emotion in the Text and Illustrations

Students can begin to learn about Fannie Lou Hamer through Weatherford’s text and the illustrations from illustrator Ekua Holmes. On pages 14 through 21, Weatherford shares key moments in Hamer’s life between August 1962 and June 1963 where Hamer is being denied her right to vote, arrested, beaten, and much more. Holmes’s illustrations give readers another account of these moments. After reading the story, focus on these pages and ask students:

  • What emotions do you think Fannie Lou Hamer felt at these moments in her life?
  • How do you feel about these moments as you look back on them?
  • What specific passages or parts of the illustration elicited emotions from you? What were the emotions?

Stories like this can bring out powerful emotions from students. Being able to verbalize them and point out what in the story and in their own life evokes the emotions can be powerful for readers when talking about the story.

Preparing to Use an Audio Primary Source with Students

Students will benefit from having read the picture book because it will give them an understanding of these key moments in Hamer’s life. When preparing to have students listen to an audio primary source, there are some key considerations.

  • If you want students to react and interact with emotions, let them know prior to listening to the source. It will allow them to focus on those emotions as they listen.
  • As students listen to an audio primary source, many will need or want to listen to all or part of the eight-minute clip. If students can listen individually or in pairs around the library or classroom, prepare for that. If not, plan to play the clip at least twice.
  • Unlike text or visual primary sources, audiovisual sources take a set amount of time. For this clip, I’d likely set 16 minutes aside for students to listen and react to the clip. That is in addition to whole-class discussion and preparing the students for the activity.
  • As students react to the clip, give them somewhere to document their reaction. Remember that emotions do not need to be documented in words. Students may be more comfortable documenting an emotion in symbols or pictures.

Exploring Emotion in Primary Sources

Taking a related primary source and going through the same exercise can give students a deeper understanding of the moment, the emotions surrounding it, and the students’ emotional reactions to it. Take the audio recording of Fannie Lou Hamer’s testimony at the 1964 Democratic National Convention where she gives her own account of the same moments shared in the picture book. While there are transcripts available, listening to the testimony, especially when focusing on emotional aspects and reactions to the source, can be beneficial.

After students listen, interact, and react to the audio, pose the same questions as you did with the book. In addition, ask students:

  • What new information did you learn from the audio recording?
  • How did the audio give you a better idea about Fannie Lou Hamer’s emotions about these events?
  • What, if any changes, did you have to how you emotionally reacted to the events after listening to Hamer give her account?

It can be difficult for students to identify, express, and discuss emotions connected with historical events, but sometimes the pairing of picture books and primary sources can give a platform for that to be practiced. More audiovisual and text-based primary sources connected to Voice of Freedom can be found in my curated primary source set.


Author: Tom Bober

Tom Bober is a school librarian at RM Captain Elementary, 2018 Library Journal Mover and Shaker, former Teacher in Residence at the Library of Congress, and author of the upcoming book Elementary Educator’s Guide to Primary Sources: Strategies for Teaching. He writes the Picture Books and Primary Sources posts for AASL’s KQ blog and has written articles for several publications. Tom also presents at conferences, runs workshops, and gives webinars to promote the use primary sources in student learning. He began his career as an elementary classroom teacher, was also an educational technologist, and has spent the last nine years as a school librarian.

Categories: Blog Topics, Collection Development, Student Engagement/ Teaching Models

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