Here is the remarkable story of U.S. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton -- impassioned civil rights activist, hard-driving legislator, and one of the most powerful women in American history.
They call her the "Warrior on the Hill," acknowledging the battles she's waged as a political pioneer across more than four decades of American history. Perhaps more than anyone else, she has taken to heart Eleanor Roosevelt's famous pronouncement that "every political woman needs to develop skin as tough as rhinoceros hide."
Joan Steinau Lester shared much of the last forty years with Eleanor Holmes Norton. They met in 1958 when they were both students at Antioch College. Now an acclaimed author, Lester shares her friendship with the congresswoman and tells the story of one woman's rise to leadership. Charting forty years of political and personal challenge, Fire in My Soul shows Norton marching on the Capitol to demand a Senate hearing for Anita Hill; grilling Army generals about sex abuse; arguing before the Supreme Court to uphold first amendment rights, even for a segregationist; and much more. Norton's story is organically linked to Washington, D.C., home to her family for four generations, and reveals why she is now the voice of the city.
This fascinating biography, told largely in Norton's words, showcases as never before the many facets of a woman who remains an iconic torch-bearer for the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. Scores of conversations with Norton and nearly a hundred interviews with colleagues, family, and friends have made Fire in My Soul a remarkable document of how one extraordinary woman helped to effect lasting change in the ways we interact across racial and gender lines.
Norton, member of Congress, professor and longtime civil rights activist, lives by the motto "You can't win what you don't fight for." Syndicated op-ed columnist Lester (The Future of White Men and Other Diversity Dilemmas) tells Norton's extraordinary story through extensive interviews with colleagues and friends, but mostly through Norton's own words. Born in 1937 in segregated Washington, D.C., Norton was motivated by the knowledge that her great-grandfather had escaped slavery in Virginia. Smart and intense, Norton recognized early on that education and a strong work ethic were the recipe for success. After graduating from Antioch College (where she was the only black student) and Yale Law School, she became the assistant legal director of the ACLU. In 1970 she became New York City's first woman commissioner of human rights, and her ability to bridge racial and gender gaps made her a success. She went on to become the first woman chair of the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Norton has always seen obstacles as opportunities, and her civil rights crusades have become legendary, from helping organize the Free South Africa campaign to marching on Congress to get a hearing for Anita Hill. In 1990, she began her long career as congresswoman from Washington, D.C. a post she still holds. A self-professed workaholic, Norton knows her demeanor and drive have endeared her to some and estranged her from others. Steinau's thorough portrait is a compelling and inspiring homage to a legacy still in progress.