When doing research for her first book, African Americans of Chattanooga, author Rita Lorraine Hubbard kept coming across the same name in footnotes and newspaper articles: William Lewis. As a historian and writer, Ms. Hubbard was driven to investigate further. What she discovered was an amazing story that is now a published children’s book, Hammering for Freedom: The William Lewis Story.
Born into slavery in Chattanooga, William “Bill” Lewis learned the blacksmith trade as soon as he was old enough to grip a hammer. He proved to be an exceptional blacksmith, and earned so much money fixing and creating tools that he was allowed to keep a little money for himself. With just a few coins in his pocket, Mr. Lewis set a daring plan in motion: he was determined to free his family.
Mr. Lewis eventually became a well-off man, even receiving an invitation with his wife to Booker T. Washington’s wedding. He was also involved in another piece of Chattanooga history: the Andrews’ Raid, where he showed kindness to soldiers who were being held in a local jail.
In her research, Ms. Hubbard said, “I learned just how long and hard this man worked. The nails, horseshoes and tools he hammered only brought him a few pennies or nickels—perhaps $1.25 at the most, yet he eventually purchased himself, his wife, and his family members for hundreds and/or thousands of dollars. That’s dedication.”
Hammering for Freedom is illustrated by fine artist John Holyfield and published by Lee & Low Books. It received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus Reviews and was named a Notable Children’s Book by the American Library Association.
Ms. Hubbard is the author of a number of nonfiction books for young adults and runs the children's book review site Picture Book Depot and the historical site The Black History Channel. While researching her book African Americans of Chattanooga: A History of Unsung Heroes, Ms. Hubbard discovered William "Bill" Lewis’s story buried in some earlier history books. She was greatly moved by Mr. Lewis’s love of his family and determination to overcome the odds. Ms. Hubbard lives in Chattanooga.
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