Preserving the Legacy of James Forman

James Forman Jr. and Julian BondIn a timely event just days before the beginning of African American History Month, the Library of Congress on Monday added to its rich holdings on the Civil Rights Movement with the acquisition of the James Forman papers.

Forman (1928-2005), who served as executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1961 to 1966, was instrumental in organizing many of the major civil rights campaigns of the era, including the 1963 March on Washington. In 1990 he ran unsuccessfully for Democratic senator from the District of Columbia on a platform advocating District statehood (which has not yet been adopted).

Forman was a contemporary of civil rights leaders like Julian Bond (who attended the ceremony at which James Forman Jr. officially donated his father’s papers, comprising some 70,000 items).

Bond, a founder of SNCC, has served as chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1998. Next year will be the centennial of the NAACP the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the country. The Library holds the NAACP papers some 5 million items the largest single collection ever acquired by the Library and perhaps the most heavily used. Scholars like Kenneth Robert Janken have used the collection to produce works such as “White: The Biography of Walter White, Mr. NAACP.” Janken spoke about his book at the Library in 2003.

James Forman Jr. and Julian BondThe Library also holds the papers of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the National Urban League and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the microfilmed records of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE) and SNCC. The Library also holds the personal papers of other prominent activists such as Thurgood Marshall, Robert L. Carter, Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Arthur Spingarn and Carter G. Woodson.

Woodson (1875-1950), known as the “Father of Black History,” devoted his life to increasing public awareness of black history. In 1926 he founded Negro History Week, the precursor of Black History Month. His significance is acknowledged in this year’s national theme: “Carter G. Woodson and the Origins of Multiculturalism.” The Library’s month-long celebration in February will include a number of programs and events.

The Library has also mounted a Web presentation devoted to African American History Month.

(Top image: A poster from Forman’s campaign for the U.S. Senate from the District of Columbia. Bottom image: James Forman Jr. shares a moment at the Jan. 28, 2008, ceremony with Julian Bond, co-founder of the SNCC and chairman of the NAACP, photo by Michaela McNichol. Audrey Fischer assisted with this post.)

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