Interview with James Farmer
QUESTION 29
INTERVIEWER:

TELL ME, IN THE BOOK YOU MENTIONED YOU HAD FIRST A LITTLE HESITATION ABOUT GETTING ON THE BUS IN MONTGOMERY AND, EASY TO UNDERSTAND WHY, BUT WHAT ACTUALLY GOT YOU ON THE BUS?

James Farmer:

Well, frankly I had decided that I was not going to take that ride from Montgomery to Jackson because I was afraid. I was scared. I didn't think the buses would arrive in Jackson safely. I had all kinds of excuses: my father had just died, and the family needed me then; two deaths in the same week would have been a bit much for the family. Furthermore, I had been away from my office for 6 weeks now. The desk was piled high with correspondence and people had a right to expect replies to their letters and be angry with CORE, angry with me, angry with the movement if they didn't hear from us. And in addition, somebody had to be there to raise money to keep the movement going to fuel those buses. Someone had to be free to call the president, to call the attorney general, to meet with the FBI, to do all the necessary things, so I had cataloged all those excuses why I wouldn't go. None of the students, these were the SNCC students and the few CORE students from Nashville, from New Orleans who had joined the SNCC people, they never asked me if I was going. They merely assumed that I was going because, after all it was my project. I'd started it, and I'd come back to Montgomery to join them, and why else would I come back if I wasn't going to ride with them? Well, that morning the buses were to depart for Montgomery, for Jackson, I went down there now. I had not planned to go on the ride, but in the back of my mind there was some ambivalence, maybe I would go, maybe I would find some stiffening of the backbone and would get on the bus, so I had packed my bags, and put it in the trunk of [the] rental car that CORE had rented, just in case. But I really went down to say goodbye to the students who were going to ride to Jackson and I reached my hand through an open window. I guess there was no air conditioning on that bus. The window was open, to shake hands with a young CORE girl from New Orleans—Doris Castle who was 17 years old at the time. Her eyes were wide with fear and I reached my hand through to shake hands with her. I said, "Well, Doris, have a safe journey. And after the Freedom Ride, we'll get together in New Orleans or someplace and we'll have a big bowl of crab gumbo and we'll talk about the Freedom Ride and we'll discuss the next step what we ought to do from here." She looked at me with total disbelief, she said, "But, Jim, you're going with us, aren't you?" I said, "Well no, Doris, you see," and then I went through the whole catalog of reasons of why I could not go. I said, "But I'll be with you in spirit, don't worry, not all of us can be on the front lines and the trenches. Some of us have to be back doing the dull routine work, you know." Doris said just two words and it was in a stage whisper, she said, "Jim, please." Well, that was more than I could bear.