James Farmer Interview Essay
This essay is in response to the interview conducted with Dean of Student life at the University of Mary Washington Cedric Rucker, and will examine the contributions this has had to the oral history of James Farmer. Dean Rucker served on the faculty with Dr. Farmer for almost a decade and provided valuable information about Farmers times at Mary Washington.
Dean Rucker began by emphasizing how involved Dr. Farmer was with the college affairs, especially in encouraging diversity awareness among the campus community. One such example of this was when a proposition was brought up to include a course on ethnic and racial issues at the school. A special meeting was called to discuss the proposition of making this class part of the curriculum. Dean Rucker stated this particular class caused so much controversy that it required this special forum to decide whether or not the class would be picked up. It was debated on both sides, raising the question of what the purpose and need was for this class. Then Dr. Farmer stood and simply stated that this class was needed here at Mary Washington, and that was that. No one spoke after him and the class was quickly voted on and passed for approval. This story told the clout that Dr. Farmer had within the college community. This also showed how even though Farmer was not an active political activist he still pushed for racial and diversity awareness, especially on the campus community.
Dr. Farmer was also very involved with his classes, Dean Rucker stressed that small class size had always been a tradition at Mary Washington. Dr. Farmer’s class defied this and his class attracted huge numbers and was by far one of the most popular classes on campus. This clearly illustrated the great reverence and importance of Farmer being at the college by trying to spread his story to as many students as possible. Dean Rucker also stated that Farmer was always willing to talk and discuss and share his experiences with his students and faculty alike. Even though he came to Fredericksburg to retire, he never truly slowed down in his activism; he just focused that activism in the role of an educator.
Dean Rucker seemed to express that Dr. Farmer was not give enough of a legacy and appreciation that he deserved when he initially arrived to the school. He stated that for much of his time as a professor he was only given the status of a visiting professor. Dean Rucker and many of the other faculty seemed to perceive as a slight on his Dr. Farmer’s part. He believed that Mary Washington was extremely fortunate to get such a Titan of the civil rights movement, which many schools would have been extremely fortunate to have them as a part of their faculty. Also he wasn’t given such honors till his health began declining, such as receiving the honorary doctorate from MWC and the Medal of Freedom. Also many of the faculty outside of the history department did not embarrass his presence and worth till the very end of his tenure. He expressed a need for students and faculty to reinforce his legacy even more so than we have already. Dean Rucker wanted the campus community to push for more of a living active memory of Dr. Farmer, not simple just a static remembrance. He stated while the creation of the James Farmer Multicultural Center and classes such as Oral History of James Farmer were a start but more needed to be done to preserve his legacy.
While he was not given a proper respect for all of his tenure, Dean Rucker expressed that there were numerous students and faculty who to great care of Dr. Farmer at his time here. There was an active movement to get Dr. Farmer certain services for him due to be progressing illnesses. That students and faculty often served as aids to Farmer in basic needs such as household work and chauffeurs these special cares given to Dr. Farmer really showed how much Farmer was beloved and cherished by some of the campus community. Dean Rucker and many other tried to give him and continue to try and create the legacy that James Farmer deserved.
Dean Rucker’s interviewee agreed with many of the points brought up in Nasstroms article. He expressed that the public memory of the Civil Rights movement just sees people like Dr. King as the only person behind movement. Just like Nasstroms he stated that there were so many more people involved and influential to the movement other then people like Dr. King. (1) Also that Farmer needed to be remembered as one of the men who helped change America through the civil rights movement. He expressed that there should be more scholarly work done about Dr. Farmer, and that he should not be forgotten due to how important he was during the movement.
The biases I saw in this interviewee were mainly the clear admiration that Dean Rucker had for Dr. Farmer. He expressed how much of pleasure it was to work along side him because of how much he had changed his life personally. Dean Rucker stated that he was able to many of the things he accomplished in his life due to the fact that Dr. Farmer had changed society so much. Stating that he and his family no longer had to live in a world with so much racial prejudice because of the changed that Dr. Farmer helped enact. Dean Rucker was also a member of the Black Faculty, which many members were very involved in providing services to help the ailing Dr. Farmer.
(1) Kathryn L. Nasstrom, “Between Memory and History Autobiographies of the Civil Rights Movement and the writing of Civil Rights History,” The Journal of Southern History 74, no. 2 (May 2008):
While Dean Rucker clearly had admiration for James Farmer I do not think in any way that diminishes any of the information given in his interview. (2)
There are numerous sources that will allow readers to better understand and analyze this Oral History. One article that can allow better understanding of the interview is Valerie Yow’s ,“Effects of the Oral History Interview To gain further perspective on the interview the interviewee” which talks about the relationship of the bias about a particular subject. This can help in understanding how we as interviewers shaped our questions, in admiration for James Farmer. Also gain some perspective on Dean Rucker’s relationship and bias toward the subject. Also the article by Kathryn Nasstrom “Between Memory and History Autobiographies of the Civil Rights Movement and the writing of the Civil Rights Movement” is very useful. It puts in to context much of what Dean Rucker was discussing in persevering James Farmers legacy, and how often times individuals like Farmer are lost in the narrative of History.
(2)Valerie Yow, “Effects of the Oral History Interview on the interviewer and Vice-Versa,” Oral History Review 24, no. 1 (1997): 55-79.