James Farmer

James Farmer

James Farmer, an American civil rights activist, played an integral role in the American Civil Rights Movement. Through his position as the leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), he helped to shape the methods of nonviolent protest used by activists. He was commended for his work by President Clinton, when he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom in 1998.

Born on 12 January 1920 in Marshall Texas, James Farmer has often been called a ‘child prodigy’. From a young age he showed skill for debating and he enrolled at Wiley College at the age of 14. He achieved great academic success despite the segregated school system in Texas.

From Wiley College, he went to Howard University’s School of Religion and graduated with a divinity degree In 1942. Farmer planned to follow in his father’s footsteps and take up ministerial work.

Instead, he devoted his life to civil rights and social justice causes. After organising sit-ins to desegregate a Chicago restaurant in 1942, Farmer along with other religious pacifists, founded CORE – the Congress for Racial Equality.

Farmer was one of the original founders of CORE. In 1961 he was re-elected as director at a time when the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum.

Farmer is celebrated for his role in the 1961 Freedom Rides. He hoped that the initiative would demonstrate the power of CORE’s philosophy of nonviolent direct action. The aim of the Freedom Rides was to challenge continued segregation on interstate transport.

Farmer resigned from leading CORE in the mid-1960s. He was concerned that the organisation was moving away from its principle of non-violent resistance and losing sight of its original goal of ending discrimination. Farmer disapproved of CORE’s involvement with the campaign against the Vietnam War. He believed that it should focus on domestic issues rather than foreign policy.

After a few years of teaching at Lincoln University, Farmer attempted to get in to Congress on the Republican ticket, but failed. He later worked as Assistant Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare in Richard Nixon’s administration. He soon became frustrated over the inefficiency of the bureaucracy.

President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 for his contribution to the Civil Rights Movement.

James Farmer died on July 9th, 1999.

See also: Albany 1961

MLA Citation/Reference

"James Farmer". HistoryLearning.com. 2023. Web.

Key facts

Name: James Farmer
Birth Date: 12 January 1920, Marshall, Texas
Death: 9 July 1999, Fredericksburg, Virginia
Occupation: Civil rights activist and co-founder of CORE
Known for: Work with CORE, advocation of nonviolent protest, and organiser of the Freedom Rides.