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James Leonard Farmer, Jr.

Farmer, James Leonard, Jr., 1920–99, African-American civil-rights leader who was one of the principal civil-rights figures of the 1950s and 60s, b. Marshall, Tex., grad. Wiley College (B.S. 1938), Howard Univ. (B.D. 1941). Early in life he was a union organizer and a program director for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In 1942 he was a founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), one of the most important activist organizations dedicated to African-American civil rights. He was its chairman in the 1940s and later its director (1961–66). Devoted to Gandhian nonviolence, Farmer organized lunch-counter sit-ins, Freedom Rides (see Freedom Riders), and other civil-disobedience actions. Frequently risking his life, he was beaten and jailed. Resigning from CORE in 1966, Farmer taught college, ran (1968) unsuccessfully for national office, and was assistant director (1969–70) of the Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare. He later ran an educational think tank, was director of an association of public-employee unions, and taught history (1985–98) at Mary Washington College. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998.

See his Freedom—When? (1965) and Lay Bear the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement (1985).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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