DARC Ethiophile Chronicles
On this day
James Leonard Farmer, Jr., civil rights leader and founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), was born on January 12, 1920, in Marshall, Texas. Under the wing of Professor Howard Thurman, Farmer was introduced to the concept of nonviolent protest pioneered by Mohandas Gandhi.
Rejecting the pulpit, Farmer chose instead to lead the fight against Jim Crow laws. Farmer went to work for the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) in Chicago and in 1942 led other members of FOR to form what he called the Committee of Racial Equality. The name was soon changed to the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), and its initial activities were sit-ins in the restaurants of Chicago. During the following decade he was employed by the NAACP as its program director (1959–60), and he worked with several labor unions seeking to end racial segregation. In 1961 he became the executive director of CORE. Convinced that mere victory in court cases would not provide equality, he decided to employ the confrontational but nonviolent tactics he had learned under Tolson and Thurman to challenge segregation in the bus stations of the South.
In May 1961, with twelve other black and white members of CORE, Farmer set out from Washington, D.C., on two buses headed for New Orleans. The Freedom Rides had begun. The death of his father when the Freedom Riders reached Atlanta sent Farmer back to Washington, D.C. In his absence one of the buses was torched in Anniston, Alabama, and freedom riders on the other were brutally beaten when the bus rolled into Montgomery, Alabama. Farmer rejoined the freedom rides a week later and was jailed in Mississippi’s Parchman Prison for thirty-nine days, the first of many times he clashed with local law enforcement officers in the South. He was incarcerated in Plaquemine, Louisiana, in 1963, for example, and was unable to attend Martin Luther King’s March on Washington, D.C. In 1964 the murder of three CORE workers—Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney—during the “Freedom Summer” effort to register voters in Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, galvanized the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the national press. Farmer wrote of his CORE experiences in Freedom, When? (1965).