The New Jacobins and Full Emancipation
by James Farmer
Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

[Excerpt from James Farmer, "The New Jacobins and Full Emancipation," in Robert A. Goldwin's 100 Years of Emancipation (Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1964). As reprinted from Black Protest: 350 Years of History, Documents, and Analyses, by Joanne Grant.]

It remained for Birmingham and, before that, its dress rehearsal, Albany, Georgia, to learn from the Freedom Riders' mistakes, and launch massive demonstrations and jail-ins, wholly involving thousands, not hundreds, of Negroes — local citizens, not transients — and mobilizing the respective Negro communities in toto. A score of Birminghams followed the first. Birmingham thus set the stage for a full-scale revolt against segregation in this nation. Such a mass movement was possible because of the magic name of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was possible, in a more basic sense, because of an historical merger of two social forces.

What happened after World War II, or really after Montgomery, was a kind of wedding of two forces, both bred by the war: the means-oriented idealists of pacifistic turn of mind, for whom nonviolence was a total philosophy, a way of life, and the ends-oriented militants, the postwar angry young men who saw in direct action a weapon and viewed nonviolence as a tactic.

Without such a fusion, no revolutionary mass movement could have emerged. Without the young Turks, the movement never could have grown to mass proportions, and without the idealists it could not have developed revolutionary dimensions. The anger of one without the disciplined idealism of the other could have produced only nihilism. Without the indigenous anger of the Negro masses, the idealists for all their zeal, would have remained largely irrelevant, socially speaking, and would have gone on talking to themselves and whispering through an occasional keyhole to another human heart.

As in any viable marriage. each party speaks much truth to the other. The idealists warn that the ends do not justify the means, and the militants assert with equal validity that means are worthless which do not achieve desired and verifiable ends. Each tempers the other, and out of the creative tension between the two has come a third position which, I believe, more accurately reflects the movement. Nonviolence is neither a mere tactic, which may be dropped on any occasion, nor an inviolable spiritual commitment. It is somewhere between the two — not a philosophy, not a tactic, but a strategy involving both philosophical and tactical elements, in a massive and widening direct action campaign to redeem the American promise of full freedom for the Negro.

This does not mean that all of the hundreds of thousands of Negroes involved in the street campaigns for equality accept nonviolence as strategy or tactic or anything else. It is only the leaders, members, and close associates of the nonviolent movement who accept it in any way as an integral part of the struggle. The masses who now join the determined folks on picket lines and sit-ins and protest marches share only a new-found willingness to become individually physically involved and to risk suffering or jail for common' goals. The masses have no commitment to nonviolence, or to any other specific response to abuse beyond that dictated by the natural desire to be accepted by, and to conform to the code of, the militants whom they join in action. Obviously, the urge to conformity is not enough, in and of itself, to maintain nonviolence through the stresses of a mass direct action movement. And that, precisely, is the chief tactical dilemma of today's Freedom Movement.

The nonviolent militants, seeking to mount a revolutionary force capable of toppling manifest racism, need those folk who are not yet wedded to nonviolence, who are wedded, indeed, only to their own fierce indignation. They need them from the pool halls and taverns as well as from the churches, from the unemployed and the alienated and the rootless. The entire Negro community wants now, more than ever before, to become directly involved in the "revolution." Either they will be involved or they will, by their separation from it, brand the movement as counterfeit and ultimately destroy it.

The problem, of course, is to see that they do not destroy it by their involvement. Small. disciplined groups are easy to control. Untrained masses are more difficult. Violence used against us by our opponents is a problem only in so far as it may provoke counterviolence from our ranks. Thus far, sporadic incidents of violence, where they have occurred in the movement, have been contained and have not become a contagion. We have been lucky, but we cannot afford any longer to leave such a vital matter to chance. Widespread violence by the freedom fighters would sever from the struggle all but a few of our allies. It would also provoke and, to many, justify, such repressive measures as would stymie the movement. More than that, many of our own nonviolent activists would be shorn away by disenchantment. None would profit from such developments except the defenders of segregation and perhaps the more bellicose of the black nationalist groups.

Recognition of the problem is half the solution. The other half lies not in stopping demonstrations, as is often counseled by those of faint heart or less than whole commitment. To give ear to such counsel would be, in a real sense, to betray the movement. Cessation of direct action is neither desirable nor possible.

What is possible, as well as desirable, is an expeditious and thorough program of discipline — both internal and external. Internally, the need is for rapid expansion of training for nonviolence in the ranks — classes, institutes, workshops — in every city where the struggle is in process or in preparation. The external requirement calls for a specially trained cadre of monitors for every mass demonstration, to spot trouble before it occurs and either resolve it or isolate it. With a sensitivity to any potential break in the ranks, the monitors must have specialized skills in dealing with the untrained who may join the ranks during action.

Herein, then, lies the answer to the danger of the movement's degeneration into mass violence: tighter discipline within the ranks and trained monitors to police the lines. Needless to say, these new demands upon the movement will be met with dispatch.


The second problem in the new militants' struggle for full emancipation is more functional than tactical. There has occurred in the past few years a proliferation, though not a splintering, of direct action organizations of a nonviolent character. In addition to CORE, there is the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Dr. King, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and various unaffiliated local groups, jealous of their autonomy. Such established organizations as the NAACP are also engaging increasingly in direct action. Church groups, too, and professional associations which previously had confined their action to pronouncements, are now "taking to the streets."

All of this strengthens the movement immeasurably. But it also poses a problem. What coordination exists between the groups is largely accidental rather than the product of systematic planning. Nor is there sufficient coordination of programs within each organization.

What we have, in essence, is a series of guerrilla strikes, generally unrelated to any totally conceived plan. An effective war cannot be waged in such a manner, nor can a revolution likely be won thus. Guerrilla warfare must have its place, but as part of an over-all plan.

An urgent need at this stage of the struggle, therefore, is for coordinated planning for full-scale nonviolent war against color caste. A revolution which, like Topsy, "just grew," must now submit itself to the rigors of systematization. Spontaneity, the trademark of the 1960 sit-ins, has served its purpose; a thrust in one sector must no longer be unrelated to a push in another. Comprehensive actions need to be fashioned now to fit an over-all conceptualization of the problem. And the only realistic concept of segregation is as a total unity, national rather than sectional, with all aspects being interrelated.

What we do in the South and in the North, for example, should be part of a whole, for though its dimensions and contours may vary from place to place, the institution of segregation has no separate existence anywhere. Without subsidies from both the Federal government and northern capital, it could not persist in the South. And were the South not an open sore, pouring northward its stream of deprived human beings, the North could never rationalize and maintain its fool's defense — the de facto pattern on segregation. The tentacles of the beast are everywhere, but none of them should be mistaken for the octopus itself.

This essential unity of the problem is beginning to take form in action with a growing clarity. If a lunch counter segregates in Atlanta or a retail store in Oklahoma City fails to hire Negroes in nontraditional jobs, while heretofore they were attacked in isolation, they are now coming to be dealt with in more realistic terms: as parts of chains if such they are. The economic boycott is a far more potent weapon when regional or national leverage can be used.

Action on any incident of discrimination should take its shape from the shape of the power structure or the machinery which controls, influences, or sustains the objectionable practice. Maximum effectiveness cannot be achieved otherwise. When, for instance, southern school bonds are floated to build and maintain segregated schools, they are marketed not in the South, but by brokers in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and California. Wittingly or unwittingly, northern investors thus provide the fuel to keep southern segregation going. Income from such investments is tax exempt. So, despite the Supreme Court's 1954 decision, the Federal government is providing in this manner a subsidy just as supportive of caste as are its outright grants to schools, hospitals, and services which are segregated. No campaign against segregation which fails to confront the source of funds can even approach adequacy. ...

The Jacobins' activities are opening up jobs previously closed to Negroes. They are cracking barriers in northern housing in a neck and neck race against spreading residential segregation. The mask of hypocrisy has been ripped off northern school segregation, leaving exposed a largely semantic difference between de facto and de jure. Yet, the realization is growing among the new militants that even when the walls are down, and segregation is ended, the task of full emancipation will not be finished. Because of a hundred years of discrimination, the Negro is a built-in "low man on the totem pole." Even after job discrimination is gone, under normally accepted employment procedures the Negro will most often be starting at the bottom while others are already at the middle or the top. And, due to past educational inequities, even after school segregation is over, he cannot compete on an equal footing in this generation or the next.

The responsibility of accelerating the Negro's march to equality does not rest with the Negro alone. This cannot be a sheer bootstrap operation. When a society has crippled some of its people, it has an obligation to provide requisite crutches. Industry has an obligation not merely to employ the best qualified person who happens to apply, but to seek qualified Negroes for nontraditional jobs, and if none can be found, to help train them. If two or more applicants with substantially equal qualifications should present themselves, and one of them is a Negro, then he should be given a measure of preference to compensate for the discrimination of centuries. Beyond that, a remedial education and training program of massive proportions needs to be launched. To accomplish more than a gesture, such a program will require billions of dollars — perhaps three billion a year for a five-year period. Anything less will be tokenism. The only source for funds in such amount is the Federal government.

Perhaps a portion of the money saved by virtue of the nuclear test ban should thus be used to reclaim a people and a nation. But whether or not the Federal government acts, the New Jacobins will continue their revolutionary thrust. To paraphrase a beaten white Freedom Rider: "We'll take beating. We'll take kicking. We'll take even death. And we'll keep coming till we can ride, work, live, study, and play anywhere in this country — without anyone saying anything, but just as American citizens."

Copyright © James Farmer, 1964.

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