Farmer Lecture: Exam Review and Q&A (Part 1)

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Farmer Lecture: Exam Review and Q&A (Part 1)


Farmer, James, 1920-1999


First part of the recording of a lecture from James Farmer’s The Civil Rights Movement In The 20th Century class, which has been split in half by the James Farmer Project for upload space. Originally titled Lecture 038 by Special Collections.

Farmer begins by reviewing for the upcoming final exam, discussing the Council on United Civil Rights Leadership (0:00:00), the March on Washington (1:44), figures and movements in black nationalism (2:46), and pan-Africanism (5:55). He and the class then review the major legislative accomplishments and movements within the Civil Rights Movement (8:08).

At 13:22, Farmer asks the class if they have any questions, either about the exam or about the movement. He discusses the influence of the teachings of Gandhi on the nonviolent movement and the origins of CORE (14:37), then addresses CORE’s early lack of publicity in relation to the Second World War. Farmer then discusses what he sees as the Civil Rights Movement’s limitations (22:35). Then, at 29:25, Farmer begins to answer a question about the Reagan administration’s attempts to dismantle the work done during the Civil Rights Movement.


James Farmer


Special Collections and University Archives at the University of Mary Washington




HIST 428 Spring 2020


Copyright is retained by Special Collections and University Archives, Simpson Library, University of Mary Washington. This item is available for use in research, teaching, and private study. Items may not be reproduced or used for any commercial purposes without prior written consent from the University of Mary Washington.





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Sounds like you had it right, Council on United Civil Rights Leadership. And we just might ask you what that was. And let me repeat what it was, the Council on United Civil Rights Leadership was an organization set up by the heads of the civil rights organizations, it was an umbrella organization. Its members were Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young, Dorothy Height, John Lewis, and James Foreman, the SNCC, and me.

We met roughly once a month in New York City, and its purpose was to provide a forum where the heads of the civil rights organizations could compare notes on a regular basis, discuss and debate tactics, and map strategies. In other words, where we had differences of opinion, sometimes sharp differences of opinion, we would talk those out behind the closed doors of people we were leading. Sometimes we would argue. But that was, if we may use the analogy of warfare, that was the tent and not the battlefield. When we went out on the battlefield, we were united. And the disagreements, the debates, the arguments were kept for the tent, reserved for the tent.

So that was the Council of United Civil Rights Leadership, known as CUCRL, where Randolph proposed his March on Washington idea to CUCRL, and the idea was adopted and it was the various civil rights organizations who combined their resources to put on the march. And other groups were drawn in, such as some of the labor groups, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the National Council of Churches, Anti-Defamation League, Catholic organizations, and so on. It was a giant coalition that put on the march. Now I proceed.

We'd like you to be able to define integration - what do we mean by integration? So you can give that some thought, between now and examination time. Define black nationalism, too. Among the black nationalist leaders were Malcolm X, that is the best known of them, were Malcolm X, Stokely Carmichael, and before them, of course, there was the late Marcus Garvey. Rap Brown, who followed Stokely Carmichael as national chairman of SNCC, was also a nationalist, black nationalist.

[Student: What was his name again?]

H. Rapp, R-A-P-P, Brown. Rap Brown was even more militant than Stokely Carmichael was. We didn't talk much about him, of course, in these lectures and discussions. Rap had a very brief tenure in SNCC, SNCC went out of existence under his tenure, and he was arrested, jailed, charged with inciting arson, in Cambridge, Maryland, where he made a fiery speech,
no pun intended, proposing that they burn down the city. And when he left, Cambridge would be set afire, parts of it. Cambridge, Maryland.

Rap Brown, now, by the way, has changed his name, he has taken a Muslim name and he has joined the Nation of Islam, the so-called Black Muslims. And he owns a grocery store in Atlanta. It was curious, the semester before last, one of my students here decided to write a term paper on H. Rap Brown. And he found out that Brown was down in Atlanta, running a grocery store, a Muslim grocery store. Halal foods, no pork, et cetera, et cetera. So he fetched a long-distance call down there, a man answered. He said, may I speak with Mr. Brown, please?

The guy said, "There is no Mr. Brown here." He said, "Well, I'm very anxious to get in touch with Mr. H. Rap Brown, because I'm writing a term paper on him and I'm in Jim Farmer's class at Mary Washington College." And I've decided I want to do a term paper on H. Rapp Brown. The voice on the other end of the line said, "Well, I'm the former H. Rapp Brown, my name is such and such and such and such now." And gave him an interview for about half an hour on the phone. And gave him my regards. I was surprised, because H. Rapp Brown and I were hardly on speaking terms when he was with SNCC.

But anyway, those were some of the militants, and black nationalist militants. So you want to be able to define black nationalism, how it differs from integration, and I'd like you to make a stab at defining pan-Africanism, too. It's a term we've mentioned, I don't know that we've discussed it at any length. Marcus Garvey considered himself an Africanist in the 1920s, 1930s. DuBois began a Pan-Africanist movement at one stage in his life. Stokely Carmichael considers himself to be a pan-Africanist now, and is working for a pan-Africanist organization. The Pan-Africanists originally spoke of a 'back to Africa' movement, that all persons of African descent should return to Africa. Now very few of the pan-Africanists talk about returning to the motherland. They talk more frequently about the African diaspora, or persons of African descent scattered throughout the world, wherever they are, considering themselves Africans because of a certain assumed similarity of culture and of heritage. That is what most of the pan-Africanists think now: a unity of all those of African descent. Wherever they are in the world, whether they're in the Carribean, or in Africa, or the United States and the islands of the sea, or wherever.

Now, let's see. One of the essay questions probably will be, "What were the..." Oh, this was a good essay question. It'll be very simple. Back to our question. What were the major legislative accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement in the sixties? Well, that's simple. Anybody want to make a stab at it?

[Student: "Civil rights act."] Civil rights act of what year? [Students together: 64.] Sixty-four. [Students: Voting Rights Act.] Voting Rights Act. That was what year? [Students: sixty-five.] Sixty-five, that is correct. It also wants you to tell us where and when the non-violent direct action movement for civil rights in this country began. [Student: Greensboro.] Well, actually, no. That's not what we're looking for - in Chicago, in 1942, when CORE was organized. But people did not know very much about that, it did not receive much publicity, but the technique was used from 1942 on. It became popularized in 1956, with the publicity surrounding the great Montgomery Bus Boycott. But we want you to know where it began. It was in Chicago in 1942, with the organization of CORE.

It also wants to know where the Southern Student Sit-In Movement began, and when. Greensboro, North Carolina, and 1960.The month, and you won't be expected to remember
that, was February. February first, 1960. Greensboro, North Carolina isimportant, and the year, 1960. The Freedom Rides began, took place, in what year?[Students: Sixty-one.] Sixty-one, correct. Montgomery Bus Boycott, what year? [Fifty-six.] Fifty-six, yes. A little in fifty-seven, went over into fifty-seven. Actually, it started in December of 55, very shortly after Rosa Parks was arrested, but 56 would be a good date, 56-57.

The objective of the Southern Student Sit-In Movement. The sit-in movement that began in Greensboro, what is the objective?[Student: Desegregate the lunch counters at Woolworth.] Not only in Woolworth, but the other variety stores like Woolworth. That was the original objective, but very soon after it started, it spread to desegregation of all places and public accommodations. Originally it was desegregation of the lunch counters at the variety stores.

The objective of the Montgomery Bus Boycott? [Inaudible student answer.] Desegregate what?
[Student talking, inaudible.] Sit where you wanted on city buses in the city of Montgomery, Alabama. In other words, desegregation of the municipal buses in Montgomery. The objective of the Freedom Rides? [Student replies.] Yes, desegregation of interstate bus travel, that is, buses traveling from state to state, between states, all over the country. Let me see...

Basically, that covers it. I want you to know... I want you to tell us what you think about the success or the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the Civil Rights Movement of the sixties. What were its major accomplishments? What were its limitations or failures? I'd also like you to make a stab at your evaluation or appraisal of the state of civil rights in the United States today. That's opinion. That's opinion. And what would you do in the future?

Do you have any questions, not just about the examination, but anything in the area of civil rights? I don't presume that I have all the answers to anything, but at least I'd like to get the questions. You know, in the sixties, I was amazed at the amount of answers I had. I had answers to everything then. But I've forgotten most of it. Now I'm not sure I know most of the questions. But there were lots of them in the sixties.

[Student: I'd like to ask, um, for your exam schedules, is it at one time?] The exam schedule. [Student: Yeah.] Um, yes, what is the - [Are you offering it at that one time?] Just at one time. If there are those here, if there's only one person, who finds that most inconvenient, then you can arrange for another time, a better time for that individual for those individuals. Okay? [Thank you.] Any other questions?

[Student: I was wondering if you could touch again on the subject of the teachings of Gandhi?] On what?[I was wondering if you could touch on the subject once again of how the teachings of Gandhi were quite influential in the nonviolent movement?]Oh, yes. Well, in 1941, just before Pearl Harbor and immediately after Pearl Harbor, a number of pacifists, including myself, were interested in finding nonviolent solutions to conflict situations. We did not find it enough for us, for our consciences, simply to refuse participation in war. Because to say no to participation in war was a negative act, and we had to do something positive to feel that we were constructive. So we were looking for nonviolent solutions to violent conflict situations. Not only the international scene, but the domestic scene as well.

And there were two major problems to be concerned with on the domestic scene: the first was, one, rather than the first, but one was labor and management, labor and industry. And the other was race. My major concern was race. And I began studying the techniques of Gandhi, including Gandhi's writings and what was written about him and especially a book by Krishnalal Shridharani,a disciple of Gandhi's who was then studying in Columbia University. His book, titled War Without Violence, was an analysis of Gandhi's program and methods. Step-by-step procedures as used by Gandhi. Well, this small band of pacifists in Chicago and New York, chiefly in Chicago then, began studying Gandhi. And I wrote two memoranda to A.J. Muste, who was head of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a religious pacifist organization for which I worked at the time.

In 1941 I began writing the memos, completed the first memo in early 1942. I sent these memos to Muste, proposing that the F.O.R, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, sponsor the establishment of an interrracial organization using Gandhian techniques of nonviolent direct action, including civil disobedience, noncooperation, jail-going where necessary, and filling up the jails where necessary, in an attempt to bring an end to racial segregation and other forms of racial discrimination in this country. The Fellowship of Reconciliation's national council, which was its governing body , discussed the two memoranda and decided not to sponsor such an organization but to authorize me as its traveling race relations secretary. Part-time, fifteen dollars a week. And that was poor pay even in those days.

Supposed to be part-time but it's actually a lot more full-time. More like full-time. They agreed that they would continue paying my salary, fifteen dollars a week, and allow me on their time to set up a pilot project along the lines which I had outlined in the memos. In one city, Chicago. And then they would determine, after a while, whether to sponsor it or not. After the pilot project was set up. The pilot project was the first chapter of CORE. In the course of the next year, I traveled around the country for the F.O.R., and in those travels organized about a dozen other organizations, like the Chicago Committee of Racial Equality, and then the next summer we called a conference of those organizations, and set up the national CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. So that was the connection between Gandhian technique and the civil rights movement in this country.

Now, to repeat what I'd said earlier, we had no publicity. Though we were making successful use of technique of nonviolence, this was prior to the advent of television. Television was a post-World War Two development. Actually, it was not even in homes here until, well, I guess the early fifties. We had no television coverage, very little on the radio. Very little in the written press. Perhaps there would be a small item on the back page of a local paper such as the Chicago Tribune, saying that yesterday a half-dozen
nuts and crackpots sat down in this restaurant until they were served or thrown out, whichever came first. But that was all.

So a nonviolent movement did not take to the skies. Not until Dr. King with the Montgomery Bus Boycott, 1956. Television coverage and charismatic leadership captured the imagination of people not only in this country but all over the world. And the movement was on wings, then. It was after that, several years later, that the Southern Student Sit-in movement began, inspired in part by the example of Dr. King in Montgomery, the technique of nonviolence. And the CORE Freedom Rides followed a year later. 1961. So the movement was well on the way then. Other questions?

[Student: Do you think part of the lack of publicity was because in the early forties we were in a world war and it was the biggest news of the time, bigger than anyone?]

Of course. And people were not inclined to listen to nonviolence in a time of war. It sounded like a bunch of nuts, you know? People were talking about nonviolence, don't strike back, when we were fighting for our lives. Yeah, thank you, you're quite right, it was very annoying. Very annoying.[Student: Sometimes something is so important, the most important thing that's going on, they're gonna want publicity.] True. Yep. Whatever's bigger than you in someplace else, publicity-wise, you're dead. You're absolutely right.

[Student: What do you see as your failures in the movement?] Failures? [Yeah, what are its limitations?] Our limitations... yeah. There are many; we left untouched some vital areas, such as residential segregation, very important, very. The movement, per ce, did virtually nothing on that. Martin, Martin Luther King, Jr., began moving in that direction in 1967 in Chicago. His efforts there were a failure. And he was literally astonished at the amount of prejudice and outright hostility and hatred that he encountered in the city of Chicago. He marched in Chicago and marched in Cicero or Cairo. Dr. King had grown up in the South and done most of his work in the Deep South, and had come North to get support for his efforts in the South. Financial support, moral support, et cetera.

Here he was marching in the North, not in the South. And he was astonished by deeply-rooted racism in the Chicago area. He was pelted, the marches were pelted with stones and sticks and eggs and everything else, and obscenities were shouted at them as they went by, and police had to protect them as mobs gathered. Finally, in what I consider the three AM of his soul, he blurted out, "The people of Mississippi wanna learn how to hate? They oughta come to Chicago." He found more hatred there, he thought, than he had seen in Mississippi.

Well, we did very little on housing, almost nothing. We did very little to try to counteract racism itself. We were attacking the effects of racism, the structures that racism built up to protect itself. Segregation, for instance. But for the prejudices themselves, we did virtually nothing. Another weakness of the movement was we did no long-range planning. We should have. But our excuse for not doing it was that we were crisis-oriented, we were constantly confronting emergencies and crises. And couldn't find the time to indulge in the luxury of thinking and doing long-range planning. As a consequence, when success in terms of achievement of the short-term goals - Civil Rights Act of 64, the Voting Rights Act of 65, came upon us, we were caught without programming for the future, what to do after we get the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act.

What were the problems likely to be? We should have thought at the time. Several times, in CORE, I scheduled think sessions where we planned to pull the entire CORE staff in, out of field, at some camp, out in the woods, away from the telephone, for some extended period of time, maybe two weeks. We would have scholars there with big baseline data so this wouldn't simply be batting the breeze, but strategy sessions. And we would talk about what the problems were probably going to be, in 1970, 1980, 1990. The year 2000. And how we can deal with those problems. Trying to anticipate the obstacles that would arise. How we should be getting to prepare our youngsters for those jobs. What ought to be done, you know, futuristic thinking. Futurism. But we didn't do it. I arranged a schedule and had everybody put it on their calendars, but invariably, before the dates rolled around, some emergency would arise. A CORE member would get jailed, or get killed down in Mississippi, or we'd have three thousand people in jail in Greensboro, North Carolina. And it seemed obvious to us then. We could not indulge in the luxury of thinking but I think the movement is paying a penalty for not having done any longterm planning.

So now there is a lack of unity among civil rights organizations because there is no clear and united sense of direction and objective. There is nothing comparable to CUCRL, the Council On United Civil Rights Leadership, today. The issues, granted, are much more complex than they were in the sixties. But even so, it should be possible to get some unity to the point of union, so that there can be concerted action on them. So those are some of the limitations, as I see. Some are pages of omission, and others shortsightedness.

Yes? [Student: Some are saying that the President's administration is trying to turn back time... that is, trying to reverse some of the achievements made during the Civil RightsMovement. Your comment? Well I agree with that, quite, I think that is true. His administration is trying to do that. I hope that I will not offend those who are supporters of President Reagan, I respect him as an individual and as a person, but I disagree with him strongly. During the sixties, Mr. Reagan was opposed to the Civil Rights movement, sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, and he said so in no uncertain terms. While the Civil Rights Act was up for debate in Washington, he spoke out several times in California against it.

He thought it was a mistake, he thought it was an infringement on the rights of the businessmen who man restaurants and other places of public accommodation for the federal government to get in and cull the divide by telling them who they could serve and who they could not refuse to serve. But he was opposed to it. And it has been my feeling, and the feeling of many other civil rights activists, that since he's been president his Senate is trying to undo what has been done by the Civil Rights Movement.

In a number of ways, the Voting Rights Act is an example. When the Voting Rights Act was up for renewal and extension, he was opposed to it and said so. He wanted it to die right then. We don't need it anymore, it served a useful function but that time, its time, has passed. Which of course was the same point of view held by the segregationist Strom Thurmond. Who took the lead in Congress in trying to get the ball rolling on letting the Voting Rights Act die. But we managed to mount such a public relations campaign to bring political pressure there on Capitol Hill: letters, and telegrams, and phone calls, and rallies, and marches, that they saw that ending the Voting Rights Act was not gonna fly politically. So then they adopted a new strategy and that was to change it, amend it. So that in order to establish discrimination, you would have to prove intent to discriminate. In other words, the effect - if the effect is discriminatory - that didn't matter.

You had to prove that that was their intention. Well, of course we know in a long history of civil rights activity that it's virtually impossible to prove intent. There you're being asked to read a person's mind. The gentleman intended, she intended. You're being asked to go into the closet with them and to pray to their god. They talk to their conscience, their conscience talks to them. So you can't tell what they intended, you can only tell the effects of what they do. In my opinion. They finally dropped that, the pressure that we founded was sufficiently great. So the bill went through, the extension went through, and the President signed, albeit reluctantly. Now, the Justice Department under Ed Meese and Bradford Reynolds is bringing

[Continued in Part 2.]

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James Farmer, “Farmer Lecture: Exam Review and Q&A (Part 1),” James Farmer at Mary Washington, accessed August 11, 2020,

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