FIRE IN MY SOUL: ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON
Foreword by Coretta Scott King
FIRE IN MY SOUL:ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON by Joan Steinau Lester is the first full-length biography of an exceptional life.
"An extraordinary narrative."
-Black Issues Book Review
"An engaging narrative of the life and times of a remarkable individual."
-The Washington Post
"A gratifying biography."
"Fire in My Soul has the content and wonderful writing to make one thoroughly thrilled...This is history, which reads like a fluid beautiful novel."
"Norton is an inspirational figure to us all. Hers is a truly fascinating story, and I am delighted that Joan Lester has chosen to tell it in such an engaging way."
-Henry louis Gates, Jr.
“Eleanor Holmes Norton's compelling biography is the story of a true American original.”
For more than four decades, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Democratic Congresswoman from Washington, D.C., has been one of the most impassioned crusaders and legislators America has ever known. Aptly nicknamed the “Warrior on the Hill,” Norton has been at the center of some of the most pivotal moments in contemporary American history. FIRE IN MY SOUL, by award-winning author Joan Steinau Lester, captures all the struggles, battles, and triumphs of Norton’s remarkable career. A meticulously researched account by Lester, FIRE IN MY SOUL is a compelling story of a fascinating take-charge leader and her equally stirring times.
Beginning with Norton’s great-grandfather’s escape from slavery, Lester traces the family roots, providing a detailed background of the influences that shaped Norton’s fiery and passionate disposition. Lester examines Norton’s earliest involvements in politics—stretching back to the eighth grade—through her formative years at Antioch College in Ohio. Here, Norton developed the goals that would direct her life: achieve, advance the race, and do something worthwhile for humanity. “Antioch pushed me, allowed me to push toward my more radical self, the part that was already very skeptical about middle-class values,” Norton states. “The black middle class was narrow, proper, and unadventuresome, and I did not want to relive it.”
As head of Antioch’s NAACP chapter, Norton’s successful efforts to desegregate local theaters and restaurants led to a much greater involvement in the civil rights crusade in other areas of the country. “I felt myself a part of the civil rights movement before there was a movement,” Norton comments. “I was always frustrated that we got our race consciousness so late. When things finally broke out (by 1960) all I could think was, ‘What took us so long?’” A star at Antioch, Norton went on to Yale Law School, which led to her work in the 1960s as a lawyer for the ACLU.
For the next two decades, Norton served in a variety of positions, each of which focused on the issues that were central to her life’s work. She was chosen as the Commissioner on Human Rights in New York; named by President Carter to be the first woman to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; served on the board of three Fortune 500 companies; worked relentlessly for reform in South Africa; and in 1980 she was named one of the twenty-five most influential women in America. Her numerous accomplishments include writing the sexual harassment guidelines, arguing a Free Speech case successfully before the Supreme Court, and earning a Senate hearing for Anita Hill.
FIRE IN MY SOUL also details Norton’s effective and inspiring career as a congresswoman. Having taught law through the 1980’s, Norton won her first congressional seat in 1990 for the federal district of Washington, D.C., her hometown. Lester provides a riveting account of how Norton overcame numerous personal and professional obstacles to not only effect positive changes for her district, but also for widespread, national causes like free speech and civil rights. With an uncanny ability to persuade both Democrats and Republicans, Norton has become one of the most respected leaders in Washington, D.C. Home to her family for four generations, D.C. has a long history of its own travails and challenges as a unique federal enclave. As its embattled delegate, Norton has fought tirelessly to secure new financial arrangements between Congress and the District, earning the District’s first Congressional voting rights in 200 years (later repealed), and her current mission of earning full democracy. “That she is now her city’s voice in Congress is a miracle match,” Lester writes.
Through FIRE IN MY SOUL, we see why Norton remains an iconic torch-bearer for the legacy of the civil rights movement and a hero to her disenfranchised constituents. Only gaining speed with her every success, Norton’s work is far from over and her passion for the issues closest to her heart will never wane. “People know this woman with the long-haul commitment will keep leading the charge from equal pay for female congressional custodians to rights bills,” Lester writes. “This woman who has had so many incarnations—civil rights champion, lawyer, law professor, and member of congress—is gearing up for new battles. Like other groundbreaking women of her generation, she has had to be armored and tough, buttressing her naturally argumentative character. But it has been a gift to witness the warrior’s complexity.”
“No person has been more crucial to the cause of free speech and civil rights than Eleanor Holmes Norton. This fascinating book is the story of one remarkable woman’s journey to a distinguished career, spanning some of the most critical years in American history.
I couldn’t put it down.”
—Vernon E. Jordan, Jr.
“ I am glad that I am a woman during the same time that [Norton] is. She makes me proud of us.”
“Just when you’re ready to pack up the House of Representatives and ship them to Bazookastan, along comes a reminder that some among them actually strive for social justice—such as that rare bird Eleanor Holmes Norton. A well-framed memoir, satisfyingly candid while also abrim with political theory: a filigreed work that maps Norton’s evolution as an advocate for human rights.”
"The roots of Norton's activist are easy to discern in the proud and loving portrayal here of her ancestors, fugitive slaves who fashioned a life in Washington, D.C. The importance of family--a theme Norton will return to again and again in her career--is seen as she describes the importance of her mother and father.'He brought home his insistence on being treated with respect...a black man insisting in every way you could find upon your dignity.'
"Lester's thorough portrait is a compelling and inspiring homage to a legacy still in progress.
Forecast: Published in time for Black History Month, this should appeal to readers focused on civil rights as well as women's rights."
About the Author
Joan Steinau Lester is an award-winning commentator, op-ed columnist and author of The Future of White Men and Other Diversity Dilemmas and Taking Charge: Every Woman’s Action Guide. Her work has appeared in publications such as the Los Angles Times, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, and San Francisco Chronicle. She has been regularly featured on National Public Radio and Public Radio International.
FIRE IN MY SOUL
Joan Steinau Lester as Authorized by Eleanor Holmes Norton
Simon and Schuster, Atria Books, 2003
Atria Books, January, 2004
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