Quotes

farmer-speaking-1960s.jpgThese quotations are intended to serve as a brief glimpse into the powerful words of James Farmer. Farmer’s words were his most eloquent tool and are posted here to help understand the lessons he conveyed to each person who was privileged enough to hear them firsthand. Mainly, these quotes are excerpts from his autobiography Lay Bare the Heart and also from the University of Mary Washington’s newspaper The Bullet, but are only a small selection of the words of James Farmer, so please also visit the videos section of this site to see his personal speeches.

They are separated by category, so please click a topic below to get started.

-The James Farmer Group

Fear
Core
Nonviolence
Racism
Life
Politics
Freedom Rides
Fredericksburg and UMW
On the Civil Rights Movement
On Being Jailed
On Diversity
On Awards

ON FEAR

“Courage, after all, is not being unafraid, but doing what needs to be done in spite of fear.” Source: James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 3.

“There is no armor more impenetrable than song.”
Source: James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 7.

“Ugliness has its own splendor when it houses a soul of beauty.”
Source: James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 63.

“I was scared all the time in the 60s and anyone who wasn’t, was a liar or totally without imagination.”
Source: “Civil Rights Activist Speaks: Farmer Remembers Struggles,” The Mary Washington Bullet, April 9, 1985.

Back to Top

ON THE CONGRESS OF RACIAL EQUALITY (CORE)

farmer-looking-over-papers-end-segregation-in-background.jpg“I slammed the envelope down on the counter in front of the clerk as if I were, by that act, driving the first nail into the coffin of racism in America.” – James Farmer referring to when he mailed his proposition for CORE to the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR)
Source: James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 89.

“Like a seed, a real core, it would germinate and radiate its equality in wider and wider circles until it encompassed the whole nation.”
Source:
James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 105.

Back to Top

ON NONVIOLENCE

“Words are not enough. There must be action.”
Source: James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 74.

“Nonviolence and legal action must be twin weapons– either one being used when it seems to be most applicable, with each bolstering the other.”
Source:
James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 99.

“These young men and women had no guns with which to defend themselves-no weapons at all, except those of the indomitable human spirit. “
Source:
James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 207.

Back to Top

ON RACISM

“Despite NAACP and the Urban League; despite Fred Douglass; despite DuBois and James Weldon Johnson; despite Charles Hueston, Thurgood Marshall, Bill Hastie, and a whole battery of superb lawyers; despite the bombardment of the nation’s ears by writers who can stride into the human heart and orators who put Demosthenes to shame. Despite it all, segregation persists.”
Source:
James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 74.

“Institutional practices, it seems, perpetuate themselves mostly by their invisibility.” Source: James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 114.

“If you say no to racism and encourage your children to make friendships across racial lines, you can make a difference in one generation.”
Source:
“James Farmer Shares Outlooks on Racism,” The Mary Washington Bullet, April 18, 1996.

“Racism was the belief that race has something to do with intelligence, character and morality. Racism was a concept that some races are inferior and others are superior. That’s a lie.”
Source:
“James Farmer Shares Outlooks on Racism,” The Mary Washington Bullet, April 18, 1996.

Back to Top

ON LIFE

“If I kicked the bucket tomorrow, I would like it to be known that I founded the Congress of Racial Equality in 1942, organized the freedom rides in 1961, and attempted to bring Gandhian techniques of nonviolence to the struggle for racial equality in this country.”
Source: “The Higher Education of James Farmer,” The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, No.18 (Winter, 1997-1998) : 79, http://www.jstor.org/stable/2998771 (accessed February 10, 2008).

farmer-with-tami-farmer.jpg“The nearest thing to inanity during that whole period [the death of Farmer's wife] was the cliche I heard repeated over and over: that time will heal all things and will heal this pain, too. No greater lie was ever told. Time heals nothing. It provides an opportunity for the wound to heal–or to fester and run.”
Source:
James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 350.

Back to Top

ON POLITICS

“Where there is power, or the appearance of power, there are always those who would go to any lengths to gain it. Only those with the gift and taste for it keep it. I always had the gift, but never the taste. “
Source:
James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 271.

“One thing I tried not to be at HEW was a black buffer to take the heat off of those who were higher up. I did not want to be trotted out as the person to pacify unruly blacks whenever there was trouble. There is an almost unavoidable tendency for superiors to use a black appointee in that way, but in very short order it destroys his credibility and his effectiveness.”
Source: James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 329-330.

“For me, the months at HEW were a constant balancing act on the scales of my own conscience. Each morning, while shaving, I had to examine those scales as I looked into my own eyes at the beginning of another day.”
Source: James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 330.

“For years, I had considered it a mistake for blacks to be ‘in the bag’ for either party. The party that had them would consider them ‘safe’ and would court those who were unsafe. The party that did not have them would ignore them, for they were beyond reach, and would concentrate on votes that were attainable.”
Source: James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 339.

Back to Top

ON THE FREEDOM RIDES

“I had not dreamed that in a few short weeks a new kind of civil war would rock the nation–a war not “without violence,” but with violence on only one side. We had not dreamed that Jim Crow would so quickly be stood on its head and its supporters driven into trenches in a do-or-die battle to save it.”
Source: James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 74.

“My objective is not just to make a point, but to bring about a real change in the situation. We will continue the Ride until people can sit wherever they wish on buses and use the facilities in any waiting room available to the public. Please tell the attorney general that we have been cooling off for 350 years. If we cool off any more, we will be in a deep freeze. The Freedom Ride will go on.”
Source:
James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart (Fort Worth: TCU Press, 1985), 206

“[The Freedom Rides were] no doubt the most dramatic and most successful action of the Civil Rights Movement.”
Source:
“Professor Receives National Honor,” The Mary Washington Bullet, January 29, 1998.

Back to Top

ON MARY WASHINGTON COLLEGE and FREDERICKSBURG, VA

farmer-mwc-book-signing2.jpg“In 1980, I was living in Washington D.C, and I was looking for a place to write my book Lay Bare the Heart. I wanted peace and quiet, a large pond. I found that I had to come this far away [from Washington] to find it. In the summer the only noise is the sound of crickets and bullfrogs.”
Source: “Last of the Big Four: James Farmer Creates a Living History,” The Mary Washington Bullet, Sept. 15, 1994.

“When a person is blind, relocation becomes a major decision. Here you are, contemplating a place you’ve never seen. I know my place. My house has a patch of trees, fields, meadows, pastures. I know the terrain, the pitfalls, the contours.”
Source: “Last of the Big Four: James Farmer Creates a Living History,” The Mary Washington Bullet, Sept. 15, 1994.

“I’ll be here until the college and I decide otherwise…What else am I going to do? I’m 77 years old, totally blind, and legless. I can’t go out and get married.”
Source: “
MWC Rewards Farmer with Doctorate,” The Mary Washington Bullet, September 11, 1997.

Back to Top

ON THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT

“Everything changed in the struggle for equality. People en masse were getting involved and the great and inspiring MLK had emerged from his pulpit.”
Source:
“James Farmer Shares Outlooks on Racism,” The Mary Washington Bullet, April 18, 1996.

” The old and the young, the white and the black all managed to step outside of themselves to find something to believe in.”
Source: “
Civil Rights Activist Speaks Farmer Remembers Struggles,” The Mary Washington Bullet, April 9, 1985.

“I risked what I did to improve the nation. We wanted to make what we loved better and make it more deserving of that love.”
Source:
Civil Rights Activist Speaks Farmer Remembers Struggles,” The Mary Washington Bullet, April 9, 1985.

Back to Top

ON BEING JAILED

“I was there, spent forty days and forty nights in the state penitentiary in Mississippi, and we sang great freedom songs.”
Source:
“James Farmer Shares Outlooks on Racism,” The Mary Washington Bullet, April 18, 1996.

Back to Top

ON DIVERSITY

“American citizens need to become more aware of their other American citizens. It serves the whole nation’s culture well to understand all the cultures that go into making the national fabric. To understand the threads of culture that makes up our nation makes us appreciative of diversity.”
Source:
“MWC Celebrates Black History Month,” The Mary Washington Bullet, February 06, 1997.

Back to Top

ON AWARDSscholars-and-mashup-031.jpg

 

“This is the highest civilian honor possible in this country and needless to say, I was honored and flattered. This is the cap of my career.” -on receiving the Medal of Freedom
Source: “Professor Receives National Honor,” The Mary Washington Bullet, January 29, 1998.

Back to Top

All pictures on this page can be found at the UMW Archives.