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James Forman

Dedicated Life To Fighting Oppression

That summer, Forman went to Middlebury College in Vermont to study French. As the student sit-in movement swept the South, and African countries struggled for independence, Forman decided that upon his return to Chicago he would become a full-time member of the fight for civil rights. On the invitation of the Emergency Relief Committee, a subcommittee of the Chicago branch of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Forman worked among dispossessed black tenant farmers in Fayette County, Tennessee. Writing press releases for the Chicago Defender, he recorded personal accounts of black farmers who had been evicted for taking part in a local voter registration campaign. In 1961 Forman went to Monroe, North Carolina, to visit Robert F. Williams, the chairman of the Monroe NAACP whose advocation of "meeting violence with violence" created massive opposition within the black and white communities. During his short stay at Williams's home in Monroe, Forman discussed the positive role of armed self-defense in the struggle against white oppression.

Although Forman returned to the North to teach in a Chicago elementary school, he soon resigned from his teaching position to join SNCC, becoming executive secretary of the operation in 1961. From his small Atlanta office, Forman struggled to bring order to an organization that he found to be lacking in discipline and a "clearly defined code of staff ethics."

At first mocked by younger members of SNCC, Forman and his administrative zeal proved indispensable. As Taylor Branch wrote in Parting the Waters, "Forman's aggressive competence filled a vacuum in SNCC." Through telephone and press releases, Forman worked to keep close communications with SNCC volunteers throughout the South. In The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: The Growth of Radicalism in a Civil Rights Organization, SNCC member Jane Stembridge explained that if "Forman had not been on the phone" to SNCC members in southwest Mississippi "there was no way they would have ever come out of those counties at all."

Additional topics

Brief BiographiesBiographies: Trevor Edwards Biography - Accepted Wisdom from His Mother to Francisco Franco (1892–1975) BiographyJames Forman Biography - Awakened To Racial Discrimination, Dedicated Life To Fighting Oppression, Worked As Sncc Organizer, Traveled To Washington And Selma - Selected writings