Interview with James L. Farmer, Jr., June 11, 1964

James Farmer (1920-1999) was a civil rights leader and political activist. At the age of 14 he entered Wiley College in his hometown of Marshall, Texas where he graduated in 1938. Farmer received his Bachelor's of Divinity from Howard University in 1941 and in 1942 co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). He served as the National Director of CORE from 1961 to 1966. Farmer was active in the First Freedom Rides of 1961, stand-ins at segregated theaters, sit-ins at segregated lunch counters, and voter registration in the Southern United States. After disagreeing with the emerging militancy and Black Nationalism in CORE, he resigned as director. Farmer later served as the Assistant Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Nixon Administration. He wrote several works including Freedom When? (1966) and Lay Bare the Heart (1985) and was awarded numerous awards including the Hubert H. Humphrey Civil Rights Award (1998), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1998), and the Excellence in Leadership Award (1999). In this interview Farmer describes his experience with segregation as a young African American and the challenges he faced. He discusses his work with the nonviolent organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the methods the organization used to combat segregation. Farmer discusses African American identity and cultural assimilation in America and also describes what he believes most African Americans want from the civil rights movement. He discusses issues associated with integration including quotas, equality in education, and bussing. Farmer also discusses the trial of Byron de la Beckwith, its relation to Mississippi, and his perception of Mississippi as a police state. He talks about violence towards African Americans and describes a conversation he had with Medgar Evers regarding violence in Mississippi. Farmer describes what he considers the role of the "white liberal" in the civil rights movement and discusses the necessary roles of both whites and African Americans in the civil rights movement. He describes the role of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) in the civil rights movement, the organization's involvement with the Freedom Rides of 1961, and the effectiveness of different types of demonstrations. Farmer discusses African American leadership in the civil rights movement and briefly discusses Malcolm X as a leader. He also talks about race relations between whites and African Americans, especially in the South. Farmer concludes by providing his opinions of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy.

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