Tributes to and Memories of
Chaka Forman: "Letter to My Daughter".
|As rememberd by:|
Bay Area Movement Vets
Heather Tobis Booth
Maggie Nolan Donovan
T. Rasul Murray
Betty G. Robinson
Mario Marcel Sala
Avon William Rollins
5 Jan 2005
The Beloved SNCC family -
Greetings to all of you. I wanted to let people know that my father's health has taken a serious turn for the worse. He was hospitalized over the christmas holiday and has now been released but the doctors do not think he has long to live. I am sorry for such news to be delivered to be this way, but I thought I should be to the point and this would reach many people at one time, Jim has always been a part of a larger community, and he would want you all to know the situation. He is peacefully resting and in no apparent pain or anguish. He is presently not responsive in a vocal sense, but I am sure he knows when people he loves are around. We have been singing to him and sharing stories. I will list the information. Please share this with the folk you know who may not be on this list.
As you all know, my dad is a fearless fighter, so there is no real way of knowing how long he will be here. I needed to let you all know, as many of you have known and loved him for many years. Cheer up, he would say. The future is bright. Victory is Certain.
I will keep you all updated.
Love, Chaka Forman
As Jim Forman nears the end of his journey, it occurred to me that those of us who wish to do so should share our remembrances and appreciation to this valiant hero.
Jim was responsible for helping many of us find ways to contribute to the movement. Jim teased me for being "reticent" and urged me to "be bold" like my sister Dorie. In our case, he understood that each of us had to find our own voice.
Jim had a tremendous sense of history and urged us to record our experiences by filing weekly reports to the Atlanta SNCC office. Those reports have become very important to scholars writing about the movement. Jim was also a strong voice for developing administrative policies and procedures in the Atlanta SNCC headquarters, as well as the field offices. The last time I spoke with Jim- a couple of months ago he asked me to let others know how helpful the Library of Congress has been to him over the years.
I urge you to post your comments to this site, and I hope all such comments can be added to the Civil Rights Movement Veterans homepage.
6 Jan 2005
Dear Joyce, Chaka, Little Jim (Lumumba), and my boss, Forman,
Thank you, Joyce, for encouraging us to write about Jim. He has the best sense of history of all of us, some of whom have gone into the business of history.
We all have so many memories of the Man; we could write books (good idea!). I write, in my memoir, about the first time I met Forman at the first little office on Auburn Avenue, across the street from the SCLC office. Miss Ella still worked there, or had recently been replace by Wyatt Walker. And, of course, De Lawd had his office there.
Memories of James Rufus Forman: As soon as we moved across town to the Raymond Street office, Jim instituted a new SNCC policy. The Auburn Avenue office had been too small to sweep, but now that we had so much room, everyone had to do his part. (And I do mean his.) On my first day at the new office Forman met me at the door holding a broom in his outstretched hand. "Here, man, it's yo day on the broom."
He met my perplexed look with a perfectly good explanation. In our new society, here, there ain t no such thing any more as shit work, all the cats got to take they place on the broom. As he stalked of to work at his desk he looked back and said, "I just finished this front part but the back is waitin' for you."
He may have thrown in that my momma didn t work there, but I m not sure.
Many a morning I arrived to see Jim sweeping the floor. He would silently pass me the broom as I meditated on what a few short months before would have been unthinkable, a fierce looking Black man handing me a broom! A born and raised young white southern male, daddy in the KKK, sweeping the floor in Atlanta because a black man told me to.
I learned a lot from that, and it happened forty four years ago. It s astounding how advanced Forman was, not only about race and class, but what we now call gender.
You go Doctor Jim Forman! You'll mount up like an eagle, and someday you will get your due in this county's rotten and glorious history. When I left the SNCC staff I say staff, because no SNCC person ever leaves SNCC, you said I was your best friend. When somebody pointed out that you said the same of Fay Bellamy the day before, you replied that, well, you had two best friends. You have been my best friend and mentor all these years.
God speed, my brother,
July 24, 2015
Thank you, Dinky, and thank you James Forman, Jr. This Atlantic piece Between the World and Me: 10,000 Years From Tomorrow brings Jim Forman Sr. back to me almost physically. He was the most important influence in my young life and I was influenced by giants. I don't know about 10,000 years but during the next hundred James Rufus Forman will finally be seen as one of the most important fathers of what we still call "the movement." Forman was an organizational, philosophical and dare I say, spiritual, genius.
Thank you, James, for following in his big footsteps. I told Dr. William Barber the other day that he reminds me of James Forman.
6 Jan 2005
Your comments about your relationship to Jim, and his to everyone else are very touching. If there was one sentence to sum up Jim's attitude about each person having something to contribute it was his comment to you: "Here, man, it's your day on the broom."
Jim made sure that all of us had our day on the broom. Thanks for rekindling such wonderful memories of Brotha Jim.
Jan 6, 2005
I've had the pleasure of knowing Jim for many years from the DC activist community. Mostly though, I'd see him on walking down the street in my neighborhood. I'd always make it a point to stop and say hello, even if if was a shout-out from my car window. His face would instantly transform from deep thought to a bright smile. He'd always walk on with a big smile on his face.
A little over a year ago, my group, the Youth Leadership Support Network, organized a neighborhood peace parade with about 30 very young African American and Latino kids. It was all of their first demonstration. We marched around the neighborhood then stopped by Malcolm X Park where a Black Voices for Peace Rally was beginning. The MC brought us up to the front of the crowd and all kinds of peace activists applauded such young kids taking action. It was a good experience.
As we marched back towards our center, Jim was walking down the sidewalk to the demo. I stopped our kids and introduced him. Thirty half-pints all said in unison "Hello Jim!" and then shook his hand, talked for a few moments and Jim passed out the latest info (as always). To a one, they knew they were meeting living history, someone important in their neighborhood, someone who had done what they were just beginning to do. Before we left everyone shouted "Goodbye Jim!!" with great enthusiasm. As we moved on Jim pumped my hand, not letting go, with a huge smile on his face. He told me he just saw the future and it was good and gave him strength. As we moved on, protesters were flowing towards the demo and Jim re-joined the flow, an elderly man wheeling a carry-on bag full of fliers, with a huge smile on his face.
Doug Calvin, Washington DC
Joan C. Browning
7 Jan 2005
The last time I saw Jim was in November 2001. We were in Jackson, Mississippi, for the first and only Freedom Rider reunion. Jim and I were sitting at a table peddling our books, he The Making of Black Revolutionaries and I the collection, Deep In Our Hearts: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement. We were interested, indeed gratified, that many persons bought both books.
During lulls in customers, I told Jim about my fears of following too closely in his medical path. The week after the Reunion, I faced extensive surgery to remove one large and several small unidentified "masses" from my colon. The fearful "C" word hung like a potential death sentence over my head. Jim immediately began mining his own experience to give me suggestions and consolation. He was again the older, wiser, looking-out-for-me brother he had been when we first met.
Jim and I saw irony in my schedule: I would leave the Jackson Freedom Rider event to go to Albany, Georgia, where I was on a dinner program to introduce another of our Albany Freedom Riders, Tom Hayden. We reminisced about that fateful event forty years ago.
As I wrote in 'Shiloh Witness:'
Julian Bond wrote press releases and I folded them and put them in envelopes, thinking I had been entrusted with something very special. Mostly, I turned the crank on a ditto machine or typed stencils. All that typing practice that I thought was good training only for cotton picking was now being used for the Movement. There was a sense of urgency about everything that happened in the office, and Jim, Norma and Julian were amazingly tolerant of my inexperience."
Bill Humphries and I heard that SNCC was planning a Freedom Ride on a train to test the recent ICC ruling. I was one of many SNCC people who had tested the Atlanta bus terminal facilities.
Jim Forman wanted the ride to be half white and half black people. He had recruited four blacks: Bernard Lee of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Norma Collins, SNCC's Office Manager, Atlanta University graduate student Lenora Taitt, and himself.
When Bill and I joined the discussion, four other whites had volunteered to take the ride, three who would be part of the group to integrate the demonstration portion of the ride: Robert "Bob" Zellner, field secretary for SNCC, whose weekly stipend was paid by the Southern Conference Education Fund; Per Laursen, a Danish journalist who was writing a book about America; and Tom Hayden, whom I understood was on assignment to write an article about the student movement for Mademoiselle magazine.
To have eight testers, the ride would need nine participants, because it was standard discipline in integration tests to designate one person to stand apart from the group an observer, safe from arrest. This role of observer was crucial to protect those subject to arrest. The observer often was the only witness, other than arrested demonstrators, who could be relied on to tell the truth in court and to the press. The observer also was not in jail, and free to contact the SNCC headquarters and others who could mobilize whatever resources were necessary. Importantly, the observer had the responsibility of feeding information to Julian Bond, who would put out press releases and assure that public attention kept those in jail as safe as possible. Both the designated observer and Julian's public information job were responsible roles. Sandra Cason (Casey) Hayden's job at the YWCA did not allow her to go to jail, so she was the Albany Freedom Ride's designated observer.
Nine of us planned to board the train in Atlanta. We would attempt to sit together in a "white" passenger car all the way to Albany. If we got to Albany, we would go into the "white" waiting room. Then we would meet SNCC field secretaries Charles Sherrod, Cordell Reagan, and Charles Jones, and go to an Albany Movement mass meeting. We would be guests of local people in their homes overnight and take the train back to Atlanta on Monday. Of course, we knew that we could be stopped at any point. We might not be allowed to board the train in Atlanta. We might be taken off at any stop and arrested. We might be beaten and brutalized anywhere along the way. All I told my supervisor at Emory was that I needed to be away from work on Monday and maybe Tuesday.
I was a little apprehensive, I suppose, because I knew that other Freedom Riders had been brutally beaten, busses had been burned, and Freedom Riders were jailed. But I trusted Jim Forman and Casey Hayden to know what to do. Jim Forman seemed to be a strong, affectionate and wise man. I thought that he would look out for me. And Casey Hayden, the designated observer, was open and accepting. She inspired my absolute confidence that she had the savvy, toughness, and caring to do whatever needed to be done. Casey was articulate, poised, and stylish. She seemed to know when I need a reassuring hug or a squeeze on the shoulder. I saw in her depth of commitment and generous affection the embodiment of the beloved community. Casey and Jim would decide what to do and all I had to do was stick with the group. I was not blindly naive and trusting. Jim and Casey inspired my confidence."
From Southern Historical Association 1999 presentation:
SNCC people tested compliance with the ICC ruling in Atlanta and Albany three times on November 1st. The first test resulted in arrests at 1:30 a.m. in Atlanta's Trailways station. In the second, Charles Sherrod, Cordell Reagan, and Selyn McCollum, students from the Nashville SNCC, and SNCC May Freedom Ride veterans, took the Trailways bus from Atlanta to Albany. Selyn, a white woman, sat apart from Charles and Cordell as the observer. The third test of the day, nine Albany students marched into the Albany Trailways terminal, bought tickets to Florida, and left to avoid arrest.
The fourth and fifth tests of the ICC ruling in Albany came on November 22, the fourth when three members of the NAACP Youth Council were arrested, and the fifth when Albany State College students Bertha Gober of Atlanta and Blanton Hall of Athens, testing compliance on their way home for Thanksgiving Holidays, were arrested. They stayed in jail for Thanksgiving, and when they came out of jail, the Albany Movement held its first ever mass meeting.
Casey [Hayden] and I were on the sixth test of the ICC ruling, the Albany Freedom Ride, leaving Atlanta on the morning of Sunday, December 10, 1961."
While we were in jails in Albany, I wrote daily letters to my friend Faye Powell and we Freedom Riders passed notes to each other. Some excerpts from the Joan C. Browning papers, Emory University Robert W. Woodruff Library, Emory University, Special Collections:
I am incredibly tired and would like very much a nice warm shower.
I just heard that I caused a hell of a disturbance. It seems that never in their experiences has a white girl especially such a quiet, soft-spoken, all-American type been involved.
Jim Foreman, Chairman of SNCC tells me the cops and local whites are amazed.
Still in the County jail. I have been on a hunger strike, and in fact am still on it. My last food was at 12:15 on Thursday, now some 55 hours. This includes water too, though when our lawyers came today I drank a soft drink. I am becoming weak and sometimes can't see when I first get up. But I can hold out for at least a week. If we're still in next Thursday I will eat lunch.
We pass notes to each other. Jim Foreman last night wrote a very touching I hate to use the word sweet note and asked that I consider working for SNCC. He is great, as are all these people.
This morning two guys came in, one big & redfaced with a cigar to suggest that I eat. I finally got a glass of water, my first since Thursday. It is now 96+ hours since I ate. I have had two soft drinks and one glass of water since Thursday. Guess what I'm going to do as soon as I get out.
I almost gave up last night but now I can carry on for at least a few more days. This is getting me though.
After 103 hours of no food, two soft drinks and a glass of H2O which I finally got this morning, Willie slipped three Hershey bars under my door. He's really nice. He also sent this pad & envelopes. I ate two of the candy bars and drank tons of the impure H2O they expect us to drink. I feel awful as if I'm going to throw up at any minute.
Dear Joan from Jim Forman
no date (12/61)
folded paper napkin
[From Jim Foreman, written in Dougherty County, Ga., jail]
Dear Joan, Please excuse my neglect in writing I understand you are on a hunger strike. You are now a SNCC volunteer worker. Hold on! Write me. Enclosed is a newspaper. Use this napkin to write.
[enclosed in the napkin was about a tablespoon of table salt. Jim had sent the salt to me to help me with my hunger strike. I obediently ate it, because Jim said so, even though I had no water or other liquid!]
Dear Joan Love Jim
scrap of paper, torn on all sides. paper towel?
Dear Joan, keep the faith!
Freedom Ride and Freedom Rider are terms adopted nowadays by people who do share the uncertainty, the danger, the threat to life and limb and reputation, the risk of jail. Jim knew those dangers, and those risks. I was able to take those risks because of the certain rightness of our cause and my confidence that Jim and Casey Hayden would be there with me not to protect me, because we were deliberately putting ourselves in harm's way, but to be present with me. Farewell, my strong, affectionate, wise brother Jim, until we meet again.
Thomas Madison Armstrong
7 Jan 2005
Even though I only was in touch with Jim for a brief period of time, he was such a energetic, but stabilizing force in my civil rights struggle. The world is truly a better place because of Jim Forman. He has always been one of my heroes. I will never, ever forget him. Thomas Madison Armstrong
7 Jan 2005
I got my first impressions of Jim Forman and SNCC, not from my own observations, but from the comments of Les Dunbar, Director of Southern Regional Council, and Wiley Branton, Director of SRC's Voter Education Project.
They had hired me in the spring of '62 to appraise the results of voter registration projects to which they had contirbuted. Since they were distributing funds from tax exempt foundations, they were sort of edgy about whether recipients would observe the political prohibitions of such grants.
As I perceived it, their difficulty was that SNCC seemed to be operating on principles they didn't understand. In their world, individuals sought jobs with paychecks, the understanding being they'd do what they were told because the paycheck could be withheld.
SNCC was composed of people who'd walked away from opportuntities to make good wages, for the chance to work their asses off, uinder murky and dangerous conditions, for nothing that could be called a paycheck. Their puzzlement was how do you control what people do if you can't threaten to take away their livelihood? The answer, of course, was that you don't control them. It was a concept that these essentially good- hearted and well-intentioned folks were not comfortable with.
When I finally met Jim, I began to understand what their problem was. Here was a guy with the obvious administrative and executive abiity to be running something big for big money. What the hell was he doing administering this organization of uncontrollables?
When SRC finally fired me for unspeakable political things, Jim asked me what I was going to do. I told him I'd had a couple of feelers wrom D.C. think tanks and capitol hill. He said he'd do anything he could to help me get a job. I told him I didn't think the anwser was in D.C. If it were, the problem would have been solved long ago. He asked me if I'd be interested in statrting a SNCC research department. I told him, sure, but we're talking serious resource expenditures if you're going to provide the research and intelligence for political organization and action.
He said, simply, tell me what you need.
Within a year we had a research department either the DNC or the RNC would have been proud of.
He never told me how it got financed; he simply provided what I asked for.
He is a remarkable man, from a remarkable time.
Jan 8, 2005
Before Jim Forman came to SNCC, I occasionally dropped by the Auburn Avenue windowless cubicle to see what was going on. On one occasion he was there sweeping the office, and he immediately began to ask me what I could do or thought I could do.
When I told him I was a writer, he invited/ordered me to write and produce SNCC s newsletter, the Student Voice, and from then on I was hooked.
With a key to Connie Curry s NSA office and most importantly, access to her mimeograph machine I became writer, editor, and publisher.
From then until now, he has been a constant presence to me not the least because I use The Making of Black Revolutionaries as a text in classes I teach at two universities; in it, I meet him twice a week. This past fall, the publisher told me I am the only professor in the United States to use this book.
I had experimented with other autobiographies, preferring my students hear at least some of the movement s history directly from the mouths (or typewriters) of those who actually made it rather than exclusively from those who collect and interpret it. They didn t care for this one or that one but they love Forman! I think it is because they saw in his accounts a basic honesty and real emotion, and each was as important as the other. It wasn t that other accounts weren t truthful. They were college students learning for the first time about the civil rights movement beyond the segregation + Martin Luther King + protests and marches + some people arrested + a few killed = integration achieved narrative which they knew. They had no way of telling whether the story of this or that was true or not. This honesty was different when Forman was angry you could read it. When someone acted badly, you read about it. When treachery was practiced, there it was for all to see.
Writing this, it strikes me how he was almost always Forman to me, and to many others; seldom, but occasionally Jim. This was the same way that Howard Zinn remained Dr. Zinn for me long past the days when he was professor and I was student (sadly, never his). It represented a kind of formality and respect he was easily granted even if he never demanded it.
Write it down! Write it down! was Forman s mantra how sorry we all are now that none of us did it as often, as fully, or as literally as he insisted. Many of us are at the age when the obituary section of the daily newspaper has become compulsory reading to see who has left and to know who is left. We will read of James Rufus Forman and will wonder why this or that hasn t been included why that was skipped and this absolutely told the wrong way, the wrong people given credit or blame, why people too young to know or too ignorant to know they don t are given the power to write these final chapters.
Someone needs to write him down, to do as Charles McDew used to say: Tell the story.
Because it is a wonderful story of drive, determination, courage and persistence, with drama, sadness, and much joy.
Jan 10, 2005
I don't know what to say about Jim, except that I always loved him.
I remember him sitting in the NSA [National Student Association] office at 41 Exchange Place, (where Julian used to come mimeograph the "Student Voice") and us having this conversation where Jim was trying to convince me that black people are by nature more tolerant than white people. It was a stimulating argument, and I was always stunned by his vast knowledge and his intellectual capacity. Many of us "southerners" were not used to being around such "radical" thinkers, and our relationship opened up new doors for me.
Also, as one of the "adult" advisors for SNCC along with Ella, I have often laughed about the fact that Jim and I are around the same age. His leadership opened up a whole new debate in SNCC about what we were really fighting for. I hope I can go and visit him soon.
Betty G. Robinson
As the rest of you I was saddened to learn of Jim's passing but glad it was peaceful.
Jim was the person who recruited me to SNCC. Most of us can probably say that as well. He always believed you could do the job. He was supportive and encouraging even if you thought he was wrong about your abilities, he always believed in you. I first met him through the thank you letters he wrote me (no e-mail then) when I was in Berkeley, CA in the early 60's raising money to support SNCC. He suggested I come to the Howard Univ SNCC meeting over Thanksgiving break in November 1963 which I did and then I was hooked. (The singing and sense of community in SNCC especially touched me emotionally). I had to go South. I dropped out of grad school in March of 1964 to go to work in the Atlanta office and then later worked in Mississippi.
Jim's energy was boundless. He was always working, organizing, encouraging, prodding, strategizing, his optimism was contagious and he believed completely in peoples possibilities. It is from Jim that I learned how to do all the work regardless, ie sweep, use the copier, wipe the tables, stuff the envelopes as well as write the political memos and lead meetings. I carried this way of being into every job I held after SNCC.
Dottie Zellner and I had the good fortune to spend several hours with Jim a few weeks ago in DC, and he was still organizing! Jim was an amazing man who had a profound effect on many of our lives. He will live in our memories forever.
Betty Garman Robinson, SNCC staff, 1964-1966
Civil Rights' Tower of Strength
By Charles Cobb Jr.
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
In 1962 in Nashville, at a conference of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, this big guy touched me on the shoulder.
"You're Charlie, and you're down there in Mississippi?"
It stopped short of being suspicious or belligerent, but it was definitely a sort of "And just what are your intentions?" question.
He was James Forman, executive secretary of SNCC, which organized voter registration campaigns in the toughest areas of the South during the civil rights movement, and he wanted to know who I was because I was northern, in Mississippi working with SNCC and had had absolutely no contact with SNCC headquarters, ever.
I said, "Yes, I'm Charlie." I was all of 20 years old, and I had dropped out of Howard University that spring to come South.
He nodded and walked away. I think I must have represented a kind of frustration to him showing up in Mississippi, laying claim to the organization the way I did. How could you have an organization if people could do that? Whatever he had in mind, Forman never brought it up to me.
And it is not the substance or lack of substance of that first encounter in Nashville that I am thinking of as I recall that day. Instead it is an image of how big he was. The frail Jim Forman weakened by colon cancer those of us in Washington saw in recent years hid just how big and vibrant Jim Forman was. He was a tough guy. First impression: maybe a longshoreman or Teamster. A good size to have if you were going to tackle white supremacy in the blackbelt South the way Forman did.
James Forman, who died Monday at 76, leaves a lot behind, most of it unrecognized and unappreciated. I am writing as one of those shaped by Forman. It is worth making the argument right here, and Forman would appreciate it, that the southern civil rights movement of the 1960s is largely misunderstood. His own invisibility as one of the great forces in that movement is one example of just how deeply it was misunderstood.
There he is in my mind's eye, pressing his ideas on Martin Luther King Jr. or the NAACP's Roy Wilkins: You don't have to be so cautious with the president. Let's get people out on the street.
There he is, arguing with us, the young and inexperienced, about disciplined organizing, challenging us to think about more than a cup of coffee at a lunch counter or even voting rights.
One of my favorite photographs from those days, 1963, I think, is of Jim gazing into the distance from behind the bars of a jail in Americus, Ga. I look at it often, even now, wondering just what he is thinking, what he is seeing. Does he really feel the price we are paying is worth what we are gaining? I wonder.
As an unruly lot of kids, most of us in our early twenties, more than a few of us still in our teens, James Forman, "Jim" to some of us, but more often and oddly as just "Forman," as Julian Bond noted, organized us. He was older; at 33, older than King, when he became executive secretary of SNCC and began molding, as Bond puts it, "SNCC's near-anarchic personality into a functioning, if still chaotic, organizational structure."
You have to constantly think about what it is you are really fighting for, Jim taught us. And it was Jim who began to connect us to Africa, the southern African liberation movements, in particular. He had done graduate work in African studies at Boston University. The slogan "One Man One Vote," which we used in our voter registration campaigns across the South, was borrowed from the independence movement in what is now Zambia.
His age gave him a kind of gravitas that, without question, was needed among a group like ours, ready and willing, as fellow SNCC member Joyce Ladner once cracked, "to argue with a lamppost."
Mario Marcel Sala
I talked to Jim Forman once or twice over the years as the San Antonio SNCC chapter was really isolated from the rest of the country. I mentioned to him that though SNCC had disbanded in the rest of the country we had decided to keep going. This was in 1974 during the time of my visit to Howard University to attend the National Conference of the African Liberation Support Committee. I remember him saying that he thought it quite important that someone carry on the name of SNCC and that no matter what group we found ourselves in we must carry on the fight against injustice. The San Antonio SNCC Chapter was the last SNCC chapter in the U.S., in part due to Jim's positive encouragement. The group disbanded in 1976 and formed several other civil and human rights organizations over the years. All of the SNCC folk in San Antonio salute our fallen leader whose work must continue. We give our condolences and heart felt sympathies to the family.
Former City Councilman Mario Marcel Sala
Heather Tobis Booth
Like so many others, I met Jim when I was 18, going to Mississippi Summer. His extraordinary insight and personal decency has been a part of my heart and work for social justice ever since. When I started a training center for organizers, our first text was his book, Making of Black Revolutionaries. His insights still provide a guide. He knew how to balance often seemingly contradictory perspectives and make them come out whole--electoral work and organizing on issues, working with leadership and basing your work with the grassroots, domestic priorities and international solidarity, courageous direct action and careful background research, working across race and class and gender and building pride in community and identity.
In all of this he maintained an optimism, energy and confidence that if we organize we can change the world. He did change the world for the better. And he changed so many, many of us whose lives he touched.
Heather Tobis Booth
T Rasul Murray
Jim was for me, as he was for many, if not all, of us, a significant source of my intellectual and emotional growth during my SNCC years. He was grounded in a sense of caring and commitment which he communicated to each of us in the particular way we each needed to hear it to make the most use of what he had to say. And he could make the most profound points with a sure sense of humor.
I remember a SNCC Conference, in Nashville I think, after which I was scheduled to make a fund-raising trip to Chicago, before returning to Atlanta for a staff meeting. When I told Jim I would need bus money for my travels, he led me out to his car in the parking lot. Thinking we were going to get his check book, I followed him and watched as he opened the trunk of the car. He reached in, took out a box of SNCC buttons, handed them to me and told me to "go raise the bus fare."
At the end of the staff meeting that followed the Chicago trip, I was scheduled to go to Mobile, Alabama. When I asked Jim about getting there, he immediately reached for the bag of buttons on the counter and, only after I suggested that button sales in Mobile, where there was no SNCC project, was a problematic affair, did Jim give me some bus fare.
It was Jim that made sleeping in the dentist's chair in the office across from the SNCC office on Raymond Street seam like a night at the Hilton.
There are several conversations I had with Jim that were of particular personal significance and which contributed much to my growth. He will always be a giant in my constellation of heroes and life models. My deepest sympathies to his family and all of our SNCC family on this sad occaision.
T Rasul Murray
I had the pleasure of knowing Jim as a friend and leader in the Civil Rights Struggle. When I moved to New York City to work for the National Urban League under the direction of Vernon Jordan, Jim stayed at my home with me and my children until he was able to get back on his feet. Jim never believed that Americans understood what the Civil Rights Movement was all about and I agree with him. If we had things would be vastly different with our children and they would have a better understanding of they are and what we are all about. One of the greatest experiences that I shared with Jim was the writing and discussion of the "Black Manifesto". We were in Atlanta, Georgia were the Federation of Southern Cooperatives had convened at meeting on Political and Economic Development for southern blacks who lived in predominantly Black counties of Mississippi and Alabama.
Jim was one of the greatest heroes of our times.
God Bless, Your are finally free
(If someone else has already written about this, I apologize itb's taken me a while to face Jimb's death and I've only just begun to read the other "memories.")
Jim's final time in the South motivating African American people to fight for change was less than two years ago, in Holly Springs, Mississippi the county seat of Marshall County, where Jim had spent most of his youth. He was the featured participant in a Celebration of the Civil Rights Movement there. Gloria Clark and I were what you might call the lead organizers.
In Holly Springs, you could tell Jim had chosen to focus his mind and energy on the Movement and what it takes to change America. He was finished with the trivia of lif with things that affected only himself.
It was a pain in the butt to get Jim to the event. He wouldn't fly, and seemed befuddled by everything involved in taking trains from DC to Memphis. It took phone call after phone call between those of us in Holly Springs and Winky in New York to navigate Jim South. He remained confused about the little things the entire time schedules, meals, who to talk to about what, etc.
But when he was doing the work he came to do Movement work he was powerful and on point. He spoke to a student assembly at Rust College, a historically Black school run by the Methodist Church. He addressed Black business people and entrepreneurs at the closest thing Holly Springs has to a Chamber of Commerce. He visited churches and had one-on-ones with Rust College professors.
Each time, he inspired those he addressed, and left people with a deeper understanding of their own history and of the need to continue the fight.
At the Holly Springs high school, he gave a particularly eloquent and impassioned speech at an assembly, explaining to the (90% Black) student body why they should not be satisfied and why they should get involved in working for a better tomorrow. He did not talk down to the kids his speech was on the exact level it should have been to reach the students.
Then he used the "f" word. I thought for sure the principal would end the assembly then and there. But Jimb's speech was so powerful, and his use of the word so appropriate, that the principal just added his "amen" to Jimb's remarks and urged the students to follow Jimb's example.
January 13, 2005
Last time I saw James Forman in 2001, his body was bent with cancer. But his strength held out...his voice still true, still urging us on. He remained until his death, the same powerfully focused man who protected my young husband during the 1961 police riot in Monroe, North Carolina. Jim absorbed the blows for many, and defined leadership for a whole generation of Freedom Fighters. Minnesota Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement salute James Forman. His like will not pass this way again.
January 16, 2005
ON THE DEATH OF JAMES FOREMAN, OUR SNCC EXECUTIVE SECRETARY
We few, we happy few, who first did on Saint Crisppen's Day foreswear against all promises of safe passage to safe careers to go against the dragons in their lairs. And against all odds except for arrogant hopes, we bested every terror the beasts could throw and answered back in history's ear the whispers of the sweet Invictus that our fathers vowed fresh off the boat. And all alas the earth was churned beneath the weight of our words, songs, and feet, 'till freshened with the dew of martyrs' blood, the seeds of hope have issued forth first buds and now abundant fruit.
Such were those days that men and women, who laid abed back then, now consider themselves acursed to have cheated themselves of their greatest honors of an apt rendezvous with the future's fate.
Now, for another of those who bore the lash of yesterday comes today's bidding of farewell. With less comely shoulders than before, but bearing greater a nobleman's repose, accept our fond adieux. We, who were among that happy few that claimed the stars, send kisses with consecrated wings to shepherd you to the retirement of Glory. We who believed in freedom with you will confidently continue the unfinished business of lifting the last burden from the shoulders of nature's last oppressed being among the world's mankind.
These are the type of words befitting to be uttered, if Will Shakespeare or Sterling A. Brown were still around to add their verbal majesty to this moment.
In defiance of the expectations that our enlightenment should allow us to accept Brother Jim Foreman's death as but a seasonal event, our mothers nonetheless taught us the blessing of mourning. Not just the sophisticated rhythms of measured speech, historical antidotes or poetic allusions, but just plain old down home moans and groans are needed now. Like the utterings worthy of motherless children, when nobody knows their sorrows, whence over the road they've trod; we come having earned the right to weep even while we know that pharaoh's army got drowned beforehand.
All our minds hark back to the hard benches of those little white washed chapels of the South where we listened to ebonic testimonies, sang the people's Zion hymns, lent our ears to the political exhortations, and first saw the light.
All politics aside, all modesty abandoned, all long term strategies postponed, this is a moment of loss, of silence, of knowing without the vocabulary of syntax. Jim Foreman's flight into immortality returns us all to a palpable confrontation with the unique powers of relentless defiance, searching intelligence and fearless individuality.
What we can mournfully celebrate today is that we had the common privilege in our youth of yesterday to suffer with such meaning that it could outshine the sun.
Oh be grateful, all ye people, Oh be grateful, and clap your hands!
Avon William Rollins
February 2, 2005.
Many wars have been fought over many millennium. Great numbers of soldiers died on the battlefield. The many campaigns these wars were directed by great generals. They were responsible for training and deployment of soldiers to the battle front. We know many of the general's names from the history books and we know where they engaged in battle.
Today, I write about a very special general of the twentieth and the twenty-first century. Jim Forman was a general that gave meaning and direction to an army composed of teenagers and young adults. He directed an army composed of 15-25 year olds who knew they wanted to fight but did not know how. Our general gave us directions for the many battlefields in Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, etc., etc.
I first met Jim Forman in the latter part of 1961 with my mentor of the Civil Rights movement, Marion Barry in a SNCC office in Atlanta, Georgia.
I last saw Jim in August 2003 at the commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington. Jim was teaching as usual at the base of the Lincoln Memorial. A young lady was shading the sum from his eyes with an umbrella. He had such a serious look on his face. I sat beside him and he continued to teach those of use gathered around him. He looked over and recognized me and a glow and sweet sweet smile came across his face. He asked have you talked to Marion. He was also concerned about his soldiers.
It is amazing how this army with no guns or tanks turned the world upside right. So much credit must be given to our general James "Jim" Forman who was responsible for developing our skills and our voice to make a better world. General Jim Forman left us on Monday, January 10, 2005. However his vision and work will continue as long we have memory and we continue to tell his story. His story is our story of a new generation of African Americans.
If they give five stars to generals who were victorious with guns and mortar, then let us give our general Jim Forman ten stars for leadership in the many victories of the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee.
Jim has joined many others who have died on the battlefield: Ruby Doris Smith, Ella Baker, Joanne Grant, Stanley Wise, Leonard Cowan, Worth Long, Jimmy Lee Jackson, Kwame Ture, Ralph Featherstone , the angles killed at the 16th Street Baptist Church, those killed during the 1964 Mississippi Summer and the Alabama Campaigns of 1965. The list goes on and on.
I was proud to be a soldier in Jim Forman's army. "Jim, Sleep In Peace." Give Ella Baker a special hug for me.
Avon William Rollins
Maggie Nolan Donovan
February 7, 2005.
As we all were I was deeply moved by this past weekend's memorial service and I keep thinking about it. One thought especially has struck me.
Several people referred to Forman's asking them, "What can you do?" Forman never asked me that question. In my early days I wouldn't have known how to answer it. I learned what I could do in SNCC.
From 1963 to 1967 Forman asked me a different question repeatedly. "Who are you?" He felt he knew the answer. He always reminded me that I was "Boston Irish Catholic" and that was useful to SNCC. To a certain extent I accepted that and worked in Boston in various ways seeking support from the white community. When I wanted to go south he always refused reminding me that my usefulness was in Boston. In 1967 his directive to me was to go to South Boston and work with the anti-busing forces there. I didn't, it seemed too lonely and hard, and he was mad about it. But now I realize how right he was. Now I get it and understand where my work lies.
So one way of remembering Jim is to ask ourselves his questions,"What can you do?" and,"Who are you?" and see where the answers lead us.
Maggie Nolan Donovan
February 5, 2005
MIKE MILLER STATEMENT FOR JIM FORMAN MEMORIAL SERVICE, FEB 5, 2005, IN WASHINGTON DC.
I regret not being in Washington today to do this myself. But the doctors in California grounded me, so even though I had my round-trip ticket I didn't come. I'm getting better and will soon be fine. But the timing of a staph leg infection couldn't have been worse.
As all of us know, Jim was a rock on which SNCC was anchored, probably its strongest rock. But it is not about his more formal role that I'd like to talk; it is about his character which I'd like to illustrate with a story.
As with other of SNCC's more visible people, Jim was called on to make national fundraising tours. I arranged those in Northern California. At a house party at the home of a very well-to-do white family, Jim and I sat down with about 20 other mostly-white couples for dinner before he would talk and the host would make a pitch for contributions.
We went around the table, and introductions seemed to have been properly made when Jim, before anything else could happen, got up, put his hand out toward one of the Black wait staff, and said, "hello, my name is Jim Forman." I think if she'd been carrying a serving tray she would have dropped it! Luckily, we didn't have to find out. After a moment's hestitation, she responded. Jim did the same with the rest of the people serving and preparing our meal. That was Jim's egalitarianism par excellance.
But here's what's especially important to me. Jim did that in a way that didn't embarrass his host and hostess or any other of the guests at the dinner. Nothing in what he did was a put-down of anybody else. It was simply an affirmation of who he was and what he stood for and, because of that, an affirmation that could get others to look at how they viewed people whose color, status or whatever was different from their own.
SNCC tried to be like that: living what it thought was the way the world should be.
Some of us in SNCC did better at that than others. Jim was among the best.
Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement
February 5, 2005
Remembering and Honoring James ("Jim") Forman
The Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement send our words of deepest sadness at the loss of Jim Forman, our brother in arms in the war against racial injustice. Jim was a formidable foe of the privileged, and a sterling mentor , teacher and friend to those who, like him, put their lives on the front line for political, social and economic justice. His passion and energy were legendary, his optimism both boundless and contagious. He was organizer, innovator, soldier, cheerleader, and social critic par excellence: He was our friend.
"What's happening?" he'd ask, not as a way to get news but as a way to learn how we were processing the news that we ourselves were making. "Why don't you..." Another loaded question, usually one likely to take each of us to another level of challenging ourselves to do more, to be more. Where others took pleasure in telling us "you can't," he told us we could, and stood steadfast with us when we did. He was our friend.
Jim had insight, foresight and vision. He saw early on the necessity to internationalize the Southern Freedom Struggle and he worked diligently to do so, linking it to progressive movements across the globe and winning non-governmental status at the United Nations so that SNCC could present its profound social critique before that world body. His was a global vision, and throughout his life he remained true to it. And throughout, he remained our friend.
Bay Area Veterans of the Civil Rights Movement
February 14, 2005
A memory of James Forman.
We formed the High School Friends of SNCC out of the Food For Freedom drive the NY office ran in the summer of l963. Volunteers, who collected and packed food and clothing to send south to support people boycotting segregated stores, met weekly into the fall. We would have speakers, then discussion, then we would do something like the office mailing.
Jim saw what we were doing and invited me, age 16, onto the steering committee of the NY office to represent the group. I know it must seem like a small gesture, but it was greatly empowering. At their best, political groups accept all help without judgment, and in doing so teach the values needed for a new world. I think part of Jim's power as a leader was to pass that lesson on. I think I was lucky to be a student then.
December 12, 2004
Had a wonderful visit with Jim today. I shared our tentative plans for the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights March with him. He was thrilled. He gave me names of several people, especially his Dad, James Jackson Forman, and his sons and their finances whom we should invite.
He was in pure SNCC executive secretary form. Of coure, we reminisced about our Tuskegee, Blackbelt work in the 1960s. But, as always, he wanted to take about wht should be done to continue the struggle, esp. the hooking up African-Americans with Africans, now in his SNCC International secretary form.
It was a marvelous experience as I took notes and promised him that I will phone to let him know about the progress. Anna (the publisher of the last editions of Forman's books) was also visiting. And then, Iffy, Robert's fiance, came.
We had a joyful time as I got permission to visit an office with a computer for Jim to see the on-line archival collections that I am sepherding. He was thrilled when I type his name and up came the archival box where some of his papers are housed. He became absolutely estactic Forman style when he saw the SNCC holdings and Jamil amin (aka Rap Brown) holdings. I made certain he saw some of the pixs, and we talked about Rufus Lewis, Alabama SNCC Attorney Charles Conley (we have their collections) and others.
I believe he wore himself with exhilaration, instructing Anna to get on with me to get copies of some of the manuscripts from the archives, insisting that I be renumerating for the effort. Yes, he gets on tangents, but he is lucid and clear about his ideas, and his articulation (and vocabulary) continue to be intellectual in content. I will forever remember this vist with Jim.
I plan to make it possible for Jim to visit Lowndes County when we establish the Voting Rights/Struggle Interpretative Center on the "Tent City" grounds. Bob Mants and I have been on top of this development, and I think you will be proud as to how we insisted that the movements concepts be interpretated with truth, honesty and integrity. Jim as a veteran can get a plane from to DC to take him to Montgomery. I did such an arrangement for my grand-uncle, WWI veteran, to leave Montgomery to visit with his grand, great-grand, etc. in Michigan. I will follow-up on this when I return home.
I know that whenever you come to DC, you will visit with Jim. His phone # is (202) 686-3288. He has lunch at 12:30 PM and then takes a nap for about 2 hours. He goes to bed early. I would suggest that 9-11:00 AM is a good time to call. When the photos are developed, I will place on my email. Hopefully by that time, I will know how to do so not as an attachment.
Take care. Gwen Patton
Jan 11, 2005
I've just learned of Jim Forman's passing. He was a major hero to me. He took time with me, spoke with me, looked me in the eyes, and all of that because of his love for SNCC and what it was all about. He wrote a poem about me leaving the Raymond St office a long time ago for better or worse that poem captured me.
I join the rest of you in missing him. My sincerest wishes for peace are sent to his children and all of his loved ones.
Pat Margulies, Thousand Oaks, CA, Jan 11, 2005
September 26, 2005
As head of Friends of SNCC at Columbia University, I invited Jim Forman to speak to the Columbia community at Barnard College...1965 if I recall...
What ensued was a major fight with Barnard which would not let us use their facility...reported in the Barnard Bulletin then.
We moved the meeting to Broadway Presbyterian Church at 114th and Bway and Jim was terrific.
I am very sorry he has passed.
Warmest best, Neal Hurwitz, NY, NY
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