CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST:
James Forman Eulogized at 76
By LeiLani Dowell,
Workers World Newspaper
With Contributions and Revisions from the Pan-African News
On Jan. 10, the world lost a longtime fighter for civil
rights when James Forman died at age 76 after a battle with
Forman was born in Chicago in 1928. He lived in Mississippi
with his grandparents before returning to Chicago and selling
the Chicago Defender, a Black newspaper, as a youth. He
graduated from Englewood High School in 1947 and served in
the Air Force in Okinawa during the Korean War. He would
later describe the U.S. military as "a dehumanizing machine
which destroys thought and creativity in order to preserve
the economic system and political myths of the United States."
In 1952, he began studying at the University of Southern
California. One day in 1953, he stepped outside of a library
where he was studying for an examination and was stopped by
police. Forman was falsely accused of a robbery, thrown in
jail and beaten. The shock and indignation of this incident
caused Forman to suffer a mental breakdown. After spending
time in a hospital in Los Angeles, he returned to Chicago.
In 1958, Forman went to Little Rock, Ark., on assignment with
the Defender to report on the integration of Central High
School. In 1960, he supported the struggle of sharecroppers
in Fayette County, Tenn., where 700 families had been evicted
from their homes for registering to vote.
Forman became the executive secretary of the Student
Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1961, and
remained in that post for five years. Under Forman's
leadership, SNCC evolved as the more radical of the major
civil-rights organizations of the time, which included the
Congress Of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Urban
League and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
During his tenure, Forman pushed for staff education programs
on Marxism and Black nationalism. He worked to build working
relationships between Black people in the United States and
revolutionaries in other countries.
Forman sent scores of organizers into the Deep South on Black
voter registration drives and Freedom Rides. He was beaten,
harassed and jailed on several occasions.
Forman's study of the writings of W.E.B. DuBois, Frantz
Fanon, C.L.R. James and Karl Marx, combined with his
practical experience, focused his theory and action. He
wrote, "Accumulating experience with Southern 'law and order'
were turning me into a full-fledged revolutionary."
In 1964, SNCC, along with the Mississippian Council of
Federated Organizations, helped organize Freedom Summer, a
voter registration drive which successfully registered
thousands of Black people by the end of the fall. The murders
of three Freedom Summer volunteers by the KKK--James Chaney,
Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner--sparked an upsurge in
national support for the civil-rights movement and provided
impetus for Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
(See Jan. 20, 2005, Workers World for more on this case.)
Forman left the executive secretary position within SNCC in
1966. He then served as International Affairs Director
between 1967-69, when he addressed the United Nations
Committee on Decolonization and a southern Africa solidarity
conference in Zambia. He then served briefly as minister of
foreign affairs with the Black Panther Party. Prior to the
alliance between SNCC and the Black Panther Party he had
traveled to Africa in an attempt to develop an African-
American Skills Bank to assist newly independent nations.
Between 1969 and 1973 he had served in the leadership of both
the League of Revolutionary Black Workers and the Black
Workers Congress in Detroit. In the 1980s he served as
president of the Unemployment and Poverty Action Council in
After leaving SNCC, he helped to organize the Black Economic
Development Conference in Detroit in 1969. That same year,
Forman became a visible advocate for reparations when he
interrupted services at New York's Riverside Church to demand
$500 million from white churches for their participation in
the U.S. slave trade. The church later agreed to give a
percentage of its income annually to anti-poverty efforts.
Forman remained an activist up to his death. Last year,
despite his illness, he traveled to Boston to participate in
a "Tea Party," demonstrating against the non-voting status of
Washington, D.C. residents.
Forman published several books, including: The Political
Thought of James Forman," "Sammy Younge Jr.," "Self-
Determination: An Examination of the Question and Its
Application to the African-American People" and "The Making
of Black Revolutionaries."
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton said of Forman,
"Americans may not know Jim's name as a household word, but
if they look around them at the racial change in our country,
then they will know Jim by his work."
*Reprinted in part from the Feb. 5, 2005, issue of Workers
World newspaper. This version differs slightly from the
original due to historical revisions related to Forman's
tenure with SNCC after 1966 and his involvement with the
black worker's movement in Detroit.
Page printed from:
Robert F. Williams & armed self-determination
By Larry Hales
Robert F. Williams is often ignored in the sparse sections of
recorded history dealing with the struggle of Black people in
this country for basic human rights. A similar argument can
be made for others who came before Williams.
Williams is ignored by bourgeois historians because of his
militant approach to dealing with the racist violence against
Black people. He advocated the right of armed self-
determination for Black people against the Ku Klux Klan and
even the police that supported them. Yet he was not the first
to argue for armed self-determination.
In fact, the call for Black people to defend themselves
against racist violence goes as far back as the days of U.S.
slavery. And it comes as no surprise that the demand to end
slavery came from a certain section of the U.S. ruling class
out of fear, not remorse. The fear came from the rising
threat of a southern-wide slave rebellion and the potential
of uniting with Native people and poor whites who would
support such a rebellion.
John Brown is looked to as a seminal figure in the armed
struggle to end slavery and win rights for Black people. A
true sense of the man has been and continues to be obscured.
Often, textbooks paint him as a bushy bearded, wild-eyed old
man. Despite this distortion, his acts of bravery and
righteousness are greatly admired by Black people to this day
and rightfully so.
Rarely ever mentioned in U.S. history are the Black militants
that joined John Brown at the Harper's Ferry raid. One of the
nine Black men that participated in the 1859 raid was Osborne
P. Anderson. He survived the raid and wrote a narrative on
this revolutionary attempt to arm the slaves, entitled "A
Voice From Harper's Ferry."
Three larger planned rebellions preceded the Harper's Ferry
action. One was planned by an enslaved man named Gabriel
Proesser in 1800. His plan was foiled by an informant and he
and his co-conspirators were executed in Virginia.
In the same year an uprising was led by Charles Deslondes, a
slave in Louisiana. He was able to mobilize hundreds of
slaves that understood infantry tactics as they challenged
the U.S. Army. Deslondes was eventually captured and also
In 1822 Denmark Vesey, a free Black man, had drawn up a plan
with a large number of enslaved and free Black people, to
march on Charleston, S.C., bearing arms. They were betrayed
and Vesey and 34 others were hanged.
Nat Turner led the most well-known slave rebellion. The
Turner rebellion led to the killings of over 50 slavemasters
in Southampton, Va. This act cemented in the slaveholders'
minds that they were not safe, so long as they held other
human beings in bondage.
History, too, frequently depicts Black people as being docile
and of not having participated in acts of securing freedom.
The rebellions, the work stoppages, the many escapes and
everyday acts of defiance are lost in the telling.
Robert Williams is just one militant example of this.
Never back down
Prior to World War II, millions of Black people migrated from
the South to the North to get jobs in factories and escape
the lynchings and beatings of the KKK.
When the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, women entered the
workforce in greater numbers than any other time as white
male workers went to fight overseas. With Black people and
women being integrated into the workforce in unprecedented
numbers, this war helped to socialize U.S. industry. But the
overall racist and sexist political climate did not change
because of capitalist relations.
Robert Williams joined the army during this war. Much of his
enlistment was spent with him being in "trouble" because he
was a defiant man. He refused to conform and become the "boy"
that a white-dominated society wanted to make him, especially
the military. After leaving the military in 1946, he returned
to Monroe, N.C., with a heightened political awareness.
In that same year, Williams took part in a militant act that
set the tone for the rest of his life. He, along with 40
other Black men, pointed their rifles at KKK members that
came to take away the body of a Black man who had been
executed for killing a white man in a fight.
In the late 1950s, Williams became president of the Monroe
NAACP chapter, which organized armed resistance to the KKK.
He veered away from the major civil-rights leaders due to his
understanding of the reactionary mindset of groups like the
KKK and the racist police. He knew that if the racists saw
that Black people would fight back, their resolve would melt
The nonviolence stance of the time had its place, but
oppressed people also had the right to defend themselves from
racist terror. Williams had a keen understanding of this,
just as Malcolm X did.
The men that Williams had organized were highly disciplined
and never used their arms for offensive purposes, but rather
to defend their families, neighborhoods and nonviolent
demonstrators from racist attacks.
In the early 1960s, Williams fled the U.S. to avoid trumped-
up kidnapping charges. He was whisked from Canada by Cuban
authorities, who provided him political asylum. He developed
a friendship with President Fidel Castro. Prior to his being
forced into exile, Williams had visited Cuba as a member of
the U.S.-based Fair Play for Cuba Committee.
He remained in Cuba until 1965 and then moved to Beijing,
China, with his family. He returned to the U.S. in 1969. The
trumped up kidnapping charges were eventually dropped in the
state of North Carolina. After returning to the United States
Williams settled in Michigan. Williams passed away in 1996.
Robert Williams inspired the militant Black revolutionaries
of the 1960s with his pamphlet, "Negroes With Guns," which
advocated armed self-determination for Black people. Like the
Black heroes that advocated for a revolution to throw off the
shackles of slavery in this country, Williams was a militant,
shining example of the righteous tendency that has and can
develop in opposition to the reactionary nature of the
moneyed and racist class who try to smother the desire for
freedom and justice.
Reprinted from the Feb. 5, 2005, issue of Workers World
This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011
Support independent news
Page printed from: