Christopher Williams Oral History Interview


Dublin Core


Christopher Williams Oral History Interview


Oral History Interview
Farmer, James 1920-1999
History and American Studies Department
University of Mary Washington
Mary Washington College


This oral history, featuring Christopher Williams, tells the story of a James Farmer Scholar, friendship, and mentorship.


Hist 428 Spring 2020



HIST 428: Farmer Group




Eastridge, Kimberly
Williams, Christopher
Forest, John


Youtube Video



Oral History Item Type Metadata


Kimberly Eastridge


Christopher Williams




KIMBERLY: So, for our records, can you please state your full name?

CHRISTOPHER: uh, do you want my middle name?

KIMBERLY: if you want, give it to us, sure.

CHRISTOPHER: [Laughing] I’ll just do Christopher Williams.

KIMBERLY: Awesome, and saw that you signed our consent form, do you have any questions or comments about that?

CHRISTOPHER: No, I do not.

KIMBERLY: you do understand that this recording will be shared with my group members, Dr. McClurken, and will be uploaded to our website?


KIMBERLY: Awesome, then we’ll go ahead and get started. So, Uh, When did you first meet Dr. Farmer?

CHRISTOPHER: I first meet Dr. Farmer in 1996.

KIMBERLY: Awesome, what was your relationship with Dr. Farmer?

CHRISTOPHER: My relationship with him, I guess to give you a little bit of the back story, so one day my mom used to be an avid runner and jogger. So, she was running down our road and she just happened to bump into one of Dr. Farmer’s daughters, Tammy, who was working at the house with the horses and whatnot, and she struck up a conversation with her and she mentioned that I was a James Farmer scholar, and if she wouldn’t mind that, if my mom and I would come to the house to meet Dr. Farmer, because I was a scholar and because, you know I was interested in civil rights even at a young age. Uh, and Tam was like “Yeah sure”. Uh, and then, my mom was also friends with Brenda Sloan, Ms. Brenda Sloan, who was one of the librarians at UMW at the time, and who ended up being Dr. Farmer’s caregiver, um for the last few years of his life. So that really granted us access to him, pretty much whenever. So, the summer of my sophomore year of high school and my junior year in high school, I spent a good amount of time with dr. Farmer, a few days here and there, and just having conversations with him about the civil rights movement, you know, just life in general. Uh, So yeah, I hope that’s not too long winded.

KIMBERLY: No that was great! No that was great. Uh what…I don’t, I’m not familiar with James Farmer scholars, what exactly is that?

CHRISTOPHER: Oh okay, uh, well the James Farmer scholars program was founded in 1987, and has been around for the past, what is it now, 30 almost 33 years, and um the person who was the director of the program, who is still a UMW professor, Dr. Venita McCall, she is in the Education department, and um I consider her like a mother figure to me, outside of my own mother and my god mother. And being a part of that program, you get selected, so they started looking at students in the area, so it’s a program that covers the Spotsylvania school district, Caroline county, west morlin, and also Fredericksburg, the city of Fredericksburg, so you had students coming out of walker grant middle school, James Monroe high school, all the high schools in Spotsylvania county at the time, and then Caroline middle school, and Caroline high school, and west morlin, I think west morlin middle school and Washington and lee high school. So, forgive me I can’t remember the middle school in west morlin, I think I said the name of it but I may be wrong but. They started looking at students when they’re in 6th grade, and you’re selected before you hit for 7th grade. So, by the time you get into 7th grade, you’re enrolled into the James Farmer scholars program. And the program met at uh the University of Mary Washington campus a couple of Saturdays out of the month. There would be school busses dropping students off from all these schools to UMW, we used to meet in Trinkle hall room 204 as a large group and then break throughout the rest of the hall for the rest of the day with our various grade levels. Uh, then we had a summer program, a weeklong summer program at UMW, so you know the James farmers scholars program was really the first program to introduce me to what It could eventually feel like being a college student as a first gen.

KIMBERLY: that’s very cool, tha sounds like a very, cool experience for you.

CHRISTOPHER: haha, thank you

KIMBERLY: Awesome, um how would you describe Dr. Farmer and your like personal experience with him?

CHRISTOPHER: A very kind soul. Uh, he was very cerebral, ugh had a very strong baritone voice, shake the ground, uh deep, philosophical, uh, really, uh still, a real advocate, uh for those who could not represent themselves. One of the things that I tend to forget about was that Dr. Farmer represented many different identities. Uh, of course, of course he was a black man, but he also had disabilities. And you know, Disability accommodations were kinda difficult to come by especially at the time when he was teaching at the university. Uh, but he was such a giving person, great laugh haha great laugh, just really open to any questions I had. You know, I think of him very fondly, because of the time that we shared, and, uh, you know he was, he was just so great. I mean I can’t really put into words that experience. You know, he was one of my first mentors. So, um, I have been privileged to be around a few um civil rights legends in my time, but he was the first. And definitely left a [inaudible] mark on me, to this day.

KIMBERLY: yeah that’s amazing, um, do you have any favorite memories with him? or ones you can share with us.

CHRISTOPHER: Sure, um, I remember, so in the May issue of the Mary Washington, university of Mary Washington magazine,

um that issue is going to be dedicated to Dr. Farmer, and I’m a feature in it. And one of the pictures that you saw on Instagram that I posed back in November, it was my mom, Dr. Farmer and I at his 77th birthday party that was January 12, 1997, and I remember being there and being in that room with him with my mom and us talking about things and then reading him his birthday cards because at that point he was blind. So, my mom and I were reading him his birthday cards from people you know from local to across the country, which was really cool to see the type of love he was being shown. And then, being there with Mrs. Sloan, who was his caretaker at the time, um his daughter, his granddaughter, and then another fellow scholar, Dwain K., who is reverend Dwain K. and…Ms. Sloan recently shared this with m, that he said that if the rest of the scholars could turn out like Chris and Dwain, I would’ve left a great legacy. And when she told me that I, she told me that this past summer, I was just like wow. So, I carry that with me too. You know just times, just visiting. Uh, Walking around, uh his home and outside of his home and you know, just spending time with him inside the house having various conversations about his role in the civil rights movement and he would often say I just hope that people don’t forget, not only what I sacrificed, but the many people who were with my at core and the other organizations that sacrificed so that we could be in the space that were in today. So, I also remember those things as well.

KIMBERLY: So, you sort of have, um you know, like layers of perspectives on Dr. Farmer as both a younger student and as a faculty emmber today. Do you find that some of these values, um, that he embodied you are instilling in your students today? Or, do you see sort of like reverberations of what you’re doing today at UMW?

CHRISTOPHER: Absolutely, one of the things, when I got hired, when I came on board in September of 2017 as assistant director of the James farmer multicultural center. The first thing that Dr. Sandford wanted me to do was to expand, um the social justice piece of our office. Because, in the interview process I told her that I was the main person who was organizing…so she had attended a couple events that I had organized, so she had no idea that I was the one who organized them, so after, so when I organized the town hall leading after the Travon martin verdict, about 300 people showed up that day. Of those 300 people, um, Jordan Davis’ brother, Jordan Davis was another young African American man who was killed in Jacksonville for playing his music too loud by a white man. Um so, his brother was there, and also Oscar grant’s god mother, Oscar Grant was killed in San Francisco out in Oakland, on the Bart, Bart system is kinda like New York subway system, but it’s called Bart in Oakland. Uh, a cop killed him for no reason. So, when I organized the event I had no idea those people were going to be there. They just happened to live in the area. So, and uh, Dr. Stanford was there that day. I didn’t know that because there were so many people there. So when the interview process, one of the questions was “what is your experience in social justice work?” and I told her that I organized that event, I organized the voting town hall event on UMW’s campus, tha tshe came to hahah. Then, uh, I also marched on Washington for wokers rights and union rights with reverend Sharpton and reverend Jessie Jackson, um, I know reverend ben Chavis who was our keynote speaker this past, MLK, who was like “man good to see you” when he pulled up. And then, yeah just a few other people Julian Bond, Dianne Nash, and people like that. So, I;ve had the pleasure of being in their company and they knew who I was, and you know, it’s just, you know, not to be too long winded, so yes, so, the work that im doing in the office today, I pull from the knowledge base of Dr. Farmer, of people like merle Evers, Williams, dianna nash, Julian Bond, Dr. Ben Chavis you know people that I know, and one of the reasons why I am so passionate about the social justice work and organizing not only just the teachings that we do, but the social justice leadership summit, and the social justice fall break trip. All those are components to get students understand why we still have social justice issues in the country today, and giving them the tools to effectively address and respond to those social justice issues, to improve those issues so they no longer are social justice issues. So, we’re not here 100 ears from now talking about the same things.

KIMBERLY: right, Right. So, we’ve talked a bit about Dr. Farmer’s legacy, like farmer legacy 2020 that initiative that got placed this year. But how do you think that is being represented here on campus and furthermore, as a faculty member, and just as a general person in our community, how do you think we can better represent his legacy and him as a person?

CHRISTOPHER: Well I think that the campus has done a really good job of, you know, acknowledging Dr. Farmer’s legacy on campus with the Farmer legacy 2020 initiative this year. It’s been nice walking around and seeing his face adorned on the light posts around our beautiful campus. I hope those stay up. That’s my hope. I hope they are not taken down after 2020 ends, or whenever we come back to campus haha. It’s been nice that the campus has also paid attention to the James Farmer multicultural center, being that it’s our 30 year anniversary, the 20th anniversary of the center being named after Dr. Farmer, uh and the work that we’re doing in our office, so that’s also been wonderful. I think that one of the things that we can do, moving forward, is just continuing to support, uh, the initiatives and the things and the issues that Dr. Farmer would have supported if he was still with us. Not to sound biased, but, you know, having the social justice piece or component integrated into the curriculum of UMW. We have a social justice minor, which is fantastic. I am thinking even more. You know, having different cultural studies as minors, so you have African American studies as a minor, uh, or major at UMW, because many of the students have asked to have that implemented and integrated into the curriculum on campus. I think that would be a step in the right direction for the campus as a whole to continue the work of Dr. farmer. You know, he taught in the history and American studies department at UMW. Uh, so, that would be a way to carry out this legacy a little bit more. You know, just more representation in terms of faculty, you know hiring more faculty of color, you know I think that would come a long way in the name of Dr. Farmer. Cause he was one of the few who were on campus at the time he was teaching while at UMW. So I think that would be a great way to acknowledge what he brought, not only to our campus but to our society. And you know, just continue to support the other initiatives, whether eit be te office of disabilities resource office, our office, you know, I think its just important for students to realy have a balance. It’s not just enough to, I know people are just coming to college to get into their major, but before they get into their major, you know having an understanding of how our society has worked. And so, you know, having that knowledge base, because it could change lives, because I can say that the social justice and leadership summit has changed the direction of a few student’s past because of the sessions we provide at the summit. So, that, all that could be something that continues the legacy of Dr. Farmer.

KIMBERLY: Yeah those are all amazing points. To, I don’t know, end on a high note. Do you have any funny antic dotes about Dr. Farmer? I know you said he had a good laugh so…

CHRISTOPHER [LAUGHING]: so, let me see. I remember he had a great sense of humor, I cant recall any like jokes he said or anything he said, but he had a really good sense of humor and a wonderful hardy laugh. I can tell you that I cant recall anything off hand now, but I remember the former director, the first director of the James farmer multicultural center, Forest Parker. We were at the Dr. Farmer tribute, when we first, that first Monday when we returned to campus, when we had the whole chandler ballroom packed. Afterwards him and I talked and he mentioned that “yeah me, me and dr. Farmer” I think he used to call him Jim and and he said “yeah, we used to go out for drinks and you know, he was so funny, charismatic” and I think that’s a side people didn’t get to see that often but… yeah he was great.

KIMBERLY: Yeah, I agree with that, I think he was definitely painted as more of like a stoic figure, so its nice to know that he did chuckle a bit.

CHRISTOPHER [LAUGHING]: haha yeah, right. I think that because of the…I think…I think about John Lewis and Dr. Farmer and Dr. King, Whitney Young, Roy Wilkens, Dorothy Hight, all these people, all they sacrificed, but they still had great sense of humor. Despite all the trauma they still found sense of Joy, so I think there’s a lesson in that.



Hist 428 Spring 2020, “Christopher Williams Oral History Interview,” James Farmer at Mary Washington, accessed July 20, 2024,

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