This Day (Activist to the CORE Edition)

Published:January 12, 2016 by Brendan Wolfe


On this day in 1920 James Farmer was born. The civil rights activist hailed from Texas but later lived in Virginia and, from 1985 to 1998, taught history at Mary Washington, in Fredericksburg. From our entry:

James Farmer was a civil rights leader who pioneered sit-in demonstrations during the 1940s and led the Freedom Riders of 1961. After graduating from Wiley College, in Texas, Farmer moved to Chicago to serve as race relations secretary for the pacifist group Fellowship of Reconciliation. Dedicated to fighting Jim Crow laws, in 1942 Farmer helped form what became the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). The organization selected Farmer as its national director in 1961, bringing him to prominence. The violent reaction by southern whites to the Freedom Riders was the first in a series of confrontations and arrests for his work on behalf of African American civil rights. Farmer left CORE in 1966 and later served briefly in the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Farmer moved to Spotsylvania County about 1980 and became a professor at Mary Washington College in 1985. That year his book, Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement, was published. Farmer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.

The Freedom Riders were, of course, among the most famous of civil rights–era protesters, but I encourage you to check out their distinguished predecessor, Irene Morgan, and her Supreme Court case Morgan v. Virginia (1946). She and Farmer were cut from the same cloth.

IMAGE: President Bill Clinton awards James Farmer the Presidential Medal of Freedom on January 15, 1998 (University of Mary Washington Archives and Special Collections)