Interview with Dr. Arthur Tracy Essay

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

Professor Arthur Tracy was the Department Chair at the time that James Farmer was hired at Mary Washington. Tracy taught at Mary Washington through of the spring 2009 semester. He had a good working relationship with James Farmer until Tracy stepped down from the chair position, and began his involvement with the American Studies department. Once Tracy took that program his time with Farmer was limited to a couple of visits a year. According to Tracy this seems to be a regret of his.

Tracy seemed to give a more personal reaction to the times that Farmer was at the school. This Personal experience seemed to have its pros and cons in the development of the interview. Tracy’s contact with Farmer was limited after he stepped down from the Chair position. Tracy did not want to step on the new chairs feet, Tracy also was busy reworking the American Studies program, and so Tracy lost contact at that point. It is for these reasons that a gap exist in the interview where details are not very clear. Tracy did not want to make assumptions about how others reacted or felt about events that occurred around James Farmer. However he was willing to talk about any involvement he had, with great detail. Which Valerie Yow mention in her book “The explanation is is that people choose memories important to them: They repeat them over the years as they seek to reinforce meaning in their lives.”[i] Through the interview Farmers talent speaking, voice, and ability for speech is dedicated as like it has been in literature written about Farmer. This interview argues that Farmer brought a lot to Mary Washington, but in the long run Farmer’s time did not reach its full potential

Some of the recurring themes in the interview are Farmers ability with extemporary speeches. Tracy noted that when they hired Farmer to teach as visiting professor, they were looking at Farmers experience in the civil rights movement. In 1985 Farmer had already lost his sight, so research and notes were not something that Farmer could use in his class room. This did not seem to affect Farmers ability to attract a classroom, because without notes or a prepared schedule it was able Farmer to rely on his extemporary speech. Tracy says at one point that Farmer was one if not the only person he knew that could break into song, or recites a poem during his lectures, and has it made. Tracy could not speak about the environment that was in the class but from the lectures that he attended Tracy thought that they were great. Farmer extemporary speech is again mentioned regarding his commencement Speech. Tracy recounts the morning that He drove Farmer to the ceremony. When Farmer told Tracy that he did not know what he was going to say. Tracy tried to help by giving suggestions, and said that while he gave verbal responses, Farmer was deep in his own thoughts. When the time came for Farmer’s commencement speech, He gave a fifteen minute extemporary speech. Professor Tracy found both this speech and the class lectures memorable about Farmer. Looking at this interview it would seem that because his lectures and speech come up more often that this was a big part of who Farmer was at the school.

The subject of James Farmers celebrity status was a major factor in this interview. Professor Tracy mentioned that the school did not know how to use Farmer. James Farmer was a worldwide known civil right leader, and knew many leaders. Farmer’s Autobiography of the civil rights movement, Lay Bare the Heart was being recognized overseas. The school used Farmers status in the civil rights movement to get other prominent civil rights leaders to guest lecturer at Mary Washington. Tracy believes that so much more could have been done to aid the school with the aid of Farmer’s status. Tracy did not say exactly what should have been done, but simply said that there could have been more. The Freelance Star shows some of the lack of publicity. Farmer would be in the paper but most of the articles were rather small for the person that he was. The Free lance star would ask Farmer on political issues from time to time. Tracy seemed to pick up on the lack of attention that Farmer was really given during his time at Mary Washington and in Fredericksburg.

Professor Tracy noticed that for a number of the questions that this project was looking for answer to, he was notable to answer. Such questions had to do with how the students reacted to Farmer’s class.  Tracy believed that in order to get a better idea on how the student were changed by Farmer this projected needed to pool students that went through his classes. He also felt that in order figure out if Farmer’s relationship with his students changed the longer that he was teaching we should talk to the students in his class. Kim Lacy Roger said this about oral history “Oral history documents mass mobilization at an individual level. Narratives frequently reveal the changes of heart and mind that movement participation produces.”[ii] These suggestions might be good for future study of this subject. It would be much more difficult to track down all students than faculty members, but the more oral histories there are will help bring light to Farmers legacy in the class room.

In conclusion Farmer brought a lot to this school. He brought his great speaking ability for all listen enjoy and learn from. He brought a lot but there could have also been a lot more brought to the school that was missed while Farmer was here. There is also still room for future research on Farmer’s time at Mary Washington, maybe through interviews with students that took the classes.

[i] Yow, Valerie Raleigh, Recording OralHistory, New York, Rowman &Littlefield Publishing INC., 2005, 38

[ii] Rogers Kim Lacy, Oral History and the History of the Civil Rights Movement, 2

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