Interview with James Farmer


James Farmer:

Yes, I, after the funeral of my father in Washington, I flew to Montgomery. I'd been in constant touch by phone with the Freedom Riders, with Diane Nash, and the others. And learned that they were there in Montgomery. A rally had been planned in Ralph Abernathy's church. Dr. King was flying in from Atlanta for that rally and Abernathy was going to speak there too, so was Wyatt Tee Walker who was executive director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. When I arrived at the airport in Montgomery, Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth was there to meet me. He was an associate of Dr. King's and a very courageous man, by the way. He drove me in his car toward the church telling me we would be encountering a mob because there were hundreds of white men marauding through the streets beating up blacks [ who'd ][ they'd ] see in the streets and that mob, was approaching the church, and probably would be holding the church under siege. His prediction was correct. We approached the church; a mob blocked the car and began to rock it trying to turn it over. Fortunately, Shuttlesworth had enough traction to get the car in reverse and back away from the hands of the mob. He tried another approach through another street toward that church and had the same result. Then, stopped by a black-owned taxi stand to inquire how we could outflank the mob and get to that church and he was told he should take the drive around to one side of a graveyard, park the car, walk through the graveyard and try to enter the church through a back door. And we tried that. However, the mob had gotten there first. And the back door was blocked by members of the mob. Shuttlesworth, who didn't know the meaning of fear, it seemed to me—he was a man of great physical courage—said, "Well, Jim, I've gotta get you to that church so we're going have to walk through that mob." I said, "We're going to have to do what?" [laughter] He repeated it and proceeded to walk through the mob. Now, Shuttlesworth is a rather small man, slight, not too tall and he walked through the mob, saying "Out of my way, step aside, let me through", and members of the mob complied with his request. They stepped aside and here was big me trying to hide behind Fred Shuttlesworth as we walked through the mob. I don't know if I can tell you how we described that scene to each other. I told Shuttlesworth that really that was "crazy nigger syndrome," you know, member of the mob says, "Don't mess with that nigger, he's crazy." And that's the reason we got through, well, we rapped on the back door of the church and the door opened and we were in. And, once in the church, I met with Martin King and Ralph Abernathy and Diane Nash and we discussed the plans for the rally and it was at that point that Martin King received a call from Bobby Kennedy asking that we halt the Freedom Ride.