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James L. Farmer, Jr.
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    (January 12, 1920-July 9, 1999)
    Born in Marshall, Texas
    Founding member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE, 1942)
    National director of CORE (1961-66)
    Organized Freedom Rides to test desegregation of public facilities in the South (1961)
    Considered one of the 'Big Four' of 60s civil rights leaders, along with Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young and Roy Wilkins
    Received the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1998)
    He noted that as a 'faculty brat' at a historically black university, he was shielded from the worst of racism growing up.
    He considered a career in medicine until he realized he could not stand the sight of blood.
    His first marriage broke up when his wife discovered a note from his mistress (and second wife) in his coat pocket.
    He ran unsuccessfully for Congress, losing to Shirley Chisholm (1968).
    He enrolled in college at age 14.
    He was captain of the college debate team.
    When Attorney General Robert F Kennedy suggested that CORE postpone some Freedom Rides so the situation could 'cool off,' Farmer refused, saying 'We have been cooling off for 350 years.'
    He noted that the Freedom Rides eventually forced the Interstate Commerce Commission to issue a new order, 'with teeth in it,' to ban segregation in interstate travel.
    While he was organizing protests in the town of Plaquemine, Louisiana, state troopers armed with guns, cattle prods and tear gas hunted for him door to door. He escaped by playing dead in the back of a hearse that a funeral home director drove out of town (1963).
    When more militant blacks urged him to abandon nonviolence and fight back, he would reply, 'We are fighting back, only we're using new weapons.'

Credit: C. Fishel

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