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Forman, James

James Forman

1928-2005

Civil rights leader

James Forman was "a strong pillar of the modern-day civil rights movement," his former colleague Rep. John Lewis told the Sacramento Observer. In April of 1969, when James Forman presented the Black Manifesto, a public call for reparations to the African-American community for years of oppression, he made national headlines as an outspoken black radical. This moment captured why Forman was eulogized in Jet as "the most independent and fearless in his desire to promote ideas fostering black equality."

As executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC; often pronounced "snick") from 1961 to 1966, Forman worked as a frontline organizer in nearly every major civil rights campaign of the era. His revolutionary vision, based upon socialist doctrine and militant black nationalism, had a profound influence on the structure and philosophical outlook of SNCC, which was one of the most significant civil rights organizations of the 1960s. Forman espoused more vigorous protest tactics than Martin Luther King, Jr., but his legacy would be bringing "down one of the most violent and dehumanizing systems without firing a shot," Ruby Nell Sales, civil rights leader and director of SpiritHouse, related to Sojourners.

Forman was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 4, 1928. When he was only eleven months old, his parents took him to live on his grandmother's 180-acre farm in Marshall County, Mississippi. Though he lived in a state of severe poverty, Forman enjoyed the company of his grandparents, two subsistence farmers who worked their "poor and hilly" land by a mule-drawn plow. Receiving his education at home from his Aunt Thelma, a schoolteacher, Forman developed an early interest in books.

Upon returning to Chicago to live with his parents, Forman attended St. Anselm's Catholic School. A member of the Protestant faith, he was torn by the clash between his own beliefs and Catholic religious doctrine. At age twelve, Forman enrolled in a public grammar school. As he recalled in his autobiography The Making of Black Revolutionaries, "It was a huge relief to not have to take religion, not to be weighed down by the conflict over Catholicism."

Awakened to Racial Discrimination

Outside the classroom, Forman sold the Chicago Defender, one of the most prominent black newspapers in the country. The stories of lynching, discrimination, and injustices awakened him to the need for people of color to struggle against white racist oppression. By reading the works of W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, Forman became aware of the two leading ideologies guiding the progress of African Americans. Opposed to Washington's conciliatory program, Forman embraced Du Bois's call for black people to seek political power and higher education in order to adapt to the rapid changes of industrial society.

After graduating from high school in 1947 as a Chicago Tribune -sponsored honor student, Forman attended Wilson Junior College, where he studied English, French, and world history. Disillusioned by the lack of employment opportunities available to educated African Americans, Forman joined the U.S. Air Force. He explained in his book The Making of Black Revolutionaries that while stationed at segregated military bases in the Deep South and on the Pacific island of Okinawa, he "came to see the Armed Forces in broad terms, as a dehumanizing machine which destroys thought and creativity in order to preserve the economic system and political myths of the United States."

Following his discharge from the Air Force in 1952, Forman lived in Oakland, California. To escape the pressure of his military experience, he periodically supported himself by gambling in pool halls and betting on card games. While attending the University of Southern California that same year, Forman was arrested by two white policemen who falsely accused him of participating in a robbery. Forman was taken to the police station, incarcerated, and then beaten; after several days of questioning he was finally freed without charges. Unable to deal with the shock of this experience, he suffered a breakdown and was placed in a state hospital.

Back in Chicago in 1954, Forman enrolled at Roosevelt University. Unlike his earlier college experiences, Roosevelt turned out to be an exciting and stimulating learning institution that helped to shape Forman's worldview. He became president of the "brotherhood," a small student group that gathered to discuss politics, racism, and the merits of integration. He spent many hours studying anthropology, sociology, history, and economics, and aside from the assigned textbooks, he read works by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and novelist John Steinbeck. The Montgomery bus boycott of 1955-56 further heightened Forman's growing concern about the advancement of civil rights. As he related in The Making of Black Revolutionaries, "The boycott woke me to the realnot the merely theoreticalpossibility of building a nonviolent mass movement of southern black people to fight segregation."

Soon after his graduation from Roosevelt in 1957, Forman received a grant to attend the African Research and Studies Program at Boston University. The next year, he obtained a press assignment from the Chicago Defender to cover the civil rights struggle in Little Rock, Arkansas. Inspired by his trip to Little Rock, Forman began a novel based upon the exploits of northern civil rights workers in the South. Finishing the final draft in the fall of 1959, Forman subsequently took education courses at Chicago's Teachers College and, by the spring of 1960, began to teach in the Chicago public schools.

At a Glance...

Born on October 4, 1928, in Chicago, IL; died on January 10, 2005, Washington, DC; son of Jackson and Octavia (Allen) Forman; married Mary Forman (date unknown, divorced); Mildred Thompson (date unknown, divorced); married Constancia Ramilly (date unknown, divorced); children: Chaka (son), James. Education : Attended Wilson Junior College and University of Southern California; Roosevelt University, BA, 1957; attended African Research and Studies Program, Boston University, 1958, and Chicago Teachers College, 1959-60; Cornell University, MA, African-American studies, 1980; Union of Experimental Colleges and Universities with the Institute for Policy Studies, PhD, 1982. Military : U.S. Air Force, early 1950s.

Career : Chicago Defender, journalist covering events in Little Rock, AR, 1958-59; Chicago Public Schools, teacher, 1960; Chicago Defender, reported while working with the Emergency Relief Committee, Fayette County, TN, 1960; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), executive secretary, 1961-66, SNCC, administrator of the national office, Atlanta, GA, 1967; SNCC, director of International Affairs Commission, New York City, 1967; Black Panther Party, minister of foreign affairs, 1968; Unemployment and Poverty Action Committee, Washington, DC, president, mid-1970s-1980s; Washington Times, founder, 1981; Black American News Service, founder, early 1980s(?).

Awards : National Conference of Black Mayors' Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom Award, 1990.

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."

Worked as SNCC Organizer

Forman's first involvement as a frontline organizer with SNCC began when he traveled to Albany, Georgia, on December 10, 1961. Arriving by "freedom train," Forman, along with six others, was arrested for attempting to challenge the segregated seating policy of Albany's Union Railway Terminal. When released from jail, Forman spoke out against the effort to invite Martin Luther King, Jr., to Albany. He warned that King's leadership would influence the local populace to throw its support behind one monolithic leader, thus causing the demise of Albany's student-led "people's movement." Mass media coverage of King's visit to Albany brought Forman national attention as one of the highest ranking and most militant members of the civil rights movement.

With funds raised through the Voter Registration Project, Forman worked with SNCC in 1962 to desegregate the cities of Cairo, Illinois, and Charleston, Missouri. Not long after, he traveled to Cleveland, Mississippi, to help organize a voter registration campaign. His incessant activity, however, resulted in severe health problems. In January of 1963, he fell ill with a bleeding ulcer and was hospitalized for several weeks. Soon afterward, he was arrested in Alabama for taking part in another march to Jackson, Mississippi.

After being released from jail once more, Forman drove to Birmingham, Alabama, where King and his supporters were in the midst of a massive civil rights campaign. Although Forman urged SNCC members to cooperate with King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), he advocated that demonstrators exhibit a heightened sense of militancy. He criticized King for remaining behind the scenes, while students faced the wrath of police dogs, fire hoses, and armed police officers. Forman viewed King's negotiations with the city of Birmingham as a sell-out between the SCLC and then-Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. "People had become too militant for the government's liking and Dr. King's image," wrote Forman in The Making of Black Revolutionaries. "I felt the masses of young people who had been the backbone of the protest had been cheated once more. The mighty leader had proven to have feet of clay."

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 consciousnessone 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.

Called for Reparations

On April 26, 1969, in Detroit, Michigan, Forman presented the Black Manifesto at the National Black Economic Development Conference. Sponsored by the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organizations, the conference adopted a manifesto that demanded Protestant and Jewish organizations pay $500 million in reparations to the African American community. In his speech, Forman called upon blacks to join in a black-socialist-led armed struggle to overthrow the United States government.

A month later, Forman interrupted services at New York City's Riverside Church to demand that the congregation pay reparations for the past damage inflicted upon people of color by white America. According to Larry Neal in The Black Seventies, this act not only made national front-page news, but marked "one of the high points of nonviolent action" during the conservative years of U.S. president Richard M. Nixon's administration.

As his involvement in SNCC activities decreased, Forman turned his attention to writing and academic study. Published in 1968, his first work, Sammy Younge, Jr.: The First Black College Student to Die in the Black Liberation Movement, is a biographical account of a young SNCC volunteer who was murdered by a white man in Tuskegee, Alabama. Aside from penning several other works, including his autobiography The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Forman earned a master's degree in professional studies in African and African American history from Cornell University in 1980 and a doctorate from the Union Institute. In spite of the ravages of cancer that initially appeared in the early 1990s, Forman continued to work from his Washington, D.C., office. He and Constancia Romily, his divorced wife, had two sonsJames Jr., a public defender in Washington, D.C., and Chaka, a member of the Screen Actor's Guild.

In the December 2000 issue of The Progressive magazine, political scientist Adolph L. Reed, Jr. revisited Forman's notion that white America might owe reparations to black Americans for slavery and its legacy. As recounted by Reed, after James Forman presented his demand for $500 million in reparations at the Riverside Church in 1969, the idea of reparations smoldered until Jesse Jackson brought it to life again during the 1972 presidential campaign with his demand for a $900 million "freedom budget." Nothing came of the idea, however, and over the next two decades it was largely forgotten. But in 2000, thirty-one years after Forman delivered his "Black Manifesto," Randall Robinson published The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks, and the reparations issue again was on the front burner. Although yet to be resolved, the issue continues to intrigue and puzzle legal scholars and policy makers alike.

Remained Dedicated to Civil Rights Movement

Although he has often been overshadowed by some of the more famous figures of the civil rights movement, Forman possessed an indisputable facility for organization and leadership and is widely recognized among activists and scholars. In her work The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Emily Stoper pointed out that the leadership of SNCC from 1961 to 1966 rested primarily "in the hands of Forman at the Atlanta office." And Julian Bond, chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was quoted in the Times as saying that Forman had "imbued the [SNCC] organization with a camaraderie and collegiality that I've never seen in any organization before or since." In tribute to the former SNCC executive secretary, Cleveland Sellers wrote in The River of No Return : "The movement was not a job to Jim Forman: it was a way of life."

Forman never lost his drive to improve the lives of black Americans. In 1982 he participated in the organization of a second March on Washington. He also founded a short-lived newspaper and the Black American News Service in Washington in the early 1980s. He also imbued his sons with a sense the "you attained fulfillment through service to others," according to his son, social activist and legal scholar James Forman, Jr., in Black Issues in Higher Education.

Forman died of colon cancer on January 10, 2005. Congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton related to the Sacramento Observer on the occasion of Forman's death that: "Americans may not know Jim's name as a household word, but if they look around them at the racial change in our country, they will know Jim by his work." He left a "blueprint" that she predicted will "continue to be used for civil, social, and human rights."

Selected writings

Sammy Younge, Jr.: The First Black College Student to Die in the Black Liberation Movement, Open Hand Publishing, 1968.

Liberation viendra d'une chose noir, Maspero, 1968.

The Political Thought of James Forman, Black Star Press, 1970.

The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Open Hand Publishing, 1972.

Self-Determination: An Examination of the Question and Its Application to the African American People, Open Hand Publishing, 1984.

Sources

Books

Ashmore, Harry S., Hearts and Minds: A Personal Chronicle of Race in America, Seven Locks Press, 1988.

Black Protest Thought in the Sixties, edited by August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, Quadrangle Books, 1970.

Black Protest Thought in the Twentieth Century, edited by August Meier, Elliott Rudwick, and Francis L. Broderick, Bobbs-Merrill, 1971.

The Black Seventies, edited by Floyd B. Barbour, Extending Horizon, 1970.

Branch, Taylor, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963, Simon & Schuster, 1988.

Chestnut, J. L., Jr., and Julia Cass, Black in Selma: The Uncommon Life of J. L. Chestnut, Jr.Politics and Power in a Small American Town, Farrar, Straus, 1990.

The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader: Documents, Speeches, and Firsthand Accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle, 1954-1990, Viking Press, 1991.

Forman, James, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Open Hand Publishing, 1985.

Haines, Herbert H., Black Radicals and the Civil Rights Mainstream, 1954-1970, University of Tennessee Press, 1988.

King, Richard H., Civil Rights: The Idea of Freedom, Oxford University Press, 1992.

Lawson, Steven F., Running for Freedom: Civil Rights and Black Politics in America since 1941, Oxford University Press, 1992.

Marable, Manning, Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945-1990, 2nd edition, University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

Schuchter, Arnold, Reparations: The Black Manifesto and Its Challenge to White America, J. B. Lippincott, 1970.

Sellers, Cleveland, and Robert Terrell, The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC, University Press of Mississippi, 1990.

Stoper, Emily, The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: The Growth of Radicalism in a Civil Rights Organization, Carlson, 1989.

Walter, Mildred Pitts, Mississippi Challenge, Bradbury Press, 1992.

Zinn, Howard, The New Abolitionists, Beacon Press, 1964.

Periodicals

Black Issues in Higher Education, January 13, 2005, p. 24.

First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, June-July 2002, p. 32.

Guardian (London), January 14, 2005, p. 29.

Jet, January 31, 2005, p. 51.

Sacramento Observer, January 22, 2005.

Sojourners, April 2005, p. 10.

Times (London), January 17, 2005, p. 50.

Washington Post, January 11, 2005, p. B6.

On-line

"The Case Against Reparations," Progressive, www.progressive.org/reed1200.htm (April 28, 2005).

Other

Additional information for this profile was taken from the PBS video series Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years ; segments consulted include "Ain't Scared of Your Jails, 1960-1961" and "No Easy Walk, 1961-1963," both narrated by Julian Bond.

John Cohassey and Sara Pendergast

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Forman, James 1928–

James Forman 1928

Civil rights leader

At a Glance

A Slow Awakening

Revolutions Are Not Made Overnight

Professional Agitator

Showdown at Birmingham

From Selma to Montgomery

Turned to Writing and Administration

Selected writings

Sources

In April of 1969, when James Forman presented the Black Manifesto, a public call for reparations to the African American community for years of oppression, he made national headlines as an outspoken black radical. However, his rise to fame was not as sudden as it may have seemed; by the late 1960s, he had already gained nearly a decades worth of experience as a civil rights activist.

As executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC; often pronounced snick) from 1961 to 1966, Forman worked as a frontline organizer in nearly every major civil rights campaign of the era. His revolutionary vision, based upon socialist doctrine and militant black nationalism, had a profound influence on the structure and philosophical outlook of SNCC, which was one of the most significant civil rights organizations of the 1960s.

Forman was bom in Chicago, Illinois, on October 4, 1928. When he was only eleven months old, his parents took him to live on his grandmothers 180-acre farm in Marshall County, Mississippi. Though he lived in a state of severe poverty, Forman enjoyed the company of his grandparents, two subsistence farmers who worked their

poor and hilly land by a mule-drawn plow. Receiving his education at home from his Aunt Thelma, a school teacher, Forman developed an early interest in books.

Upon returning to Chicago to live with his parents, Forman attended St. Anselms Catholic School. A member of the Protestant faith, he was torn by the clash between his own beliefs and Catholic religious doctrine. At age twelve. Forman enrolled in a public grammar school. As he recalled in his autobiography The Making of Black Revolutionaries, It was a huge relief to not have to take religion, not to be weighed down by the conflict over Catholicism.

Outside the classroom, Forman sold the Chicago Defender, one of the most prominent black newspapers in the country. The stories of lynching, discrimination, and injustices awakened him to the need for people of color to struggle against white racist oppression. By reading the works of W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, Forman became aware of the two leading ideologies guiding the progress of African Americans. Opposed to Washingtons conciliatory program, Forman embraced Du Boiss call for black people to seek political power and

At a Glance

Born October 4, 1928, in Chicago, IL; son of Jackson and Octavia (Allen) Forman. Education: Attended Wilson Junior College and University of Southem California; graduated from Roosevelt University, 1957; attended African Research and Studies Program, Boston University, 1958, and Chicago Teachers College, 1959-60; Cornell University, M.A, 1980; received Ph.D. from Union Institute.

Covered events in Little Rock, AR, for Chicago Defender, 1958-59; taught in Chicago Public Schools, 1960; wrote articles for Defender while working with the Emergency Relief Committee in Fayette County, TN, 1960; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCQ. executive secretary, 196166, administrator of the national office in Atlanta, GA, then director of SNCCs International Affairs Commission, New York City, 1967; Black Panther Party, minister of foreign affairs, 1968; president of the Unemployment and Poverty Action Committee since the mid1970s. Military service: Served in U.S. Air Force, early 1950s.

Awards: National Conference of Black Mayors Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom Award, 1990.

Addresses: OfficeUnemployment and Poverty Action Committee, P.O. Box 21097, Washington, DC 20009.; or c/o Open Hand Publishing, P.O. Box 22048, Seattle, WA 98122.

higher education in order to adapt to the rapid changes of industrial society.

After graduating from high school in 1947 as a Chicago Tribune -sponsored honor student, Forman attended Wilson Junior College, where he studied English, French, and world history. Disillusioned by the lack of employment opportunities available to educated African Americans, Forman joined the U.S. Air Force. He explained in his book The Making of Black Revolutionaries that while stationed at segregated military bases in the Deep South and on the Pacific island of Okinawa, he came to see the Armed Forces in broad terms, as a dehumanizing machine which destroys thought and creativity in order to preserve the economic system and political myths of the United States.

A Slow Awakening

Following his discharge from the Air Force in 1952, Forman lived in Oakland, California. To escape the pressure of his military experience, he periodically supported himself by gambling in poolhalls and betting on card games. While attending the University of Southern California that same year, Forman was arrested by two white policemen who falsely accused him of participating in a robbery. Forman was taken to the police station, incarcerated, and then beaten; after several days of questioning he was finally freed without charges. Unable to deal with the shock of this experience, he suffered a breakdown and was placed in a state hospital.

Back in Chicago in 1954, Forman enrolled at Roosevelt University. Unlike his earlier college experiences, Roosevelt turned out to be an exciting and stimulating learning institution that helped to shape Formans worldview. He became president of the brotherhood, a small student group that gathered to discuss politics, racism, and the merits of integration. He spent many hours studying anthropology, sociology, history, and economics, and aside from the assigned textbooks, he read works by American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and novelist John Steinbeck. The Montgomery bus boycott of1955-56 further heightened Formans growing concern about the advancement of civil rights. As he related in The Making of Black Revolutionaries, The boycott woke me to the realnot the merely theoreticalpossibility of building a nonviolent mass movement of southern black people to fight segregation.

Soon after his graduation from Roosevelt in 1957, Forman received a grant to attend the African Research and Studies Program at Boston University. The next year, he obtained a press assignment from the Chicago Defender to cover the civil rights struggle in Little Rock, Arkansas. Inspired by his trip to Little Rock, Forman began a novel based upon the exploits of northern civil rights workers in the South. Finishing the final draft in the fall of 1959, Forman subsequently took education courses at Chicagos Teachers College and, by the spring of 1960, began to teach in the Chicago public schools.

Revolutions Are Not Made Overnight

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 Williamss home in Monroe, Forman discussed the positive role of armed self-defense in the struggle against white oppression.

Professional Agitator

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, Formans 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.

Formans first involvement as a frontline organizer with SNCC began when he traveled to Albany, Georgia, on December 10, 1961. Arriving by freedom train, Forman, along with six others, was arrested for attempting to challenge the segregated seating policy of Albanys Union Railway Terminal. When released from jail, Forman spoke out against the effort to invite Martin Luther King, Jr., to Albany. He warned that Kings leadership would influence the local populace to throw its support behind one monolithic leader, thus causing the demise of Albanys student-led peoples movement. Mass media coverage of Kings visit to Albany brought Forman national attention as one of the highest ranking and most militant members of the civil rights movement.

With funds raised through the Voter Registration Project, Forman worked with SNCC in 1962 to desegregate the cities of Cairo, Illinois, and Charleston, Missouri. Not long after, he traveled to Cleveland, Mississippi, to help organize a voter registration campaign. His incessant activity, however, resulted in severe health problems. In January of 1963, he fell ill with a bleeding ulcer and was hospitalized for several weeks. Soon afterward, he was arrested in Alabama for taking part in another march to Jackson, Mississippi.

Showdown at Birmingham

After being released from jail once more, Forman drove to Birmingham, Alabama, where King and his supporters were in the midst of a massive civil rights campaign. Although Forman urged SNCC members to cooperate with Kings Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), he advocated that demonstrators exhibit a heightened sense of militancy. He criticized King for remaining behind the scenes, while students faced the wrath of police dogs, fire hoses, and armed police officers. Forman viewed Kings negotiations with the city of Birmingham as a sell-out between the SCLC and then-Attorney General Bobby Kennedy. People had become too militant for the governments liking and Dr. Kings image, wrote Forman in The Making of Black Revolutionaries. I felt the masses of young people who had been the backbone of the protest had been cheated once more. The mighty leader had proven to have feet of clay.

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 nations 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.

From Selma to Montgomery

About a year and a half later, in March of 1965, Forman traveled to Selma, Alabama, where he voiced opposition to Kings 50-mile march to Montgomery, the states 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 Formans role in motivating Selmas 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 SNCCs Atlanta office; then, in 1967, he served as director of SNCCs 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 consciousnessone that parallelled 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.

On April 26, 1969, in Detroit, Michigan, Forman presented the Black Manifesto at the National Black Economic Development Conference. Sponsored by the Interreli-gious Foundation for Community Organizations, the conference adopted a manifesto that demanded Protestant and Jewish organizations pay $500 million in reparations to the African American community. In his speech, Forman called upon blacks to join in a black-socialist-led armed struggle to overthrow the United States government.

A month later, Forman interrupted services at New York Citys Riverside Church to demand that the congregation pay reparations for the past damage inflicted upon people of color by white America. According to Larry Neal in The Black Seventies, this act not only made national front-page news, but marked one of the high points of nonviolent action during the conservative years of U.S. president Richard M. Nixons administration.

Turned to Writing and Administration

As his involvement in SNCC activities decreased, Forman turned his attention to writing and academic study. Published in 1968, his first work, Sammy Younge, Jr.: The First Black College Student to Die in the Black Liberation Movement, is a biographical account of a young SNCC volunteer who was murdered by a white man in Tuskegee, Alabama. Aside from penning several other works, including his autobiography The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Forman earned a masters degree in professional studies in African and African American history from Cornell University in 1980 and a doctorate from the Union Institute. Forman currently resides in Washington, D.C., where he is president of the Unemployment and Poverty Action Committee.

Although he has often been overshadowed by some of the more famous figures of the civil rights movement, Forman possessed an indisputable facility for organization and leadership and is widely recognized among activists and scholars. In her work The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Emily Stoper pointed out that the leadership of SNCC from 1961 to 1966 rested primarily in the hands of Forman at the Atlanta office. In tribute to the former SNCC executive secretary, Cleveland Sellers wrote in The River of No Return: The movement was not a job to Jim Forman: it was a way of life.

Selected writings

Sammy Younge, Jr.: The First Black College Student to Die in the Black Liberation Movement, Open Hand Publishing, 1968.

Liberation viendra dune chose noir, Maspero, 1968.

The Political Thought of James Forman, Black Star Press, 1970.

The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Open Hand Publishing, 1972.

Self-Determination: An Examination of the Question and Its Application to the African American People, Open Hand Publishing, 1984.

Sources

Ashmore, Harry S., Hearts and Minds: A Personal Chronicle of Race in America, Seven Locks Press, 1988.

Black Protest Thought in the Sixties, edited by August Meier and Elliott Rudwick, Quadrangle Books, 1970.

Black Protest Thought in the Twentieth Century, edited by August Meier, Elliott Rudwick, and Francis L. Broderick, Bobbs-Merrill, 1971.

The Black Seventies, edited by Floyd B. Barbour, Extending Horizon, 1970.

Branch, Taylor, Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963, Simon & Schuster, 1988.

Chestnut, J. L., Jr., and Julia Cass, Black in Selma: The Uncommon Life of J. L. Chestnut, Jr.Politics and Power in a Small American Town, Farrar, Straus, 1990.

The Eyes on the Prize Civil Rights Reader: Documents, Speeches, and Firsthand Accounts from the Black Freedom Struggle, 1954-1990, Viking Press, 1991.

Forman, James, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, reprinted, Open Hand Publishing, 1985. Haines, Herbert H., Black Radicals and the Civil Rights Mainstream, 1954-1970, University of Tennessee Press, 1988.

King, Richard H., Civil Rights: The Idea of Freedom,

Oxford University Press, 1992.

Lawson, Steven F., Running for Freedom: Civil Rights and Black Politics in America Since 1941, Oxford University Press, 1992.

Marable, Manning, Race, Reform, and Rebellion: The Second Reconstruction in Black America, 1945-1990, 2nd edition, University Press of Mississippi, 1991.

Schuchter, Arnold, Reparations: The Black Manifesto and Its Challenge to White America, J. B. Lippincott, 1970.

Sellers, Cleveland, and Robert Terrell, The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC, University Press of Mississippi, 1990.

Stoper, Emily, The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee: The Growth of Radicalism in a Civil Rights Organization, Carlson, 1989.

Walter, Mildred Pitts, Mississippi Challenge, Bradbury Press, 1992.

Zinn, Howard, The New Abolitionists, Beacon Press, 1964.

Additional information for this profile was taken from the PBS video series Eyes on the Prize: Americas Civil Rights Years; segments consulted include Aint Scared of Your Jails, 1960-1961 and No Easy Walk, 1961-1963, both narrated by Julian Bond.

John Cohassey

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James Forman

James Forman

James Forman (born 1928), a writer, journalist, political philosopher, human rights activist, and revolutionary socialist, was a leader of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during most of its active period.

James Forman was born in Chicago, Illinois, on October 4, 1928. He spent his early life on a farm in Marshall County, Mississippi. Upon graduating from Englewood High School in Chicago, he attended junior college for a semester. He then joined the U.S. Air Force as a personnel classification specialist. Having completed a four-year tour-of-duty, he enrolled at the University of Southern California; however, his studies were interrupted when a false arrest charge kept him from taking his final examinations. This also gave a new meaning to the racism he had observed in the armed services and elsewhere.

Returning from Chicago, Forman excelled in the intellectually-charged environment of Roosevelt University. There he served as president of the student body and chief delegate to the 1956 National Student Association. In the fall of 1957 he began graduate studies at Boston University in African affairs, yet could not reconcile himself to studying Africa when children in Little Rock, Arkansas, were trying to integrate a school. He left Boston and went to the South as a reporter for the Chicago Defender. During this period he also wrote a novel about the ideal interracial civil rights group whose philosophy of non-violence would produce massive social change.

Forman returned to Chicago to teach, and became involved with the Emergency Relief Committee, a group affiliated with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and dedicated to providing food and clothing to black sharecroppers evicted from their homes for registering to vote in Fayette County, Tennessee. In 1960 he formally joined the civil rights movement by going to Monroe, North Carolina, to assist Robert F. Williams, head of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). In his confrontation with local white people, Williams had been censured by the NAACP for his call of armed self-defense. Though still teaching in Chicago, Forman maintained his ties with the southern student activists and from them heard about a newly formed group called SNCC (Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee), which was structured much like the organization his novel suggested. After some debate, Forman left teaching and went to SNCC's national headquarters in Atlanta. Within a week he was appointed executive secretary, in 1961.

Forman's greatest contribution to SNCC in eight years of involvement was his ability to provide the administrative skills and political sophistication the organization needed. He hired an efficient staff, brought professionalism to the research and fund-raising activities as well as discipline and direction to SNCC's various factions. He realized the need for specialized skills and made office-work, research, and fund-raising all part of SNCC's revolutionary activities.

As executive secretary of SNCC, Forman was involved in every major civil rights controversy in the nation. He coordinated the famous "Freedom Rides" and advocated the use of white civil rights workers in white communities. He started the Albany Movement, which paved the way for Martin Luther King's campaign there. He criticized the 1963 March on Washington as a "sell-out" by black leaders to the Kennedy administration and the liberal-labor vote. In 1964 Forman and Fannie Lou Hamer opposed the compromise worked out by the Democratic Party and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic National Convention. In addition, he questioned the capitalistic orientation of mainstream black leaders and castigated them for not understanding the correlations among capitalism, racism, and imperialism. Forman also noted that most civil rights groups were not effective or enduring because they were "leader-centered" rather than being "group or people-centered." Some of those other civil rights leaders saw Forman as something of a hothead. As James Farmer noted in his autobiography, Lay Bare the Heart, "Forman was volatile and uncompromising, an angry young man. His head had been clubbed many times on the front lines in Dixie. He was impatient with Urban League and NAACP types; he was nervous and perhaps a trifle battle-fatigued."

As director of the International Affairs Commission of SNCC, Forman and ten other staff members went to Africa in 1964 as guests of the government of Guinea. This trip began to alter his views, and he developed a global analysis of racism. His understanding was shaped by reading the works of Frantz Fanon, Che Guevara, Kwame Nkhrumah, Fidel Castro, and Malcolm X. In 1967 he delivered a paper in Zambia entitled: "The Invisible Struggle Against Racism, Colonialism and Apartheid." His internationalist orientation lead him to accept an appointment in the Black Panther Party (BPP) as minister of foreign affairs and director of political education in 1968. (Early in 1967 SNCC and the BPP had coordinated a number of ventures and activities.)

This alliance soon ended, and Forman even left SNCC in 1969 when he was essentially deposed by H. Rap Brown, then chairman of the committee. Before Forman left, he delivered one of the most provocative challenges to come out of the 1960s. In a speech given in April of 1969 at the Black Economic Development Conference, Forman called for "a revolutionary black vanguard" to seize the government and redirect its resources. In addition, in his now famous "Black Manifesto" he demanded that "white Christian Churches and Jewish Synagogues, which are part and parcel of the system of capitalism," pay half-a-billion dollars to blacks for reparations for slavery and racial exploitation. He wanted the money to create new black institutions. Specifically, he demanded a Southern Land Bank, four major publishing and printing enterprises, four television networks, a Black Labor Strike and Defense Fund Training Center, and a new black university. Interesting enough, some funds did come in; however, most were given to the traditional black churches and organizations.

In some ways, "The Black Manifesto" was Forman's greatest moment. He had linked contemporary wealth with historic exploitation; thus, he presented the ultimate challenge to American society. In the early 1970s Forman spent most of his time writing his mammoth work on black revolutionaries. In 1977 he enrolled as a graduate student at Cornell University. He received a Masters of Professional Studies (M.P.S.) in African and Afro-American history in 1980.

In 1983 Forman served a one-year term as legislative assistant to the president of the Metropolitan Washington Central Labor Council (AFL-CIO). He was chairman of the Unemployed and Poverty Council (UPAC), a civil and human rights group in Washington, D.C. As one of the major leaders of the civil rights era, James Forman continued to represent a dimension of black activism which sought to develop a revolutionary organization in America. He also received a Ph.D. in 1985 from the Union of Experimental Colleges and Universities in cooperation with the Institute of Policy Studies. In April 1990, Forman was honored by the National Conference of Black Mayors, who awarded him their Fannie Lou Hamer Freedom Award.

Further Reading

Forman was a prolific writer. He was most noted for: 1967: High Tide of Black Resistance (1967); Sammy Younge, Jr.: The First Black College Student to Die in the Black Liberation Movement (1968); Liberation: Viendra d'une Chose Noir (1968); "The Black Manifesto" (1969); The Political Thought of James Forman (1970); The Making of Black Revolutionaries (1972, 1985); and Self-Detertion: An Examination of the Question and its Applications to the African-American People (1980, 1984). He also wrote for newspapers, journals, and magazines. Books in which Forman is discussed in detail include Black Awakening in Capitalist America: An Analytical History by Robert L. Allen (1969); In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s by Claybourne Carson (1981); Power on the Left: American Radical Movements Since 1946 by Lawrence Lader (1979); and The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC by Cleveland Sellers and Robert Terrell (1973). A Web site containing information on SNCC's formation in the 1960s, and an article entitled SNCC: Basis of Black Power can be found at <http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/sixties/HTMLdocs/Primary/manifestos/SNCCbla.> □

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Forman, James

Forman, James 1928-2005

BIBLIOGRAPHY

In his Letter to My Sisters and Brothers, which opens his book The Making of Black Revolutionaries, James Forman writes, We are not born revolutionary. Revolutionaries are forged through constant struggle and the study of revolutionary ideas and experiences. This statement captures a central aspect of the social and political thought of the civil rights leader. Throughout his life, Forman constantly emphasized the essential relationship between thought and action in the struggle for social and political change. In so doing, he left an indelible mark on the history of African American political thought and protest movements.

Born on October 4, 1928, in Chicago, Illinois, James Forman spent the first years of his life on his grandmothers farm in Benton County, Mississippi. At the age of six he went to live with his mother and stepfather in a four-room apartment on the South Side of Chicago. He attended grammar school at St. Anselms Catholic School and then transferred to Betsy Ross Grammar School. During his grammar school years Forman sold the Chicago Defender, an influential African American newspaper that proved to be a catalyst in developing his political conscience. Graduating with honors from Englewood High School in 1947, James spent one semester at Wilson Junior College before volunteering for service in the United States Air Force. While stationed in California, he took classes at the University of Southern California. Upon returning to Chicago in 1954, Forman enrolled in Roosevelt University, where he took an active role in student politics. He graduated with honors in 1957 and, with the assistance of a professor, St. Clair Drake, began graduate school in the Government Department and the African Research and Studies Program at Boston University.

With the advent of a burgeoning civil rights movement, Forman decided to leave graduate school and take an active role in the struggle for racial justice. He covered the integration of the Little Rock public schools for the Chicago Defender, and while teaching at Paul Cornell Elementary School in Chicago, he took an active role in the protest struggles of African American sharecroppers in Tennessee. But it was through his work with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)as executive secretary and director of international affairsthat Forman was able to make a significant contribution to the civil rights revolution. Formans organizational prowess, along with his deep commitment to forging effective ideological positions for SNCC, contributed to the organizations political effectiveness. Although he often disagreed with the strategies, tactics, and philosophies of other SNCC leaders, such as Bob Moses, as well as other civil rights organizations, Forman was a central figure in transforming SNCC into one of the Big Five civil rights organizationsthe others being the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (LDF), and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC).

As SNCC experienced tremendous ideological tensions and fractures, Forman withdrew from active participation in the organization in 1968. He briefly affiliated with the League of Revolutionary Black Workers, a labor organization that worked with African American autoworkers in Michigan. In 1969, Forman formulated his Black Manifesto at the National Black Economic Development Conference. The Manifesto became widely known after he interrupted the May 4, 1969, service at New Yorks Riverside Church to read his formal call for reparations for African Americans. Over time, Formans political thought evolved to more fully take into account thinkers and movements from the Third World. He also developed a more pointed critique of capitalist political economy. Forman eventually earned his Masters degree in African and African American history from Cornell University and his PhD in political history from the Union of Experimental Colleges and Universities. In 1984, he published a revised version of his graduate school research as Self-Determination and the African American People. He continued to be active in a number of national and international political movements, including running an unsuccessful campaign in 1990 to become the shadow U.S. senator from Washington, D.C. (The two shadow senators are nonvoting representatives who lobby Congress on behalf of the District of Columbia.) James Forman died on January 10, 2005, after a battle with colon cancer.

SEE ALSO Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Black Star Publishing, ed. 1970. The Political Thought of James Forman. Detroit, MI: Black Star Publishing.

Carson, Clayborne. 1981. In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Forman, James. 1972. The Making of Black Revolutionaries. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997.

Corey D. B. Walker

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