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James Forman

Traveled To Washington And Selma

On August 28, 1963, Forman participated in the March on Washington, a mass civil rights campaign that brought more than 200,000 demonstrators to the nation's capital. Along with SNCC chairman John Lewis and several others, Forman helped prepare a speech expressing "bitter criticism" of American society. Upon reading the first draft, various civil rights leaders demanded that Lewis and his staff omit passages from the speech that contained blatant revolutionary rhetoric. After much debate, SNCC leaders agreed to make several changes. "The rewriting took place at the Lincoln Memorial," stated Forman in the documentary Eyes on the Prize. "It was done out of a spirit of unity. We wanted the SNCC participation to be very visible; we were certainly not interested in withdrawing from the March on Washington."

About a year and a half later, in March of 1965, Forman traveled to Selma, Alabama, where he voiced opposition to King's 50-mile march to Montgomery, the state's capital. King had staged the march to protest the denial of voting rights to African Americans. Forman, however, was anxious to see a more aggressive display of black dissatisfaction, and he influenced many local civil rights activists while he was in Selma. In Black in Selma, J. L. Chestnut, Jr., described Forman's role in motivating Selma's black population: "He talked about what black people were sick and tired of taking at the hands of the white man; he told the black folk in the audience to come out in the open with their views on freedom and get themselves down to the registration office the next week to hasten the day of reckoning."

Increasing disputes with SNCC chairman John Lewis led Forman to resign as executive secretary of the organization in 1966. After his resignation, he held an administrative position in SNCC's Atlanta office; then, in 1967, he served as director of SNCC's Internal Affairs Commission in New York City. By urging SNCC members to study the revolutionary works of Chinese statesman Mao Tse-tung and Caribbean-born activist Frantz Fanon, Forman hoped to promote a revolutionary black nationalist consciousness—one that paralleled the freedom movements for cultural independence on the African continent. While serving as the minister of foreign affairs in the Black Panther Party in 1968, Forman worked to promote an alliance between SNCC and the Panthers. Faced with personal opposition and internal disputes, however, Forman left the party shortly afterward.

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