Forman, James

Forman, James (1928- ), civil rights activist who is credited with giving the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) a firm organizational base.

While reporting for the Chicago Defender in 1960, James Forman learned that black farmers in Tennessee had been evicted by their white landlords for registering to vote. To support the farmers, Forman joined a program, sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), that provided relief services to the displaced farmers. Later that year, he participated in the Freedom Rides, in which blacks rode in buses throughout the South testing court-ordered integration of public transportation. Forman then joined the SNCC and began working for black civil rights full time.

Having served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War (1950-1953), Forman possessed more maturity and experience than most of the young members of the SNCC. His organizational skills thrust him into a leadership role at the organizationally weak SNCC, where he directed fund-raising and supervised staff. In 1964 he became the SNCC's executive secretary, a post he held until 1966. In addition, Forman participated in many of the SNCC's direct-action protests and helped organize voter registration drives in Alabama and Mississippi. Soon after the Freedom Summer of 1964, however, arguments over the SNCC's direction, strategies, and tactics consumed the organization's leaders. Amid this debate in 1968 Forman left the SNCC to seek economic development opportunities for black communities.

Forman published his memoir of the Civil Rights Movement, The Making of Black Revolutionaries: A Personal Account in 1972; a new edition was published in 1997. He earned a masterís degree in African and African-American Studies at Cornell University in 1980 and a Ph.D. from the Union of Experimental Colleges and Universities (in cooperation with the Institute for Policy Studies) in Washington, D.C., in 1982. He crystallized his studies in his 1984 book, Self Determination: An Examination of the Question and Its Application to the African-American People. Forman has been active in the fight to gain statehood for the District of Columbia.


Contributed By:
Robert Fay