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James Farmer, Jr.


James L. Farmer, Jr. (1920-1999) was a civil rights activist and politician. Born in Marshall, Texas, Farmer attended Wiley College and Howard University's School of Religion. While at Howard, Farmer was introduced to and embraced Gandhi's philosophy of non-violent direct action. In 1942, with a white friend and a few others, Farmer founded the Committee on Racial Equality, later called the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), after they successfully staged a sit-in demonstration in front of a Jack Spratt's Coffee Shop in Chicago that had refused to serve a mixed-race group of customers. After World War II, before he started working full-time for CORE, Farmer worked as the race relations secretary for the pacifist organization Fellowship of Reconciliation and worked as a program director for the NAACP. Farmer led CORE members in projects designed to protest segregation in public schools and to insist on African Americans' right to enter theaters, coffee shops, swimming pools, and other segregated public places. In 1961 Farmer and CORE initiated the Freedom Rides, through which they protested segregated travel facilities in the South. Farmer was arrested on several occasions for his participation. In 1968 Farmer unsuccessfully ran for Congress; the following year he joined President Richard Nixon's administration as Assistant Secretary in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. He left the post in 1970, contending that he could have a larger impact by working in the private sector. Farmer received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1998.

Image: Original caption: James Farmer, Director of CORE sits in his office at 38 Park Row in New York City. June 20, 1964.  Copyright: Bettmann/Corbis.

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