East Austin residents celebrate Farmer at his boyhood home on New York Avenue
By Joshunda Sanders
Sunday, June 07, 2009
The Central Texas Juneteenth Committee and the Greater East Austin
Youth Association hosted a tribute to the late James Farmer Jr., a
civil rights icon and Texas-born prodigy, at one of his childhood
homes Saturday afternoon to kick off local Juneteenth events.
Farmer was best known as one of the "Big Four" civil rights leaders
along with Whitney Young, executive director of the National Urban
League; Martin Luther King Jr., head of the Southern Christian
Leadership Conference; and Roy Wilkins, executive director of the
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Farmer, who died in 1999 at age 79, founded the Congress of Racial
Equality (CORE) and was instrumental in some of the pivotal civil
rights events of the 1950s and 1960s.
He was born Jan. 12, 1902, in Marshall, where he enrolled at Wiley
College, at age 14. The story of Farmer's race-barrier breaking
oratorical achievements at the school were depicted in the 2007 film
"The Great Debaters."
After graduating from Wiley in 1938, Farmer studied to become a
minister at Howard University in Washington.
At Saturday's event, Austin City Council Member Sheryl Cole read from
a historical marker that was recently added outside the home where
the Farmer family lived at 1604 New York Ave. The Farmers lived there
from 1925 to 1930, when James Farmer's father was an administrator at
Samuel Huston College, now called Huston-Tillotson University.
After Cole read from the marker, the crowd sang "Lift Every Voice and
Sing," known as the black national anthem. The event, meant to
educate about Farmer's intellectual past, also included a tour and
historical "quiz bowl" for students and adults at the nearby George
Washington Carver Museum and Cultural Center.
Cole said Saturday that it was particularly important to "look at our
history, since those who don't are doomed to repeat it."
In 1941, Farmer began working for the Fellowship of Reconciliation,
an interdenominational pacifist group. A year later, he founded CORE.
Farmer started to make national headlines in 1961 during the Freedom
Rides. He was instrumental in organizing groups of white and black
travelers to ride segregated buses from the North to the South to
challenge Jim Crow laws. The rides prompted violent responses, but
also raised the profile of the civil rights movement.
Farmer was influential in the passage of civil rights legislation in
the 1960s, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Later, he taught at New York University and Lincoln University in
In the 1990s, Farmer made his home in the Northern Virginia town
Fredericksburg, where he died in 1999, teaching at there at the
University of Mary Washington.
In 1998, President Bill Clinton awarded Farmer the Medal of Freedom,
the nation's highest civilian honor.
On Saturday, Beulah A. Jones, who has lived across the street from
the Farmers' former home for more than 40 years, said that the marker
commemorating his Austin connection was "overwhelming and overdue."
She added, "It's an awesome day for Central East Austin."