Happy birthday, Dr. James Farmer!
Two decades after his death and on the day after he would have turned 100, the late Mary Washington professor and U.S. civil rights pioneer Dr. James L. Farmer Jr. is being lauded by the community in which he spent his final years.
Monday, January 13, 2020, not only will serve as a celebration of Farmer’s birthday, it will be the official kick-off for UMW’s Farmer Legacy 2020: A Centennial Celebration and Commitment to Action, a year of signature events and other activities related to Farmer and various social justice milestones.
Honorary chair of Farmer Legacy 2020, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia), had intended to headline Monday’s celebration of his longtime friend and fellow fighter. Both men were among the original 13 participants in the 1961 Freedom Rides, organized by Farmer’s Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Unfortunately, a recent cancer diagnosis prevents Congressman Lewis from attending.
The UMW community is deeply grateful to Rep. Lewis for his commitment to Farmer’s legacy; Lewis gave an extraordinary commencement address at Mary Washington in 2011 when the University celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. Last fall, Lewis met with a UMW contingent, including President Troy Paino, on Capitol Hill to reminisce about Dr. Farmer and offer support to the yearlong centennial celebration.
Student Government Association President Jason Ford, a senior from Culpeper, Virginia, was a member of the UMW group that met with Lewis. At Monday’s event, Ford will address that moving experience and share his affinity for Dr. Farmer, a man he never met, but whose booming voice and engaging lectures impacted generations of Mary Washington students.
Ford will be joined by junior Courtney Flowers and President Paino, all of whom will make brief remarks prior to a Farmer birthday celebration and cake-cutting Monday, January 13, at 2:30 p.m. in Chandler Ballroom of the University Center. The event is open to the public.
Twice, through UMW’s Fall Break Social Justice Trips in 2018 and 2019, Ford has taken in sites visited by Farmer during the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. Flowers, from Torrance, California, was so compelled by what she learned about Dr. Farmer during a high school project she decided to travel all the way across the country to attend Mary Washington, a school at which Farmer taught and one that features a James Farmer Multicultural Center.
UMW’s yearlong commemoration will examine the historical context of Farmer’s life and the ways in which our society currently acts on principles important to him, including civic engagement, access and inclusion.
Growing up in Texas and Mississippi, James Farmer felt his heart “swell with rebellion” when he personally witnessed the injustices of Jim Crow. At age 22, Farmer co-founded CORE, which organized several protests of segregated facilities in the 1940s and 1950s. Spearheaded by Farmer, CORE led the 1961 Freedom Rides into several Southern states to test Supreme Court rulings that outlawed segregation in interstate transportation and bus terminals.
After moving to Spotsylvania County in the early 1980s, Farmer served as Distinguished Professor of History at Mary Washington College from 1985 until his retirement in January 1999, shortly before his death later that year.
“What would Dr. Farmer fight for today?” is the question the UMW community will be asking throughout 2020, the centennial year of his birth.
For the event on Monday, campus parking restrictions will be lifted. Accessibility issues should be directed to the UMW Office of Events and Conferencing at 540-654-1087.
For updates and other information, visit https://www.umw.edu/farmer/.