James Farmer was born in Marshall, Texas on 12th January, 1920. An outstanding student, he obtained degrees from Wiley College (1938) and Howard University (1941).
Farmer and several Christian pacifists founded the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) in 1942. The organization's purpose was to apply direct challenges to American racism by using Gandhian tactics of non-violence. Farmer's religious beliefs resulted in him refusing to serve in the armed forces during the Second World War.
In 1947 Farmer participated in CORE's campaign of sit-ins which successfully ended two Chicago restaurants' discriminatory service practices against blacks. Articulate and charismatic, Farmer became CORE National Director in 1961. In this position he helped organize student sit-ins and Freedom Rides in the Deep South.
In 1966 Farmer resigned from Congress on Racial Equality in order to direct a national adult literacy project. A supporter of the Republican Party, Farmer failed in his attempt to win a seat in Congress in 1968. Shortly afterwards, the new president, Richard Nixon, appointed him Assistant Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.
After leaving Nixon's administration in 1971, Farmer worked for the African American think tank, Council on Minority Planning and Strategy. In his final years Farmer completed his autobiography, Lay Bare the Heart (1985). James Farmer, who was awarded the Congressional Medal for Freedom in 1998, died on 9th July, 1999.