James Farmer Biography
James Farmer's Childhood
James Farmer Finding Core
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
The Freedom Right
The first ride was launched in May of 1961, with the bus firebombed upon reaching Alabama after travel through several states. Other riders were mobilized, yet the brutality was horrifying, with one rider having been beaten so badly he was left paralyzed for life and protesters jailed en masse in Jackson, Mississippi. Audiences around the world were able to see via television violent racism at work, and in September of 1961 the Interstate Commerce Commission—at the behest of Attorney General Robert Kennedy—declared segregation impermissible in Southern public travel facilities and modes of transport.
CORE, also at the helm of hiring-based protests in the North, continued its prominent work in the South, with Farmer being targeted for his leadership and jailed and three CORE-affiliated workers murdered in Mississippi in 1964.
Farmer eventually resigned from leading CORE in the mid-1960s. His book Freedom—When? was published in 1966 and, after a stint teaching at Lincoln University, he ran unsuccessfully for Congress on the Republican ticket against Democrat Shirley Chisolm in 1968. He later worked in the administration of President Richard Nixon, though he left in frustration.
James Farmer's Medal
Receiving several honors for his work over time, Farmer was able to tell his story to new generations, releasing his acclaimed autobiography Lay Bare the Heart in 1985. More than a decade later he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Bill Clinton. And in 2011, PBS' American Experience released a documentary that focused on CORE's work entitled Freedom Riders.
Farmer had been suffering greatly from diabetes during his later years. He died on July 9, 1999, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, at the age of 79.