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CORE leader James Farmer: 1963 ca. | by Washington Area Spark
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CORE leader James Farmer: 1963 ca.

James Farmer, founder of the Congress of Racial Equality and initiator of the 1961 Freedom Riders that integrated interstate bus travel, is shown is a photograph circa 1963.


Farmer was born in Marshall, Texas on January 12, 1920, the grandson of a slave, and son of a minister and college professor, who was believed to be the first black man from Texas to obtain a doctorate.


Farmer obtained advanced degrees from Wiley College and Howard University. A staunch pacifist and opponent of the military, Farmer refused to serve during World War II.


Farmer’s pacifism and belief in a racially integrated society steered him toward a life of activism. With colleagues George Houser and Bernice Fisher, James Farmer co-founded the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942 in Chicago.


The civil rights organization would eventually grow to 82,000 members in 114 chapters around the nation by the mid-1960s with Farmer as its executive director.


CORE employed sit-ins, picketing, and other non-violent tactics modeled after the Indian protest movement led by Mahatma Gandhi. Farmer participated in the first CORE sit-ins in Chicago during World War II that ended discriminatory services practices in two restaurants.


After the 1951 Supreme Court ruling that the segregated seating of interstate bus passengers was unconstitutional, groups of CORE members forced the issue of desegregation by deliberately sitting side by side in the fronts of buses.


CORE’s tactics captured the imagination of many activists who would lend their support to the civil rights movement emerging in the nation in the late 1950s. Farmer led the organization from its founding in 1942 until 1965.


Farmer put the Washington, D.C. chapter of CORE in receivership, ousting militant direct action leader Julius Hobson, despite Hobson’s successes desegregating department store employment and hospitals. Hobson would go on to lead a boycott of public schools and file a successful lawsuit to end the school track system where black students were denied college preparatory courses. The D.C. chapter of CORE faded into obscurity.


In 1969, James Farmer, a lifelong Republican, was appointed by President Nixon to the post of Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare.


The former civil rights activist soon became uncomfortable with both the Washington bureaucracy — which he believed moved far too slowly on major racial problems — and with the Nixon administration which crafted policy at odds with his views.


Farmer resigned in 1970 to work on his memoir and teach at Mary Washington College in Virginia, a post he held until failing health forced his resignation in 1998.


James Farmer died on July 9, 1999 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He was 79.


--Largely excerpted from the Black Past.


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The photographer is unknown. The image is an International Magazine Service photograph obtained via an Internet sale.


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Taken circa 1963