LAY BARE THE HEART: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement by James Farmer
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LAY BARE THE HEART: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement

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It's rare for a public figure to open up the way Farmer has: the book begins in 1961 with the CORE leader being shamed into boarding an Alabama-bound bus with the Freedom Riders. He has been well advised too: the narrative is dramatically and thematically structured. Yet there's the breadth of real life: the reader will remember Eleanor Roosevelt's sharp rebuke to her husband for evading Youth-Against-War delegate Farmer's question (""in light of their colonial policies in Africa,"" how could FDR call Britain and France ""champions of freedom""?); but one also marvels with Farmer at the uncle who didn't blame young Jim's adored dog for attacking his little daughter (she interrupted the dog with a bone). This is the story of a civil fights leader whose father was a minister and Ph.D.--and kowtowed to whites; who was academically precocious (first grade at four, college at 14) but not physical, not an athlete or fighter. A theological student at Howard, Farmer refused ordination into a segregated church. (Striking influences: black poet Melville Tolsen--at Farmer's small black Texas college; radical critic V.C. Calverton--in Texas, Baltimore, New York.) Then, working for the Fellowship of Reconciliation in Chicago in the early 40s, Farmer had the idea that secures his place in history--nonviolent direct action against discrimination--and founded CORE (Committee, then Congress of Racial Equality). He was also mesmerized by smoldering Winnie, not a movement sort; they'd eventually marry briefly and disastrously. (Though there's no question later of Farmer's loyalty to white wife Lula, the passion for Winnie never subsides.) Local CORE successes, and national expansion, bring conflict with FOR's A.J. Muste, foretelling future organizational rivalries; and Farmer spends years in fringe activity, largely supported by Lula, before being chosen to head a CORE whose time (after the Montgomery bus boycott, after the Greensboro lunch-counter sit-ins) has finally come. Farmer sees himself and CORE as ""the cutting edge of the movement"" (and regrets not fostering a merger with student-equivalent SNCC). Among other incidents and episodes, he recounts: proposing affirmative action to LBJ (who crafted the phrase); shifting CORE from color-blindness to black leadership; debating and making peace with Malcolm X (plus why he attributes Malcolm's murder to international drugdom); his post-CORE floundering--though he apparently doesn't regret taking a Nixon HEW appointment. Still--and this is the book's attraction: every page is vividly marked with struggle.

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 1984
ISBN: 0875651887
Publisher: Arbor House