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“Before I visited this site, I knew little to nothing about Mr. Farmer. This site allowed me to find out about the man, his ideals, how he contributed to ending segregation and his involvement in the Civil Rights movement. Normally you hear about Dr. Martin Luther King and rarely about the others who devoted their lives to making a difference in the Civil Rights movement. Thank you for taking the time and interest in remembering the other people who helped change a nation.”

-Marty, a visitor to the James Farmer Project

The Life and Times of James L. Farmer Jr: Civil Rights Leader and Distinguished Professor

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James Farmer’s life began in the South in the 1920′s. Farmer was the child of a minister and spent his early years in a relatively sheltered atmosphere in the black college town of Marshall, Texas.

But Jim Crow was pervasive and left a deep impact on the young Farmer. James Farmer started college at the tender age of 14 at Wiley College, where he joined the famous debate team now captured in the film The Great Debaters.(Click here for a film review by Professor Timothy M. O’Donnell, Director of Debate and Associate Professor of Speech at the University of Mary Washington.) Farmer once bragged to a professor that he “defeated Jim Crow” in a debate session, but his professor merely reminded him that he still followed Jim Crow laws when he sat in the balcony in a movie theater. Farmer knew that he was a hypocrite to fight segregation so vehemently in the debates but obey it in his normal life, so he decided to begin his career as a political activist to fight inequality in its many forms.

Farmer had an outstanding career as one of America’s most successful leaders in civil rights. Farmer formed many movements associated with the civil rights struggle, including the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the Freedom Rides, and the Fund for an Open Society. He also paved the way for many blacks in politics when he served as the Assistant Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Nixon Administration. Farmer’s speeches captivated audiences and his autobiography, Lay Bare the Heart, offers an insightful account of the civil rights movement.

James Farmer’s dedication to equality touched many lives in the classroom as well. In the final years of his life, from 1985 to 1999, Farmer served as a Distinguished Professor of History and American Studies at Mary Washington College (now the University of Mary Washington) in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

About this project

The James Farmer Project at the University of Mary Washington is a student-led project in HIST 471C3: “Digital History” for Spring 2008 under the supervision of Dr. Jeffrey McClurken. The focus of this class is the combination of history and new media relating to local people and events.

The James Farmer Project attempts to present the life and times of James L. Farmer as a civil rights leader and distinguished professor for the general public. This website is the culmination of our research using books, newspaper articles, letters, interviews, and speeches related to James Farmer.

For more about the students involved in the James Farmer Project, please see the about us page.

Special thanks

Special thanks go to Carolyn Parsons at the UMW Archives, Andy Rush at the UMW Department of Teaching and Learning Technologies, Leah Cox of the UMW James Farmer Multicultural Center and Dr. Tim O’Donnell of the UMW Department of Speech, as well as Dr. McClurken and the other students in HIST 471C3 who have offered criticism and advice throughout this process.

Hosting is provided by umwblogs.org.

Contact Information

If you have any questions or comments regarding this site, please contact:

Dr. Timothy M. O’Donnell
Director of Debate and Associate Professor of Speech
University of Mary Washington
316 Combs Hall
1301 College Ave.
Fredericksburg, VA 22401
todonnel@umw.edu
(540) 654-1252 (office)