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James Forman


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.


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