- NAME: James Farmer
- OCCUPATION: Civil Rights Activist, Journalist
- BIRTH DATE: January 12, 1920
- DEATH DATE: July 09, 1999
- Did You Know?: James Farmer's life as a star college debater during his adolescence was depicted in the Denzel Washington film The Great Debaters.
- Did You Know?: James Farmer's father was the first African-American citizen to earn a doctorate in Texas.
- EDUCATION: Wiley College, Howard University
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Marshall, Texas
- PLACE OF DEATH: Fredericksburg, Virginia
- Full Name: James Leonard Farmer Jr.
- AKA: James Leonard Farmer
- AKA: James L. Farmer Jr.
- AKA: James L. Farmer
- AKA: James Farmer
- AKA: Jim Farmer
Best Known For
Civil rights leader James Farmer headed the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and organized the historic Freedom Rides of 1961.
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Born on January 12, 1920, in Marshall, Texas, James Farmer was a star college debater before going on to lead the Congress for Racial Equality, which would become one of the most prominent organizations of the Civil Rights era. A devotee of Gandhi's nonviolent strategies, Farmer also organized the historic Freedom Rides, which lead to interstate travel desegregation. He died on July 9, 1999.
"I would like for 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."
"Life was tenuous in movement days, but the grasping at liberty, and the reaching toward happiness ennobled life for this nation."
"When a Negro child goes through the doors of a segregated school, he knows implicitly that his culture is telling him to go there because he is not fit to be with others, and every time a Negro child hears of a white parent who becomes hysterical at the thought that his child will have to endure the likes of him, he feels the pressure of his inferiority a little more firmly."
"I lived in two worlds. One was the volatile and explosive one of the new black Jacobins and the other was the sophisticated and genteel one of the white and black liberal establishment. As a bridge, I was called on by each side for help in contacting the other."
"You have to have a plan, and there were no plans in the '60s beyond the Civil Rights Act of '64 and the Voting Rights Act of '65. I think that was the great weakness of our leadership then. We didn't do any long range planning."
Freedom Ride leader James Leonard Farmer Jr. was born on January 12, 1920, in Marshall, Texas. His mother was a teacher and his father a minister who was also the first African-American citizen to earn a doctorate in the state. Surrounded by literature and learning, the young Farmer was an excellent student, skipping grades and becoming a freshman at Wiley College in 1934 at the age of 14. While there he continued to excel as part of the debate team, and his eloquence and storytelling abilities would later be heard nationally as an adult.
(Farmer's life as a star college orator was portrayed in the Denzel Washington-directed film The Great Debaters, where Farmer Jr. was played by Denzel Whitaker and his father by Forest Whitaker, with no real-life relation between the two actors.)
Previously contemplating a career in medicine, Farmer then thought he would follow in his dad's footsteps and take up ministerial work, earning his divinity degree from Howard University in 1941. While there he learned about the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi. Farmer studied much of Gandhi's philosophies and would apply the leader's ideas of nonviolent civil resistance to U.S. racial desegregation.
Opting not to forge a career in religion either, Farmer was a conscientious objector during World War II and worked with the Fellowship of Reconciliation by the early 1940s. Living in Chicago, Illinois, he was also a TV screenwriter and magazine scribe.
Farmer was in a first marriage with Winnie Christie from 1945 to '46, and in 1949 married Lula A. Petersen, with whom he had two children.
Committed to racial harmony, Farmer, his friend George Houser and a multi-racial group of colleagues decided that they would desegregate a Chicago eatery via a 1942 sit-in. They thus formed the Committee of Racial Equality, with the name later becoming the Congress of Racial Equality. With Farmer elected national chairman, CORE developed a mostly white North-based membership with various chapters, yet would eventually find itself becoming deeply involved in the South.
Farmer had some periods away from the organization, but with the Civil Rights Movement making headlines with historical rulings and actions, he was elected to become national director of CORE in February 1961. Farmer thus became one of the most prominent African-American leaders of the era, joining the ranks of figures like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Roy Wilkins.
Farmer worked on launching the Freedom Rides with the intention of challenging segregation on intestate bus travel, which had technically been declared illegal in 1946 and which CORE had taken action upon previously.
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