Interview with James Farmer
QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

NOW WITH THE FREEDOM RIDE, WHAT WAS THE BACKGROUND OF THE STRATEGY TO START THE FREEDOM RIDES? I'M THINKING MORE OF THE WHOLE GANDHIAN PHILOSOPHY OF NON-VIOLENCE. WHAT WAS BEHIND THE FREEDOM RIDES?

James Farmer:

Yes. Well, as you know, CORE was organized in 1942. I had a major role in that, and we organized CORE as an inter-racial organization to use the Gandhian technique of nonviolent direct action in fighting against all forms of racial discrimination. That was 1942. In 1947, CORE and a sister organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, had a kind of a Freedom Ride. It was called the Journey of Reconciliation, in which the riders, black and white, went through the Upper South, not the Deep South, and tested only the seating on buses. This was in response to a Supreme Court decision in the Irene Morgan case in 1946, saying that segregated seating of interstate passengers was unconstitutional. Well, they were unsuccessful in that ride. Some of them were arrested in North Carolina and served thirty days on the chain gang as a result. Now when I became national director of the organization that we had set up in 1942, and I became director of it in 1961, there were letters on my desk from blacks in the Deep South who complained that they tried to sit on the front seats of buses or to use the bus terminal facilities without discrimination or segregation and were beaten or jailed or thrown out or all three of those things. And this was in spite of the fact that the Supreme Court said they had every right to sit anywhere they wanted to on a bus or to use the bus terminal facilities without segregation. But those Supreme Court decisions had become merely scraps of paper gathering dust, cobwebs over them. They were not being enforced. So when I went into my little CORE office, my small staff and I sat down to ponder the question of what we ought to do about this, first we had to ask ourselves, why is it that the federal government does not enforce federal law over those conflicting state and local laws? Federal law said that there should be no segregation in interstate travel; the Supreme Court had decided that. But still state laws in the southern states and local ordinances ordered segregation of the races on those buses. So why didn't the federal government enforce its law? We decided it was because of politics, because the administration in Washington feared that the southern Democrats might take a walk at the convention. That is, pull out of the convention and run a candidate of their own, as they had done in 1948 when they ran a candidate on the States Rights ticket, hoping, expecting not to defeat the Democrats, or not to elect their candidate, but rather hoping to throw the election to the Republicans, and thus to teach the Democrats a lesson.