Tell Us About James Farmer in Your Words

Many of us knew James Farmer as a friend, a professor, a colleague. Even more know of him by his reputation as a civil rights leader. Share your thoughts, anecdotes, and experiences with us, and help to build a rich picture of James Farmer. To do so, post a comment below.

22 Responses to “Tell Us About James Farmer in Your Words”

  1. Terri Bard says:

    As a student at MWC I was told by a friend that I HAD TO take James Farmer’s class because he had been a major figure during the Civil Rights movement and would not be around much longer. Not knowing really who he was, I signed up for the class and was instantly mesmerized by this man! Not one student spoke during his dialogues and not one person took notes. We just sat entranced by his voice that was like velvet as it described the horrors and injustices he had endured. He had a calm, proud, powerful demeanor that emanated from his crippled body. It is truly sad that his accomlishments and life has been overlooked. I will forever be thankful that I ingnorantly went into his class and came out touched with a better understanding of the trials and tribulations of an entire American population of people.

  2. Lynne Hickey Faut says:

    When James Farmer came to teach at Mary Washington he taught one course. Civil Rights. He required only two paperback books. No note taking. No mid-term. I thought what?! I’ve got to take this class. It was full. I got in the next semester and I’ve never forgotten him or what he said during those precious weeks. He was amazing. He captured all of us. He answered any and all questions. He had no arrogance whatsoever. I remember the day he announced he that his grand-daughter was born. He was so proud and said he was told that she was beautiful. He didn’t let his disabilities get him down. He continued his important work by sharing his experiences during the Civil Rights Movement and I will be forever changed by it. Thank you Dr. Farmer.

  3. Arlene Klapproth says:

    I just watched the trailer for Dr Farmer’s documentary and heard his voice….I can envision myself sitting in the classroom listening to him. Mesmerized by his life, his recollections. I feel so lucky and proud to have met him and had that experience! Definitely one of my best memories of Mary Washington.

  4. Richard Ivey says:

    I was a history major at MWC and had heard about Dr. Farmer’s class and how much my friends had learned. Even though the class was full in the spring semester of 1986 he added me and I spent the next few months entranced by his knowledge and character. His autobiography was the text and he only wanted share his experiences so that everyone of us could remember the sacrifices others made. He was blind and had to be escorted from the classroom to his office to wait for his ride and I got to escort him once or twice. I was excited and honored at the time just to shake his hand but to sit and talk with him was an experience I treasure more and more as I grow older. I am a better person for having him teach me about real life and living your beliefs.

  5. Rebecca Jarvis says:

    There is no other class I took in college that was more powerful and inspiring than James Farmer’s Civil Rights class at Mary Washington College. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to sit in the same room as Dr. Farmer. Some 20 years later, I still remember the emotion and intrigue I experienced listening to Dr. Farmer’s experiences first-hand. I still have my autographed copy of “Lay Bare The Heart” and know that this course was one that impacted me for a lifetime. Thank you, Dr. Farmer, for enlightening and inspiring me and countless others. I sincerely hope your work will be honored and further celebrated through this commemorative stamp. God bless.

  6. Amber Chamberlain Reiter says:

    At 19 I was fortunate to have the foresight to register for Dr. Famer’s class. In fact, I was lucky to take two courses from him. One of the many lovely aspects of attending MWC was small class size, however, this course was provided in an auditorium to allow as many students as possible to learn from him. His overall expressive, commanding style and storytelling ability filled me with so much emotion furthering my somewhat unconscious (then) commitment to improve the human condition in whatever capacity I could. Over the years I have supported individuals and families in crisis to include a love and passion for supporting military families specifically across our nation at this unique time in history. I owe a debt a of thanks to Dr. Farmer and UMW for adding early foundational heft to what became a very conscious attempt to be a good citizen.

  7. Stephanie Wallace says:

    Even as young students we knew how fortunate we were to be sitting in front of James Farmer. His lectures were dramatic – as he spoke in the tones of the emotion he wanted to illustrate to us, it was overwhelming at times. I will never forget the lecture when he sang “We Shall Overcome”. Words can’t express the power of his voice in that auditorium on that and every day he spoke. He brought each and every one of us on his journey through the Civil Rights Movement. His powerful voice and ability to capture us are memories for all who had the honor of knowing him. He was an extraordinary man.

  8. Susan Spears says:

    I was fortunate to meet Dr. Farmer when I was a student at Virginia Commonwealth University in the 1980’s. I took a course on 20th Century History and was fascinated with the Civil Rights Movement. Close family friend and life mentor Marguerite Young arranged for me to come home and interview Dr. Farmer for my final research paper. The moment I met him changed my life completely — every young person who ever had that honor knows exactly what I am talking about. He loved people, and he especially loved young people, in particular, if they took an interest in the world around them. He never tired of sharing the amazing stories about the many struggles he encountered in his earnest quest for equality. He was a true Trailblazer in the movement who was large in every way — booming voice; tall in stature; immense intelligence; and a heart larger than most countries. I can not image where we as a country might be today had Dr. Farmer not graced us with his visionary presence. I am a much better person for having known him. Dr. Farmer, you are much loved and missed. God bless you.

    PS) Remember the night Mariah and I took you to dinner at Diamond Head, and you so kindly listened to our U2 tape where Bono honored Dr. King. I can still see you leaned back – totally relaxed – in my parents’ Town Car, eyes closed, listening intently as Bono sang….”sleep, sleep tonight….and may your dreams be realized. If the thundercloud passes rain, so let it rain,rain down on me….” (MLK). Peace be with you.

  9. Liz Lovern says:

    I served as an Assistant to Dr. James Farmer during a semester at the University of Mary Washington (UMW). Due to Dr. Farmer’s blindness, it was my job to escort him to his classroom. I will never forget the intimate moments we shared as I led him by the arm. He was always so kind and upbeat, even as his health deteriorated.

    His first-hand accounts made his class unlike any other history class I took for my degree. Dr. Farmer taught his students by telling stories from his book “Lay Bare the Heart.” He wanted our generation to hear his stories in order to stay connected to that part of history. At times, it was hard for us to comprehend what he had endured in the fight for civil rights.

    Dr. Farmer had an amazing life and we were all so fortunate at UMW that he chose to share it with us. This stamp will help his legacy to carry on. His recognition was long overdue when he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. I will never forget the experience of knowing Dr. James Farmer.

  10. John B. Jackson says:

    I am from Marshell, tx. graduated from H. B. Pemberton high school(the old colored high school) where Dr Farmer`s went to schooll.A street named of him (farmer street and Alvin st. in Masshell,texas is where I lived when living in marshell,texas).It will be a great thing to have a stamp with his name and picture own it. I am a retired civic service employed of 39 years. THANKS ,John B. Jackson

  11. Angela Beuing Valentine says:

    When I signed up for James Farmer’s class I had absolutely no idea how much I would enjoy his class and his book. I was fortunate to meet him and be able to take his class in 1988. What an unforgettable human being! A stamp in his honor is a great idea!

  12. Elena Piquer Mayberry says:

    James Farmer’s “Introduction to Civil Rights” class at MWC was one of the most important learning experiences of my life. It was an amazing way to learn about such an important part of our nation’s history. What a privilege to be in his presence as he shared his experiences. It was my last semester and I had to beg to be added to an already full class. If necessary, I was would have returned after graduation to take the class.

    However, this class and wonderful man also had a great impact on my son. About the third week of the semester, I could not get a sitter for my ten year-old son (I was a non-traditional student), so I brought him to class under strict “orders” to be on his best behavior. In the following weeks, he INSISTED on accompanying me to class, even though his Dad was home. We sometimes stayed after class and chatted with Dr. Farmer. To this day, he treasures his memory of this experience and I feel blessed that my son and I were able to share this experience.

  13. Kerry Childers says:

    In the fall of 1988, too took Dr. Farmer’s civil rights class at MWC. He had two sessions of the class and I took the day session which was in the classroom. This setting was neat in its own way because we were so close unlike the auditorium. You know how history classes are – someone lectures about what happened in the past. In this case, instead of getting those lectures, we got stories. It was all stories and Dr. Farmer could make any story interesting. It is so much easier to learn from stories and I looked forward to his class twice a week. He was definitely inspiring – his booming voice and persuasive message was awesome and I can definitely say that he changed my life. It has now been 22 years since then and I still remember him like it was yesterday. I can also say that he taught me compassion for others that has lasted through the years.

  14. Angela says:

    I took Dr. Farmer’s class as a freshman at MWC. As an African American student, it was very important for me to take this class because I felt like it was a missing part of my personal history. Growing up, I was not exposed to a substantial amount of African American history, therefore I felt like I had an empty spot in my education.

    I can remember that even though the class was once a week for a few hours, nobody ever moved or left the room because it was beyond fascinating. In 1996, I formally met Dr. Farmer in his office one day and I visited him again at the end of the semester to pick up a paper. I never spoke in class, so I was fascinated when he recognized my voice during my return visit. I still have my autographed copy of Eyes on the Prize, which I later had signed by Juan Williams. I will never forget the awesome experience that I had in Dr. Farmer’s class.

  15. Nathan "Nate' Windle says:

    As a student who graduated from ‘Mary Washinton College’ in 1987 and a child born in 1965 with older siblings, I remember when my two older sisters first attended segregated elementary schools in our area. I, too, can remember a time when my older sister was caught up in the racial riots experienced in her first year of high school and she was locked down in the gymnasium. As a creative child, I was perplexed as to…what was segregation? and…why were people fighting just because they were different? Many years later, Dr. James Farmer vividly answered those questions.

    As one of the foremost leaders in this nation’s Civil Rights Movement, it was a true priviilege to have Dr. Farmer as an instructor. He was a true pioneer who compassionately shared his life’s journey and legacy with the hundreds of students who filled his classes each sememster…and securing a seat in one of his sought after classes was worth so much more than the 3 credits and the grade one earned…it was a glimpse into history in the making. I am sure Dr. Farmer was smiling on President Barack O’bama during his inauguration in knowing the dreams of our nation’s leading civil rights activists still lives on.

    To Dr. Farmer, his two daughters, and Mary Washington, I extend my gratitude as one of the many students whose life was enriched by this true gentleman!

  16. Colette Johnson says:

    I was a student of James Farmer at Mary Washington and looked forward to his lectures every week. I was on the edge of my seat the whole class and hung on every word. It was amazing and inspiring to hear his story and his contribution to history. My favorite part – when he told us to put down our pens and turn off our tape recorders. That’s when we knew he was going to share some really good stories that were for our ears only.

  17. Steven Paul says:

    As a newly declared American Studies major, I felt I had to take Civil Rights, aside from the unanimous accolades from across campus. This tall, strapping man with a voice like James Earl Jones, the master storyteller, with impeccable bona fides, who gave his heart and soul, health and well-being to improve the lives of Americans and elevate our nation’s great ideals to daily practice, gave me more than I ever could have bargained for. I’m a principled person, but Dr. James Farmer showed me what courage of conviction means. Not by defining it with words, but by telling the story of his life, at the Jack Spratt Coffee Shop in Chicago and the Greyhounds stations in Georgia & Alabama. In The Kennedy Oval Office and at the 1964 World’s Fair.

    His class was an irreplaceable opportunity to have a dialog with history. How many of us would wish to have dinner with Benjamin Franklin, or take a stroll with Gandhi? This class was that, but for three hours a week for 12 weeks. I discussed with him whether his friend and colleague Malcolm X was a party to his own assassination, & he told me what it was like to tell Bobby Kennedy, “No.”

    I also had the chance to spend time with him outside of class. In 1988 Rich Cooper arranged a spaghetti dinner in his honor in our dorm, Madison Hall. We all enjoyed discussing the politics of the day, including Jesse Jackson’s presidential candidacy. True to form, Dr. Farmer was more interested in what we thought than telling us what he thought. From that day on he always remembered me by name and voice, though he had thousands of students. And I always remember him, in part by stopping by his bronze bust along Campus Walk when I’m in Fredericksburg.

    Dr. Farmer has never stopped inspiring me to face my life’s challenges as they come, though they are not nearly as formidable has his were. I’m very proud of my small association with him. It’s no small association for me.

  18. Richard Cooper says:

    Farmer – Rich Cooper Submission

    For a year and a half I rode with history in the front seat of my car. Serving as the Student Aide to Dr. Farmer at Mary Washington College was one of those experiences that was not just fun, but changed my life for the better. Given his blindness, it was my responsibility to pick up Dr. Farmer at his home in Spotsylvania off of Guinea Station Road and bring him back and forth to the Fredericksburg campus for the classes he would teach. It would be my arm that he would hold onto as I would escort him to class and he would, for lack of a better description, hold court in front of students recounting from memory the struggles, events, conversations and people that would change the American adventure for the better.

    For a white guy from Western Pennsylvania whose middle class, suburban life was about as far removed from anything associated with Farmer’s upbringing in Texas and historic clashes with racists, political leaders and the Civil Rights struggle, I had a living history book placed in my hands several times a week. In the front seat of my Chevy Citation, Farmer would talk about the events of the day or just want to know what I thought about things. Being born in 1968, I was at least two to three generations removed from the fights that allowed people to sit on a bus where ever they wanted; take a seat at a lunch counter without harassment or just take a drink from any available water fountain. As a Generation X-er, the world of segregation was something I could not appreciate or comprehend because I had never lived it. I was a white kid from the suburbs – what could I possibly know about not being able to sit where I wanted or go where I wanted to go?

    Looking back at the many car rides and the always great conversations, I have to admit that I was probably embarrassed by the good life that I had led at that point in my life. There was no way I could relate to being physically beaten, tear gassed or having my life or those of my family and friends threatened for wanting equal access in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Farmer had done all of those things for people he knew and loved but for many more that he would never know and that unfortunately would never know him. While he was inherently proud of the fights he took on and won, his measure of success had more to do with the good lives that could be lived in his wake and those he fought along side with than what scar tissue you gained in the course of your life.

    While my good life and those of my generational peers were measurably better for Farmer’s fights on our behalf, he would caution everyone listening to his lectures that freedoms are hard fought and won but they were never absolute guarantees. It would require all of us as individuals and as various community members looking out for one another to make sure the stain of racism would not spill again upon the fabric of American life. It was our charge to make sure his fights and those who were along side of him, remained long-term victories and not historical aberrations.

    While history may have recorded many names more prominently in the Civil Rights struggle, there is little debate that many of those giants took their heralded positions because of James Farmer and his works. That was something that I thought of every time I drove him to campus. Washington, Adams, Jefferson and others may be called rightfully called “the Framers” of the American way of life, but it was people like James Farmer, John Lewis, Martin Luther King and others that were the “Completers” who guaranteed that way of life for every one of its citizens.

    I believe that is why Dr. Farmer chose to become an educator in the later portion of his life. In his own way, he saw himself as a farmer of sorts ensuring that the seeds of history, experience and perspective that he would plant in our lives would take root so as to yield a better crop than what he inherited as a child in the Jim Crow world he was born into.

    Having that man in the front seat of my car, either humming a song, talking about the news on the radio, the boxing matches of yesteryear or even telling a very bad joke that even Johnny Carson would turn away was probably the best company any person could possibly keep.

    I was incredibly proud to be of service to him knowing the roads that I travelled on with him and after him would be more open and wider with opportunity than ever before. People who leave legacies like that and entrust us to go forward on those hard won paths of open opportunity are by far the greatest amongst us. I was fortunate to have one of those individuals in the passenger front seat of my car as my own life’s adventure would begin. I know he made my personal history better and I’m not alone with those gifts either.

  19. Kim Jones Isaac says:

    I was privileged enough to take James Farmer’s class during the first year that he taught. His deep, majestic voice, combined with his amazing ability to weave a story kept me mesmerized for the entire semester. I don’t recall ever taking notes in that class. I simply listened. What he had to say gave me the chills and brought the Civil Rights Movement to life right in that classroom. It is one of my most cherished memories from college and an experience I will always treasure. One day, I was able to escort him back to his office. Although the walk only lasted about 5 minutes, it was truly a once in a lifetime experience. And despite everything he had been through and all of his health issues, he had such a positive attitude and always had a smile for his students. He truly touched my life and I will never forget him.

  20. Anne Newman says:

    Dr. James Farmer is probably the most remarkable person I ever had the privilege of meeting. I am from Marshall, Texas, his home while his father was a professor at Wiley College.

    I first had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Farmer when he made a speech at East Texas Baptist University. I had brought more than 30 school buses filled with high school students to hear his address. After his speech, his good friend Gail Beil introduced me to Dr. Farmer and I began to work to convince him to return to Marshall to speak at the high school. It was at that time that we also learned of the movement to secure the Presidential Medal of Freedom for Dr. Farmer. Over the years, several of my students worked to help secure that goal—Craig Moore, who is now an Assistant District Attorney in Austin; Ben Bates, who is an engineer, also in the Austin area; and Dr. Larry Hygh, Jr., who is currently the Associate General Secretary, Mission Communications at General Ministries for the United Methodist Church and who now resides in New York City. Most of their work and research is housed at the LBJ Center on the UT campus in Austin.

    While his health prevented his presenting his program at a school-wide assembly, the Marshall High School Student Council was privileged to co-host Dr. Farmer for several programs in Marshall, including the dedication of Farmer Street in honor of his father and then at a community celebration of his life and accomplishments. Leaders from the city, the county, and the state came to pay homage to Dr. Farmer. Just to be in Dr. Farmer’s presence was to realize that he was a great, but humble, man who had not forgotten, but had forgiven, the violence directed against him and those active in the civil rights movement. He was a man who loved people, and he had a great sense of humor, even making jokes about his blindness—and when those remarks were met with a deafening silence because the young audience was not sure how to respond, Dr. Farmer stepped back from the microphone and in that booming voice, announced that the audience needed to “lighten up; that is was okay to laugh.” His attitude and outlook were remarkable.

    Dr. Farmer’s accomplishment will live on to have a positive impact on all our lives as his memory will live on in our hearts!

  21. Betj Shepperd says:

    The tragedy of my story about James Farmer is that I had never heard of him until I saw the film, “The Great Debaters.” I grew up in East Texas no more that 30 miles from Marshall. I graduated from high school in the 60’s and I became a high school debate coach. How could I not have known that such an inspirational debate story happened in my area or that such an important historical figure came from Marshall. This stamp is important to us all.

  22. Susan Hooper White says:

    I had the great honor of being Educated by James Farmer back in the day when our college was known as Mary Washington College. We are now University of Mary Washington. No teacher has ever made such an impact in my life. The word around campus at the time was that he was Martin Luther King’s “right hand man”. The course was Civil Rights. I attended MWC, now UMW, from 1985 and graduated in 1989.
    I quickly found out that he was not someone’s “right hand man”, he stood very well on his own. If you have not read Lay Bare The Heart, I encourage anyone to do so. Please, not to take anything away from MLK, I just think Dr. Farmer has been kind of left in the back ground.
    This man very humbly would open each lecture with “where did I leave off last class…” Please, I am paraphrasing, but, that was the point. He was blind, therefore never taught us by notes. He just taught us fortunate students from memory. Some student would tell him where he ended the last class and then he would tell us true stories, history, for 3 hours.
    I will never forget his very strong voice, and his amazing laugh. Within just a class or two I just knew I was a fortunate girl to have this wonderful professor.
    I then and now tell what he taught me. I have shared his book with various people.
    Now, this is totally amazing….I lived in Virginia when he passed away. A Memorial service was scheduled at a local college, in Richmond. I was able to attend. What an Honor. I actually was able to pray and say my goodbye in a way in which I thought he deserved. It was a beautiful service…he still makes such an impact on my life, as well as many others.

Leave a Reply