Civil Rights Leader
Monday, November 13, 1989
James Farmer is the founder and former national director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The Marshall, Texas, native has spent most of his adult life as an activist for civil rights and social reform. During the explosive 1960s, he was one of the "Big Four in Civil Rights" with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Whitney Young of the National Urban League.
One of Lyndon Baines Johnson's appointments in his first week as president was with Farmer. Farmer was appointed assistant secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in 1969, but he "resigned in frustration" two years later.
In 1972, he served as president of the Council on Minority Planning and Strategy as well as associate director and then executive director of the Coalition of American Public Employees (CAPE), representing organizations with almost four million public workers in all 50 states.
After CAPE was phased out in 1982, Farmer spent almost three years writing his autobiography, Lay Bare the Heart, which received the Southern Region Council's Lillian Smith Award, the Gustavus Myers Center Book Award for 1985 and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Book Award for 1985.
Farmer's contributions to the civil rights movement were many and varied. He led the first sit-in at a Chicago restaurant in 1942. In the volatile 1960s, he was a front-line fighter. He led a dangerous freedom ride deep into Mississippi in 1961, resulting in his spending 40 days in Mississippi jails. He also served as a distinguished visiting professor at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Excerpts from James Farmer's Remarks
“America, too, is a country of concern about race, puzzlement about it, confusion about it. Folks are intrigued with it. No issue in this nation’s history has had as much effect upon the life of the nation as that question of race in America. It is at once the curse and the challenge of our great nation.”
“America is that as much as it is the ugly face of bigotry that we have seen time and time again, and I fear we shall go on seeing for some time, unless we do something about it and do something about it quite quickly indeed.”
“We found something out in the Sixties. We found that the nation can change and change quickly if enough people will work with sufficient diligence toward that end.”