Throughout his life, James Farmer accomplished an extraordinary amount of things. From child prodigy, attending college at the age of fourteen, Dr. Farmer achieved great things and effected many people along the way. Still today we can see how his efforts continue to affect all of us.
James Farmer co-founded the Congress on Racial Equality in 1942 and served as its President from 1961 until 1966 (Congress of Racial Equality). CORE served to organize peaceful, nonviolent sit-ins and Freedom Rides throughout the then-segregated United States, and still works to promote equality today. In 1966, Farmer stepped down from his position to run for the U.S. Congress on the Liberal Party Ticket, but did not succeed in winning the election (Severo 1999). CORE was important in that it allowed people to come together to plan and successfully execute a peaceful sit-in for the first time.
James Farmer, along with CORE, had a major part in the first African American sit-in that took place in Chicago, Illinois (1942). This first sit-in was the spark that ignited the fire of desegregation. These sit-ins started mainly the desegregation of public venues in the United States. The Chicago sit-ins helped give confidence to African Americans across America to start fighting the laws of segregation, especially in the south.
James Farmer organized the Freedom Rides to desegregate interstate bus travel in the South, starting in 1961. After the 1946 decision of Morgan vs. Virginia, interstate buses and waiting areas were supposed to be desegregated. However, this segregation continued until James Farmer and a group of CORE members were willing to face racism in order to get the Greyhound Bus Line to be equal. The first Freedom Ride consisted of fifteen people that wanted to travel from Washington to New Orleans in May of 1961. In Alabama, the idea of the Freedom Rides was not accepted at all, and in one circumstance, a bus was ambushed by an angry mob of whites that slashed the tires and eventually set the bus on fire, while Freedom Riders were on the bus. The Freedom Riders, however, continued, and by the summer of 1962, segregation was essentially eliminated from the major bus lines of the time (Greyhound and Trailways), except for in Alabama. James Farmer repeatedly stressed to the President that he would need to speak out against the blatant racism and intolerance that was suffered in Birmingham and other places in Alabama. In 1963, the Civil Rights Act was passed, due to the urging of the Freedom Riders and other activists, especially James Farmer.
James Farmer brought up the idea of Affirmative Action in 1962 to former President Lyndon B. Johnson and Johnson accepted it. At the time, Johnson was Vice President and chairman of the President’s Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity. In his autobiography, Lay Bare the Heart, James Farmer described his proposal, “… as a matter of policy in employment we replace color blindness with consciousness aimed at eliminating inequities based on color” (221). This was a very important success for James Farmer because it would increase economic opportunity and later educational opportunity for women and minorities.
James Farmer was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Right Bill and the Voting Right Act by the U.S Congress 1964-1965. This Bill was crucial to the Civil Rights because it brought a change to century old ideals. The Civil Rights Bill had five major components that meant radical changes in segregation. The first consisted of barred unequal application of voter registration requirements. The second outlawed discrimination at hotels, theatres, restaurants. The third component encouraged the desegregation of public schools. The fourth component Authorized but did not require withdrawal of federal funds from programs which practiced discrimination. The final component outlawed discrimination in employment in any business exceeding twenty five people and created equal employment. James Farmer and CORE really pushed for the bill to be passed. They were involved in the awareness of the bill among the African American communities across the nation.
James Farmer worked for the Nixon Administration from 1969 to 1970 as the Assistant Secretary of Health Education and Welfare. James Farmer received harsh criticism for working for Nixon, but he defended his actions by stating that it is better to be in the government than outside of it. Through his work in the administration he was able to save the Head Start Program in Mississippi which benefits many preschool age children there today.
James Farmer co-founded Open Society in 1975, which is vision of communities set up to be fully integrated. He led this organization until 1999. The community has different racial and ethnic groups who form friendships and support one another. These people become elected officials and participate in schools and religious groups throughout the area. Open society has the vision of equality.
James Leonard Farmer Jr. was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in White House ceremonies on January 15, the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1996. This Medal is reserved for individuals the President deems to have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
This gesture was significant to James Farmer because it was symbolic reminding us about the value of freedom. The presentation of this Medal is a way of thanking for his lifetime of fighting for racial equality in America. Founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942, he is known as the father of the Freedom Rides through the South. A pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement, Farmer taught America that social problems can be overcome and conquered through nonviolent means. The Presidential Medal of Freedom demonstrates appreciation for his contributions as a civil rights activist, community leader and teacher.
James Farmer was truly an inspirational figure in history. Though many did not recognize his achievements until later in his life and continuing on after his death, Dr. Farmer made quite an impact on America, especially during the Civil Rights era.
(2006). Major Features of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Retrieved December 5, 2007, from
The Dirksen Congressional Center Web site: http://www.congresslink.org/print_basics_histmats_civilrights64text.htm
(1998, February 25). Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient James Leonard Farmer Jr., Civil
Rights Leader. Retrieved December 6, 2007, Web site: http://www.medaloffreedom.com/JamesFarmer.htm
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Gross, T (1985). NPR: A Founder of CORE Recalls Freedom Rides. Retrieved December 3,
2007, from NPR Web site: http://www.npr.org/templates/story//story.php?storyId515487
Farmer, James. Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement. NewYork: Arbor House, 1986. 221-222.
Farmer, J. (1986). Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement. Fort Worth: Penguin-Plume.
Farmer, J (1961). Leaders in the Struggle for Civil Rights: James Farmer. Retrieved December 3,2007, from John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum Web site: http://www.jfklibrary.org/Education+and+Public+Programs/For+Students/Materials+Res ources+and+Activities+for+Students/Leaders+in+the+Struggle+for+Civil+Rights/James+Farmer.htm
Howell, Raines (2005). Encyclopedia of Chicago. Retrieved December 4, 2007, from James
Farmer: A Chicago Lunch Counter Sit-In Web site: http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/1496.html
Retrieved December 3, 2007, from Fund for an Open Society Web site:
Severo, R. (1999, July 10). New York Times Archives. Retrieved December 5, 2007, from
“James Farmer, Civil Rights Giant in the 50s and 60s, Is Dead at 79” Web site: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0DEED8123CF933A25754C0A96F958260
Transcript, James Farmer Oral History Interview I, 10/69, by Harri Baker, Internet Copy, LBJ Library.
Trueman, C. (2007). James Farmer . December 04
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