Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with James L. Farmer, Jr., June 11, 1964

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:00 - The racial problem of segregation

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Partial Transcript: A conversation with Mr. James Farmer.

Segment Synopsis: Farmer briefly discusses his childhood and lack of knowledge of segregation. He also talks about the founding principles of the Congress of Racial Equality as well as the great debate between African Americans regarding integration and separation.

Keywords: Achievements; African American community; Approach; Black colleges; Black community; Campus; Challenges; Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Conscience; Consequences; Contradiction; Debate; Direct contact; Duties; Efforts; Energies; Eric Lincoln; Evil; Experimental; Fellowship of Reconciliation; Henry David Thoreau; Ingredients; Integrationist; Intolerable; Involvement; Mahatma Gandhi; Malcolm X; Mass movement; Nonviolent direct action; Organization; Principles; Professors; Rejection; Separation; Stimulus

Subjects: African American leadership; African Americans--Social conditions; Boycotts.; Childhood; Civil rights movements--United States; Integration; Segregation

00:09:03 - The concept of absorption and quota systems

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Partial Transcript: Now, I am an integrationist.

Segment Synopsis: Farmer discusses the question of who will lose their racial identity should the races start to live together in the same neighborhoods, marry and have children. He also discusses the concept of quota systems.

Keywords: Absorption; African tradition; American pluralism; Choice; Collisions; Color blindness; Dangers; Employees; Ghettos; Housing; Integrationists; Jobs; Numbers; Open society; Population; Pride; Quotas; Skin; State employment service; Suburbs; Unity; W. E. B. Du Bois; White culture; White society

Subjects: African Americans--Employment.; African Americans--Legal status, laws, etc.; Civil rights movements--United States; Desegregation; Discrimination.; Identity (Philosophical concept); Interracial marriage; Segregation

00:16:19 - School integration

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Partial Transcript: You have read Oscar Handlin's little book "Bell in the Night" that recently come out?

Segment Synopsis: Farmer talks about the practicality of withdrawing children from public schools and enrolling them in private schools instead of busing them for the sake of integration.

Keywords: Children; Dangers; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Nonsense; Oscar Handlin; Private schools; Public school systems; Quality education; Quota systems; School zones

Subjects: Busing for school integration; Education; Equality.; Integration; New York (N.Y.); Segregation in education; Washington (D.C.)

00:21:25 - Medgar Evers and violence in Mississippi

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Partial Transcript: You were saying that you were inclined to believe--correct me if this isn't right--that the, uh, hung jury in the two trials of Beckwith were honest, but not rigged for public consumption.

Segment Synopsis: Farmer talks about the jury in the first murder trial of Byron de la Beckwith, a member of the White Citizens' Council who was tried for the murder of Medgar Evers. He also describes the civil rights activity in Mississippi that followed, as well as the procedures Medgar Evers followed when driving his car before his assassination. He also discusses getting out of jail and the fear he felt for his life.

Keywords: Accidents; Awareness; Brothers; Changes; Charles Evers; Conviction; Evidence; Experiences; Fisk University; Freedom Riders; Freedom Rides; Freedom songs; Highways; Hung juries; Lynching; Mob; Monolithic; Nashville Press; Nonviolence; Police state; Political power structure; Reporters; Robert Williams; Ross Barnett; Serenade; Speedometer; Van; Voter registration

Subjects: Beckwith, Byron de la; Evers, Medgar Wiley, 1925-1963--Assassination; Mississippi; Nashville (Tenn.); Segregation; Violence--Mississippi

00:31:37 - The civil rights movement and its white members

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Partial Transcript: Let me go back to a topic, uh, suggested earlier by your remarks about CORE.

Segment Synopsis: Farmer talks about having white members in the CORE organization and the role of white liberals in civil rights organizations in general. He also discusses the civil rights movement and how it compares to other national issues in terms of importance.

Keywords: "Uncle Tom"; Activists; Adam Clayton Powell; African American community; Black community; Civil liberties; Civil rights organizations; Civil rights revolution; Conflict; Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Contributions; Criticisms; Difficulty; Domestic issues; Funds; Health; Impact; Interracial character; Interracial experiences; Irrelevant; James Baldwin; Louis Lomax; Membership; Money; Motivation; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Open occupancy housing; Open society; Poverty; Ralph Ellison; Roles; Secondary leadership; Suspicion; Unemployment; White liberals

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Civil rights demonstrations; Civil rights movements--United States; Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973; Leadership; Liberalism; Segregation

00:41:57 - Leadership in the civil rights movement

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Partial Transcript: Adam Clayton Powell said to me some weeks ago...

Segment Synopsis: Farmer denounces the statement by Adam Clayton Powell that the old leaders and organizations of the civil rights movement are declining, as well as discusses the leaders within the civil rights movement.

Keywords: "Mature negro politics"; Adam Clayton Powell; African American community; Ambition; Attempt; Black community; Black leaders; Chapters; Civil Rights Leadership Conference; Competition; Conflict; Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Contradictory; Council for United Civil Rights Leadership; Diffusion; Ferment; Freedom Rides; Growth; Hollow; Impulse; Liability; March on Washington Committee; Members; Militancy; Montgomery Bus Boycott; Motives; Newspapers; Peak; Power; Promises; Realities; Revolutions; Rhetoric; Roy Wilkins; Sit-ins; Speeches; Tension; Turning point; United Civil Rights Committee; United front; Unity committees; Verbalism; Whitney Young

Subjects: African American leadership; African Americans--Social conditions; Civil rights movements--United States; Leadership; Malcolm X, 1925-1965

00:52:47 - The tactic of demonstrations

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Partial Transcript: Let's turn from that a moment to the matter of demonstrations.

Segment Synopsis: Farmer defines the various types of demonstrations, their functions, and when they ought to be used. He also discusses the significance of demonstrations and justifies the use of nonviolent demonstrations.

Keywords: "Freedom Now"; "Negro Revolt"; "Uncle Tom"; Acceptable boundaries; Accusation; Action; African American community; Black community; Campaigns; Category; Churches; Civil rights bill; Civil rights revolution; Courage; Dialogue; Dr. Kenneth Clark; Flexible; Gains; General strike; Generalization; Guidelines; Inappropriate; Influence; Louis Lomax; Militant; Momentum; Motivations; Negligible; Negotiations; Nonviolent demonstrations; Oscar Handlin; Polarization; Profits; Progress; Protests; Psychological; Responsible; Security; Seed; Sit-ins; Social structure; Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC); Targets; Unity; Valid; Victory; Whitney Young; Woolworth's lunch counter; Work stoppage

Subjects: Boycotts.; Civil rights demonstrations; Civil rights demonstrations--Alabama--Birmingham; Civil rights movements--United States; Communities.; New York (N.Y.); Nonviolence; Protest movements.; Violence

01:08:55 - Southern stereotypes and the mob

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Partial Transcript: James Baldwin and others report that the Southern mob does not represent the majority will of the South.

Segment Synopsis: Farmer discusses the effects of demonstrations in the South as well as James Baldwin's concept of the Southern mob's representation of the South. He also discusses the shifting of Southern stereotypes.

Keywords: Activeness; Black community; Charles Evers; Communication; Congress of Racial Equality; Contradictions; Courage; Crisis; Crying; Economic elements; Ignorant; Image; Issues; James Baldwin; Majority; Mass demonstrations; Minority; Negotiations; Opposition; Passiveness; Paternalism; Police brutality; Poverty; Psychological need; Respect; Richmond News Leader; Settlement; Sit-ins; Slavery; Southern mob; Southerners; Violent mobs; White woman

Subjects: African Americans--Social conditions; Civil rights demonstrations; Civil rights movements--United States; Communities.; Identity (Philosophical concept); Segregation; Stereotypes (Social psychology)

01:19:09 - Race relations with whites and other African Americans

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Partial Transcript: You said you had carried certain white workers, uh, to the Plaquemines, uh, office--

Segment Synopsis: Farmer discusses the relations of African Americans with whites as well as other African Americans in different classes.

Keywords: Adam Clayton Powell; Adaptability; Alienation; Anger; Books; Class delineation; Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Danger; Destructive violence; Development; Distrust; Education; Expensive; Gap; Human being; Ignorance; Individuals; James Baldwin; Leadership class; Lower class; Malcolm X; Middle class; Nonviolent direct action; Prominence; Ralph Bunch; Rhetoric; Slum leadership; Status symbol; Success; Temporary; Upper class; Violence; Vocabulary; Whitney Young

Subjects: African American leadership; African Americans--Economic conditions; African Americans--Social conditions; Civil rights movements--United States; Classism; Leadership; Race relations

01:29:44 - Recognizing prejudice

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Partial Transcript: Now, the other question that came to mind out of what you said earlier was this...

Segment Synopsis: Farmer discusses recognizing prejudice and the "good vs. bad" approach to the civil rights movement. He also discusses what comes after achieving equality.

Keywords: Activities; African American history; Beast; Biases; Black history; Boss; Confederacy; Contributions; Cultures; Evil; Fair employment; Focus; Good; Human condition; Integration; Leadership; Legislation; Liability; Malcolm X; Moral issue; Mutual pride; Nonviolent movement; Platform; Preach; Proud; Psychological tactics; Racial prejudice; Responsibility; Revolution; Risk; School boycotts; Segregation; Separation; Slogan; Social solutions; Trade Union Operation; White backlash

Subjects: African Americans--Legal status, laws, etc.; African Americans--Social conditions.; Civil rights demonstrations; Civil rights movements--United States; Equality.; Prejudice

01:40:46 - Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and John Brown

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Partial Transcript: Let's shift.

Segment Synopsis: Farmer discusses Abraham Lincoln and his objectives in freeing the slaves, John F. Kennedy, Birmingham, civil rights, and John Brown.

Keywords: Civil rights leaders; Deification; Emancipator; Evidence; Growing; Harry Golden; Historical context; Historical relativism; Inferiority; John Brown; Moral judgments; Objective; Opinions; Roles; Society; Symbol; Thomas Jefferson; Union; Watershed

Subjects: Civil rights movements; Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963; Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865; Lincoln, Abraham, 1809-1865 --Views on race relations; Symbolism.

01:48:10 - Ceasing demonstrations

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Partial Transcript: Well, I, of course, was unaware that the president had made any such request that there be a cooling off period or cessation of demonstrations.

Segment Synopsis: Farmer discusses Roy Wilkins' plea to the civil rights groups to accept Barry Goldwater's call for a moratorium on demonstrations during the presidential campaign.

Keywords: Bank accounts; Budgets; Claims; Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Demonstrations; Funds; Giving; Moratorium; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP); Opponents; Presidents; Pressure; Roy Wilkins; Sources; Statements; Strategy; Tradition; Verification; White backlash; White citizens

Subjects: Civil rights demonstrations; Civil rights movements--United States; Elections; Goldwater, Barry M. (Barry Morris), 1909-1998

01:52:06 - Summer project in Mississippi

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Partial Transcript: Well, I read it with much interest and, uh, I find it, uh, basically sympathetic and good.

Segment Synopsis: Farmer attempts to explain the summer project in Mississippi and the reception the white students received from the people there.

Keywords: African American community; Black community; Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Educational qualifications; Effects; Fourth Congressional District; Identity; Local people; Registration; Resistance; Self-expression; Student movement; Students; Summer project; Territory

Subjects: Civil rights movements--United States; Mississippi; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (U.S.)

01:56:31 - Compromise and the Edith Green proposal

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Partial Transcript: Let's go back to convention for a moment.

Segment Synopsis: Farmer discusses the concept of compromising within the civil rights movement and the Edith Green Proposal.

Keywords: Accurate; Administration; Attitudes; Campaign; Civil rights organizations; Commitments; Compromise; Convention; Credentials Committee; Delegations; Edith Green Proposal; Evaporating; Green Resolution; Liberal Democrats; Morally right; Politically wrong; Pressure; Reactions; Robert Moses; Roll call; Stokely Carmichael; Suspicion; Vote; White support

Subjects: African American leadership; Civil rights movements--United States; Labor movement.; Mississippi

02:05:21 - Civil rights actions in Mississippi

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Partial Transcript: Now, another, uh, thing that seems to come out of Mississippi--I haven't been there in quite some months now.

Segment Synopsis: Farmer talks about the screening and training of the volunteers sent to Mississippi. He also describes Mississippi's reaction to the present state of affairs following civil rights actions.

Keywords: Acceptance; African American community; Alliance; Black community; Boycotts; Businesses; Chains of command; Companies; Conviction; Decision making procedures; Democratic Party; Democrats; Difference; Division; Economic pressure; Extraordinary; Federal government; Financial leaders; Freedom Rides; Funds; Grassroots participation; Highway; Horrors; Identification; Indications; Indictment; Information; Justice; Law enforcement; Manipulation; Money; Murder charges; Natural; Order; Peace; Policy; Possibility; Power structures; Public attention; Republicans; Resistance; Screening; Segregationists; Split; Statements; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); Summer project; Techniques; Theorizing; United States Constitution

Subjects: Civil rights movements--United States; Discrimination.; Ku Klux Klan (1915- )--Mississippi; Leadership; Mississippi; Mississippi--Social conditions; Racism; Racism--Mississippi; Segregation

02:19:52 - Reparations and expanding civil rights efforts

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Partial Transcript: What about the, the debt theory, uh, there being a debt owed, uh, to the, uh, uh, because of slavery, uh, to negroes?

Segment Synopsis: Farmer talks about owing African Americans reparations for slavery and discrimination. He also discusses how civil rights efforts are expanding.

Keywords: "Negro Americans"; Activists; Agreements; American life; American society; Awareness; Catalysts; Catalytic agent; Citizen's right; Complex; Economic structure; Education; Equality; Ethnic origin; Freedom; Ghettos; Lyndon B. Johnson; Minority groups; Moral debt; Moral justification; Necessary; Objectives; Political involvement; Revolution; Social movements; Technology; Theory; War on Poverty

Subjects: African Americans--Economic conditions; African Americans--Social conditions; Civil rights movements--United States; Discrimination.; Slavery

02:28:00 - The next step in integration

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Partial Transcript: What's the next, uh, general move aside from, uh, what you were just saying in terms of the, uh, civil--not civil rights, now, but the general, general, uh, movement?

Segment Synopsis: Farmer talks about the expected results of integration. He also discusses the steps that are next in acquiring civil rights.

Keywords: Alliance; Allies; American condition; Awareness; Contributions; Cooperation; Crucial; Freedom; Give; Housing; Integrated society; Judgment; Labor; Racial restrictions; Rejection; Sentiment; Share; Suspicion; Unions

Subjects: Civil rights movements--United States; Identity (Philosophical concept); Integration; Segregation; Societies

02:33:07 - Continuing demonstrations

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Partial Transcript: As far as I can make out, there's a, uh--I understand the last five years there's been a real change in awareness and attitude among a large number of, uh, the white people I'm acquainted with one way or another.

Segment Synopsis: Farmer discusses why demonstrations are needed and how they have proven beneficial to the people seeking rights.

Keywords: Anti-poverty campaign; Awareness; Boycotts; Congress of Racial Equality; Good will; Historical moments; Housing; Human recognition; Judgment; Justice; Memories; Moratorium; Observations; Picket lines; Population; Pressure; Sit-ins; Targets; White people

Subjects: Civil rights demonstrations; Civil rights movements--United States; Discrimination