Dean Rucker on James Farmer

by Murphy ~ December 10th, 2009. Filed under: Essays.

 Cedric Rucker, the current Dean of Student Life for the University of Mary Washington, returned to the university after completing his undergraduate degree when James Farmer was a distinguished visiting professor in 1989. He was interviewed about his experiences with James Farmer during his time at Mary Washington. The interview focused on the contributions that James Farmer made as a professor, as a titan of the civil rights movement and as a man to the Mary Washington community as well as the Fredericksburg community.1  James Farmer, according to Dean Rucker, was a person who engaged students in his lectures and in casual conversations outside the classroom. His classes were very popular and always filled. Dean Rucker said that Farmer advocated diversity and service and scholarship during his time at Mary Washington for everyone. His personality engaged everyone around him and he would always be available and willing to speak with students about any topic, not just the civil rights movement or his own experiences.
 There needs to be as complete a picture of James Farmer as possible. This is important because he had such a great impact on the Mary Washington community due to his character, what he had done before coming to Mary Washington and his lectures. By learning who James Farmer was through people who knew and interacted with him and how Farmer impacted them, the wider community will better be able to understand just how big his impact truly was for this school.
 Dr. Farmer’s legacy at the University of Mary Washington currently has grown substantially since Farmer’s passing. Dean Rucker felt though that the acknowledgement should have been quicker and sooner. He mentioned that he remembered the tough times when he and others saw how Dr. Farmer was not acknowledged as he should have been. When Farmer received an honorary doctorate from Mary Washington and also received the Medal of Freedom from the President of the United States, he was overjoyed.  Dean Rucker said that now Mary Washington has the James Farmer Multicultural Center and the James Farmer Scholars Program and a bust of James Farmer on Campus Walk and that is good, but that more needs to be done. As a titan of the civil rights movement and one of the Big Four, Dean Rucker feels that the impact of Farmer coming to Mary Washington needs to continue to be discussed. He said, “we could do a better job – he was one of the Big Four and he taught at Mary Washington College…what does that mean to us, how does that inform the scholarship on Farmer. How does it influence service and our ability to work as community advocates?”2  Farmer’s legacy needs to keep growing because he embodied humanitarian ideals that everyone can learn from in regards to diversity, social justice and the importance of academics.
 In regards to Dean Rucker’s personal experiences with Dr. Farmer, he attended some of his classes and would have informal conversations with him at different times. Students and faculty alike had the chance to speak with him and be influenced by him. Dean Rucker spoke about the way Dr. Farmer was treated when he came to Mary Washington and how he was treated differently by the end of his tenure as a professor and the end of his life. The difference in acknowledging who he was and the impact he had on the nation and on the civil rights movement and as a result the impact he had on everyone around him on campus was huge. There are most likely still disagreements where some might say that a lot has been done for Farmer and nothing more needs to be done; however, Dean Rucker firmly believes that more can and should be done to celebrate the man Farmer was and his contributions to the Mary Washington community.
 Richard Cándida Smith, author of the article “Analytic Strategies for Oral History Interviews,” explicated the concept of “thick dialogue.” He said, “the recorded conversation ceases to be a rehearsal of comfortable and conventional formulas and becomes a deeper probing of what happened and why.”3  He wrote this in regards to oral history interviews. This is true of Dean Rucker’s interview. While he knew of the subject of the interview, Dean Rucker seemed able to step out of his role as an administrator and share some of the weaknesses of Mary Washington College in their treatment of James Farmer.  “It is almost a revisionist history of Dr. Farmer…there are those of us who remember the tough times, we thought the acknowledgement should have been quicker and sooner than it was.”4  This allowed the interviewers to experience more than a facade of positive times for Farmer in his tenure at this college; it allows them to see how the treatment of Farmer changed over time.
 Catherine Kohler Riessman wrote the article “Making Sense of Marital Violence: One Woman’s Narrative.” In this article she writes about how important it is to keep in mind that an analysis is not complete without investigating the condition of the person in the society that produces the text [of the interview].5  It is important to look at the position Dean Rucker has at the university currently as well as his potential agenda as a narrator in a James Farmer interview. With that being said the truth that is being built off of the information presented by Dean Rucker about James Farmer.
 There is noticeable positive bias in Dean Rucker’s recollections of James Farmer. This is possibly because Dean Rucker and James Farmer share many of the same ideals and argued for more diversity and scholarship on the Mary Washington campus. Dean Rucker repeatedly referred to Dr. Farmer as one of the Big Four and also as a titan of the civil rights movement. He also recalled how personable Farmer was to everyone around him. There was essentially no point in the interview where Dean Rucker was skeptical or critical of anything Farmer said or did. When asked if there was anything he wanted to add at the end of the interview, he stated, “[James Farmer]…was a gift to Mary Washington, a gift to Fredericksburg…a person who can continue to challenge us, to make the world anew.”6
1. Dean Rucker referred to Dr. Farmer as a ‘titan of the civil rights movement.’ Cedric Rucker, interview by Chris Herbert and MacKenzie Murphy, Fredericksburg, VA, November 10, 2009.
2. Cedric Rucker, interview by Chris Herbert and MacKenzie Murphy, Fredericksburg, VA, November 10, 2009.
3. Richard Candida Smith, “Analytic Strategies for Oral History Interviews,” 728.
4. Cedric Rucker, interview by Chris Herbert and MacKenzie Murphy, Fredericksburg, VA, November 10, 2009.
5. Catherine Kohler Riessman, “Making Sense of Marital Violence: One Woman’s Narrative,” in Storied Lives: The Cultural Politics of Self-Understanding, ed. George C. Rosenwald & Richard Ochberg (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), 246-7.
6. Cedric Rucker, interview by Chris Herbert and MacKenzie Murphy, Fredericksburg, VA, November 10, 2009.

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