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James Forman, a leader with SNCC, attends a strategy meeting with other civil rights leaders during the Selma-Montgomery Civil Rights Marches, March 1, 1965.
Copyright: Flip Schulke/Corbis.

Audio courtesy of the University of Kentucky.

James Forman

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James Forman
James Forman Bio

James Forman (1928-2005) was a civil rights activist. A native of Chicago, Forman spent much of his early life on a farm in Mississippi. After attending junior college, joining the army, and attending the University of Southern California, Forman completed his undergraduate degree at Chicago's Roosevelt University. In the late 1950s Forman worked as a reporter for the Chicago Defender, taught in Chicago schools, and studied French at Middlebury College, before a subcommittee of the Chicago branch of the Congress of Racial Equality invited Forman to work with dispossessed tenant farmers in Tennessee. From 1961 until 1966 Forman served as the executive secretary of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), in which capacity he set up a research department and print shop and then moved the office to Jackson, Mississippi during the "Freedom Summer" of 1964. A sometimes-critic of Martin Luther King, Jr., Forman served briefly as the minister of foreign affairs of the Black Panther Party following his resignation from SNCC, and he voiced calls for African Americans to receive reparations for their years of enslavement. Later, Forman earned a master's degree from Cornell and a doctorate from the Union Institute, and he served as president of the Unemployment and Poverty Action Committee in Washington.

Image: James Forman, a leader with SNCC, attends a strategy meeting with other civil rights leaders during the Selma-Montgomery Civil Rights Marches, March 1, 1965. Copyright: Flip Schulke/Corbis.

 

Abstract

Forman begins by describing his youth and his educational background, and he discusses when African Americans generally become conscious of their racial identity. He describes students involved in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) as rejecting the consumer-oriented values of American society even as he acknowledges that many African American students embrace these values. Forman discusses the backgrounds and motivations of participants in the civil rights movement, and he describes SNCC's organizational goals and the role that SNCC plays in the movement. Forman considers whether African American activists are at war with American society, discusses why more violence has not broken out among African Americans, and opines as to African Americans' responsibilities in the civil rights movement. He discusses the effects of mass action, in-fighting among civil rights leaders and groups, and non-violence as a method of protest. He also discusses the integration of public schools, the role of white people in the civil rights movement, and what social actions should follow the movement. Forman closes by considering whether the southern white mob represents the will of the majority of southerners.

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