Toward a More Perfect Union

When the word of Jim Farmer’s death in July reached us we were flooded with vivid memories of this valiant hero of the struggle for democracy in America. Although we had not often seen Farmer during our years in the Southern freedom movement, his presence was very real. As a leader in the Fellowship of Reconciliation in the 1940s, as a founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), as the main organizer of the Freedom Rides of 1961, he had been centrally engaged in almost every element of the nonviolent action movement that challenged and eventually overcame the deadly anti-democratic poison of legalized racial segregation in America.

Almost all of us who worked in that movement knew that Farmer represented a special reality: that bridging of generations and experience, that full-time commitment to democratic change so important to the freedom movement. For while it was true that young people in their teens and 20s were usually the courageous front-line forces, Farmer represented the slightly older generation of courageous and committed co-participants who had decided earlier to dedicate their lives to the creation of "a more perfect union." They were constantly present to the young people as teachers, companions, guides—and sometimes opponents in the ongoing debates concerning the best paths ahead in that largely uncharted journey toward freedom. Farmer’s name and image brought back to our minds others who comprised this group of what might be called younger elders of the Southern movement. Among them were Ella Baker, Amzie Moore, Anne Braden, Slater King, Fred Shuttlesworth, and Rosa Parks. (Having begun his public participation at age 26, Martin Luther King Jr. was really a member of the younger generation in this cohort.)

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