About James Farmer

James Farmer shaking hands on stage with President Bill Clinton at the ceremony for the Medal of Freedom in 1998.

James Farmer receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bill Clinton in 1998.

Dr. James L. Farmer, Jr. was born on January 12, 1920 in Marshall, Texas. He earned national prominence as one of the foremost leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Some of his other outstanding accomplishments include:

  • 1942 – Organized the nation’s first civil rights sit-in in Chicago
  • 1942 – Founded the Congress of Racial Equality, also known as CORE
  • 1960s – Established as one of the “Big Four” of the Civil Rights Movement along with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Whitney Young, and Roy Wilkins.
  • 1961 – Organized the “Freedom Rides” to desegregate interstate bus travel.
  • 1969 -1970 – Served as the Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, & Welfare.
  • 1985 – Wrote and published his autobiography Lay Bare The Heart.
  • 1985 -1998 – Served as Distinguished Professor of History and American Studies at Mary Washington College.
  • 1997 – Awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Mary Washington College.
  • 1998 – Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Clinton; Mary Washington College’s Multicultural Center was renamed the James Farmer Multicultural Center.

On July 9, 1999, Dr. Farmer passed away at Mary Washington Hospital in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He is survived by two daughters, Tami Farmer Gonzalez and Abbey Farmer, and granddaughter Abigale Elizabeth Gonzalez.

For more information about Dr. Farmer and his legacy, visit any of the following UMW websites:

View a timeline of Dr. James Farmer’s life created by the UMW Libraries.

The James Farmer Hall Renaming Project

James Farmer Project – Quotes, Biographical Information

James Farmer Lecture Blog – Dr. Farmer’s Lecture Audio/Video Recordings

50th Commemoration of the Freedom Rides


Farmer Bust