Hammering for Freedom

By The Horn Book

William “Bill” Lewis was born into slavery in Tennessee on a plantation owned by Colonel Lewis. As a boy working alongside his mother, aunt, and siblings in the fields, he knew he wanted to do something to help his family. When the colonel decided Bill should become a blacksmith, the young man soon realized that with the money he was allowed to keep he could buy his freedom and that of his family. All through the years, he saved his money until he had enough to open his own shop. In 1837, Bill Lewis became the first African American blacksmith in Chattanooga, Tennessee—and he did not stop working until he was able to buy the freedom of all his family members. Hubbard’s straightforward but lyrical narrative is effectively illuminated with descriptive passages of Lewis at work in his shop. “Every morning, while the sky was still purple and blue, Bill stretched his muscles and gripped a hammer. Clang! Clang! All through the day, his hammer sang its song.” Rendered in smoothly textured acrylics, Holyfield’s art, with its characteristically elongated images (here, of Lewis with tools in his hands), dramatically conveys a sense of passion and purpose, themes attributable to Lewis’s mission in life. This is an inspiring and worthy picture-book biography of a man and his dreams fulfilled. Appended with an informative afterword and a list of sources.