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James Farmer

James Farmer, as founder of CORE, architect of the Freedom Rides, and advocate for nonviolence, inspired and made change throughout the Civil Rights Movement.
by

Brooke Felsheim

on 4 April 2013

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Transcript of James Farmer

Courage is what it took to achieve the fearful task of overcoming racism and discrimination. Although this was daunting, the civil rights activists of the 1950's and 1960's were able to accept the task- recognizing the danger, yet still moving forward because of their strong beliefs. James Farmer was one of these people. In spite of the many obstacles he faced, such as receiving countless death threats and violent encounters, he was one to hold strong and true to his words, actions, and beliefs, making him a true leader of the Civil Rights Movement. " , after all, is not being unafraid, but doing what needs to be done in spite of fear.” Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 3. -James Farmer * Marshall, TX Early Life James Farmer, Jr. was born in Marshall, Texas on January 12th, 1920 to James Leonard Farmer, Sr., the first African American in Texas to earn a doctorate degree, and Pearl Marion Houston, a teacher. Raised in an environment that encouraged and valued education, Farmer was able to demonstrate his intelligence at a very young age. When he was only fourteen years old, after skipping several grades, he entered Wiley College (where his father taught) and became a prominent member of their national champion debate team. In 1938 he graduated from Wiley and went on to study at Howard University's School of Religion (graduating three years later). As a young boy, Farmer was very "shielded" from the worst aspects of discrimination. Yet, as he grew older, especially during his times in college, his awareness and frustration began to grow, along with his determination and motivation to change the way the South behaved. This would later lead him to become very active in a variety of ways during the civil rights movement. James Farmer, seated, reading. The sign behind him reads: "END SEGREGATION ACROSS THE NATION" James Farmer was a pivotal figure of the Civil Rights Movement. His powerful voice, as an advocate for nonviolent direct action, the founder of CORE, and the organizer of the freedom rides, left an incredible impact on the world today. As one of the movement's most important leaders, he helped inspire and bring about equality, integration, and change. James Farmer giving one of many speeches. C R E ongress f acial quality * Chicago, IL Rather than becoming a minister (as he was expected to), James Farmer decided to devote his career to civil rights and social justice and began working for places such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). He moved to Chicago, Illinois to work as an organizer for FOR, and this is where he and a few others began to craft plans to create the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). CORE would be a new interracial organization that would apply nonviolent direct action to the international race issue, and the organization in which Farmer would become most involved. Beginnings of CORE made by Brooke Felsheim James Farmer (One of CORE's campaign buttons) In 1942, CORE was officially co-founded by James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, George Houser, and Bernice Fisher. Its purpose was to respond directly to the challenges of American racism by using the Ghandian tactics of nonviolence. CORE, which was aimed toward the goal of integration, included both black and white members. CORE began to take action in the 1940's by organizing sit-ins, boycotts, and other methods of change. In 1947, James Farmer participated in CORE's campaign of sit-ins which successfully ended the segregated practices of two Chicago restaurants. By the time of 1961, Farmer was elected CORE's national director, in which he would apply much action toward the Civil Rights Movement, especially during his organization of the freedom rides. Claude Sitton, New York Times journalist who covered the south during the Civil Rights Movement, wrote about Farmer's leadership of CORE:

"CORE under Mr. Farmer often served as the razor's edge of the movement. It was to CORE that the four Greensboro, N.C., students turned after staging the first in the series of sit-ins that swept the South in 1960.

It was CORE that forced the issue of desegregation in interstate transportation with the Freedom Rides of 1961.

It was CORE's James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner -- a black and two whites -- who became the first fatalities of the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964." (The three were murdered by a gang of Klansmen while investigating a burning church and promoting black voter registration). * * Petersburg, VA * Rock Hill, SC * Atlanta, GA * Anniston, AL * Montgomery, AL * Plaquemine, LA * New York, NY * Washington, DC. The Freedom Rides The freedom rides, beginning in 1961, were aimed at desegregating public transportation throughout the South. In 1961, CORE, with James Farmer as its leader, played the important role of organizing these rides. Consisting of both black and white men and women, the rides would travel by interstate buses through the Deep South and challenge the outdated Jim Crow laws of these regions. The freedom riders boarded the buses with the goal to have at least one interracial pair sit together, at least one group of blacks sitting in the front of the bus, and at least one group of whites sitting in the back of the bus (segregated buses always had whites in the front and blacks in the back). At stops along the way, whites and blacks entered "white" and "colored" areas opposite of their actual race, and sat together at segregated lunch counters. With a U.S. Supreme Court ruling (Boynton v. Virginia) that already declared segregation in all interstate public transportation facilities unconstitutional not being followed, the freedom rides were meant to test this while improving the effort for equality non-violently. On May 4th, 1961, the first group of Freedom Riders, led by James Farmer, left Washington, DC. on Greyhound and Trailways buses to begin their journey. ----------------- This was the very first stop of the freedom rides. -------- ----------- ------------- ----------- -------- ---------- Up until this point, the freedom riders had only encountered minor troubles. Rock Hill is where they received their first major run-in with white supremacist attitudes. --------------------- --------------------- ------------- Anniston, Alabama was another stop during the freedom rides. It was here that the riders encountered a very hostile mob, made up of local citizens and policemen. The mob slashed the tires of the bus and lit it on fire, almost killing the members by holding the doors shut. Images of the bus that was lit on fire. * Jackson, MS ---------------------------------- For most, Jackson, Mississippi was the conclusion of the freedom rides. Here, the Jackson police arrest many, including James Farmer, for the violation of "breach of peace." Mugshots of freedom riders arrested in Jackson, MS. Mugshot of James Farmer after being arrested as part of the freedom rides in Jackson, MS. James Farmer held an extremely powerful voice for nonviolence and against black nationalism and separation. As a speaker, James Farmer was extremely talented in delivering his views to the public. He was a very skilled debater, and
became one of the only people to ever
publicly debate Malcolm X. This video shows
part of this debate, in which Malcolm argues
separation, while Farmer argues integration. This debate took place at Cornell University in New York. (June 12, 1963) March on Washington James Farmer had been prepared to read a speech during the famous March on Washington event (which was co-sponsored by CORE), but unfortunately could not attend due to being jailed in Plaquemine for his involvement in protests. Floyd McKissick, CORE member, had to read his speech for him. Part of which read:
"We will not stop until the dogs stop biting us in the South, and the rats stop biting us in the North."
This quote further illustrated Farmer's motivation and determination. (This audio clip is of James Farmer telling of his reaction as he watched the March on Washington from a small TV set while in jail) “If I kicked the bucket tomorrow, I would like it to be known that I founded the Congress of Racial Equality in 1942, organized the freedom rides in 1961, and attempted to bring Gandhian techniques of nonviolence to the struggle for racial equality in this country.”
-James Farmer As he says it himself, the formation of CORE, organization of the freedom rides, and philosophy of non-violent direct action were Farmer's most important contributions to the Civil Rights Movement. CORE was an extremely significant organization, for it helped bring about change to the nation in a profound number of ways- the biggest being the freedom rides. As the architect of the freedom rides, Farmer helped plan an extraordinary movement that challenged unjust laws throughout the South. But throughout all of this, his views and demonstrations on nonviolence may have been the most crucial to the movement. Succumbed in violence around him, it would have been easy to give in. However, he, along with thousands of other activists, did not. In his ability to teach this to others, Farmer was a true leader. (This audio clip shows an instance in which James Farmer could have easily used violence, yet refused to) This document, written by
James Farmer, gives details
of the freedom rides to
President John. F. Kennedy. James Farmer became a great author as well as speaker. He published two books-
Freedom When in 1965, and his autobiography,
Lay Bare the Heart, in 1985. His autobiography told of his actions and others' actions during the Civil Rights Movement. In 1998, Farmer was awarded the Congressional Medal for Freedom by President Bill Clinton. “This is the highest civilian honor possible in this country and needless to say, I was honored and flattered. This is the cap of my career," James Farmer says upon receiving the award. July 9, 1999 James Farmer dies after a long battle with diabetes and an illness that claimed both his sight in one eye and the use of his legs. However, he did not leave with an empty legacy. His dreams of and actions toward racial equality have inspired both blacks and whites up to this day. James Farmer was an instumental member of the Civil Rights Movement. With his methods of non-violence, attitude toward change, tremendous speaking abilities (shown in the photograph to the left), monumental leadership, and outspoken bravery, he helped to shape the United States in positive ways. James Farmer has truly left his powerful impact on the Civil Rights Movement. Bibliography
"About James Farmer." Commemorating James Farmer. University of Mary Washington, n.d. Web. Mar. 2013. <http://jamesfarmer.umw.edu/about-james-farmer/>.
"About James Farmer." Freedom Rides 50th Anniversary Celebration RSS. University of Mary Washington, n.d. Web. Mar. 2013. <http://freedomrides.umw.edu/about-james-farmer/>.
"Civil Rights Giant James Farmer Dies / One of the `Big Four,' He Founded the Congress on Racial Equality." New York Times 10 July 1999: n. pag. SFGate. San Francisco Chronicle. Web. Mar. 2013. <http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Civil-Rights-Giant-James-Farmer-Dies-One-of-the-2921263.php>.
"James Farmer." CORE-Online. Congress of Racial Equality, 2011. Web. Mar. 2013. <http://www.core-online.org/History/james_farmer.htm>.
The James Farmer Lectures. N.p., n.d. Web. Mar. 2013. <http://jamesfarmerlectures.umwblogs.org/>.
"James Farmer." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. Mar. 2013. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/freedomriders/people/james-farmer>.
"James Farmer Project." James Farmer Project. Ed. Laura Gumkowski. N.p., 2008. Web. Mar. 2013.
"James L. Farmer Image Collection." University of Mary Washington’s Digital Archive. University of Mary Washington, n.d. Web. Mar. 2013. <http://archive.umw.edu/vital/access/manager/Collection/umw%3A1012>.
"Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement." Goodreads. Goodreads, 2013. Web. Mar. 2013. <http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2146691.Lay_Bare_the_Heart>.
"Letter from James Farmer to President John F. Kennedy." The Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute. Stanford University, n.d. Web. Mar. 2013. <http://mlk-kpp01.stanford.edu/index.php/encyclopedia/documentsentry/letter_from_james_farmer_to_president_john_f_kennedy/>.
Lisker, David. "Freedom Riders - A Brief History." Freedom Riders - A Brief History. 1961 Freedom Riders' 40th Reunion, 2001. Web. Mar. 2013. <http://www.freedomridersfoundation.org/id16.html>.
McMillan, Peter. "James Farmer." Spartacus Educational. N.p., n.d. Web. Mar. 2013. <http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAfarmerJ.htm>.
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