By HELEN DALRYMPLE and GAIL FINEBERG
James Jr. and Chaka Forman gave the papers of their civil rights activist father, James, to the Library at a special ceremony in the Whittall Pavilion on Jan. 28. Their mother, Constancia Romilly, also attended the event, but Chaka Forman was not able to attend at the last minute because of illness.
“We are proud and grateful to remember this remarkable man,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington at the ceremony. “The James Forman Papers are a valuable addition to the Library’s unrivaled resources for the study of the 20th-century Civil Rights Movement.”
Associate Librarian for Library Services Deanna Marcum said: “These papers will give the first-person account of what [the Civil Rights Movement] was like. … Thank you for entrusting to us the custody of this collection that will serve such an important purpose.”
Marcum went on to tell the story that James Jr. had related to her: that many organizations wanted the Forman papers, but it was always his father’s wish that his papers should be housed at the Library of Congress.
“It was not at all a complicated decision,” noted Forman Jr. “My father moved to Washington, D.C., in 1980. His office was in the United Methodist Building near the Supreme Court. When we were children, he brought us to the Library of Congress nearly every day while he was doing his research and writing. Here in this building [the Jefferson Building], he taught us to use the card catalog and later the computer catalog. He told us that this was our history, and it was always going to be here for us.
“So I want to say ‘thank you’ to the Library of Congress,” James Jr. added.
Both Marcum and Forman also thanked Adrienne Cannon of the Manuscript Division for her work on the papers.
James Forman (1928-2005), executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) from 1961 to 1966, was instrumental in organizing many of the major civil rights campaigns of the era, including the 1963 March on Washington.
The Forman Papers—comprising approximately 70,000 items—chronicle his life and the important role he played in the Civil Rights Movement. The bulk of the collection dates from 1960. Included are letters, memoranda, diaries, speeches and other writings; notebooks, transcripts of interviews, subject files, scrapbooks, appointment books and photographs; and video and sound recordings.
Forman’s activism is well-documented in the collection, particularly his tenure with SNCC and the Unemployment and Poverty Action Committee (UPAC). His involvement in the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Black Panther Party is also covered.
After serving in the Air Force at Okinawa during the Korean War, Forman graduated from Roosevelt University in Illinois in 1957. He pursued advanced studies in African affairs at Boston University, then returned to his native Chicago to work as an elementary-school teacher and journalist.
An assignment to cover the desegregation of Little Rock’s Central High School for The Chicago Defender in 1958 ignited his interest in the burgeoning civil-rights movement. He became involved in CORE and the NAACP, and in 1961 he moved to Atlanta to serve as executive secretary for SNCC. From 1967–1969, he was director of SNCC’s International Affairs Commission in New York.
Forman presented his “Black Manifesto” at the National Black Economic Development Conference in Detroit, where it was adopted in April 1969. The document called for reparations to African Americans for slavery and its legacy. In 1974, he founded the Unemployment and Poverty Action Committee (UPAC), a nonprofit social action organization, and served as its president until 2003.
A prolific writer, Forman founded the Black America News Service and published numerous articles and pamphlets, as well as several books. These included “Sammy Younge, Jr.: The First Black College Student to Die in the Black Liberation Movement (1968)”; “Liberation Viendra d’une Chose Noir” (1968); “The Political Thought of James Forman” (1970); “The Making of Black Revolutionaries” (1972); “Law and Disorder” (1972); “Self-Determination & the African-American People” (1981, revised 1984); “Self-Determination: An Examination of the Question & its Application to the African-American People” (1984); and “High Tide of Black Resistance and Other Political & Literary Writings” (1994).
Forman received a master’s degree in African and Afro-American studies from Cornell University in 1980 and a doctorate from the Union of Experimental Colleges and Universities with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. After running unsuccessfully for Democratic Party Senator from the District of Columbia in support of statehood, he founded James Forman and Associates, a political consulting group. During the 1990s, he taught at American University, the University of the District of Columbia and Morgan State University in Baltimore.
The Library’s Manuscript Division houses the most comprehensive civil-rights collection in the country, including the original records of the organizations that led the fight for civil liberties: the NAACP, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the National Urban League and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. The Library also has the microfilmed records of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, CORE and SNCC.
In addition to these organizational holdings, the collections of the Manuscript Division include the personal papers of other prominent civil-rights activists such as Thurgood Marshall, Robert L. Carter, Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin, Arthur Spingarn, Moorfield Storey, Patricia Roberts Harris, Edward W. Brooke and Joseph Rauh.
Helen Dalrymple is a retired Library staff member and former editor of the Library of Congress Information Bulletin. Gail Fineberg is editor of The Gazette, the Library’s staff newsletter.