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January 28, 2008 (REVISED February 4, 2008)

Library of Congress Acquires Papers of Civil Rights Activist James Forman

At a ceremony held today at the Library of Congress, the papers of civil-rights activist James Forman were given to the Library by Forman’s sons James Jr. and Chaka. Their mother, Constancia Romilly, also attended the event.

"The James Forman Papers are a valuable addition to the Library’s unrivaled resources for the study of the 20th-century civil rights movement," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington.

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 role in the civil rights movement. The bulk of the collection dates from 1960. Included are correspondence, memoranda, diaries, speeches and other writings, notebooks, transcripts of interviews, subject files, scrapbooks, appointment books, 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 on 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.

He received a master’s degree in African and Afro-American studies from Cornell University in 1980 and a Ph.D from the Union of Experimental Colleges and Universities with the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, D.C. After founding James Forman and Associates, a political consulting group, he ran unsuccessfully for Democratic Party Senator from the District of Columbia in support of statehood. During the 1990s, he taught at American University, the University of the District of Columbia and Morgan State University in Baltimore.

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).

The Library houses the most comprehensive civil-rights collection the country, including the original papers of the organizations that led the fight for civil liberties, such as the NAACP, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the National Urban League and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights; and the microfilmed records of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, CORE and SNCC. The Library also holds the personal papers of other prominent 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.

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PR 08-020
ISSN 0731-3527

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