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The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Theme: SegregationTheme: MigrationsTheme: ProtestTheme: CommunityTheme: Overcome?
Theme: Segregation

James Farmer, April 1964
James Farmer
- James Farmer, "Integration or Desegregation," Ch. 5 of Freedom—When?, 1965, excerpt (PDF)

James Farmer (1920-1999), a major figure in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s, describes the distinction between integration and desegregation, two terms often used interchangeably and often confused. According to Farmer, who in 1965 was the national director of the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE), as the civil rights movement gained momentum, the demand that public facilities be open to African Americans evolved into a desire to see blacks dispersed throughout white America. In some cases this led to nearly comic ironies, like quotas to include only a certain number of blacks and no more; while in other cases it reflected negatively on black institutions and on blacks themselves. Farmer argues for desegregation, which would give African Americans the choice to integrate or live separately. In a desegregated society, the choice to live apart would not constitute segregation because it would be freely made and would carry no stigma of inferiority or subjugation. Thus the freedom afforded by desegregation would change the meaning of racial separation. Farmer's comments indicate that the civil rights movement was not a monolithic mass of like-minded activists but was rather as diverse as the beliefs of its participants. Farmer and others did not see integration as wholly beneficial to African Americans; he thought desegregation was, however. The difference between the two lies at the center of this piece. (6 pages.)

Discussion questions
  1. What, according to Farmer, is the difference between integration and desegregation?
  2. What, according to Farmer, is the difference between segregation and separation?
  3. What, according to Farmer, did segregation do for and to whites?
  4. According to Farmer, what impact would desegregation have on African American identity?
  5. In his view, how would desegregation affect the black community?
  6. In what ways was integration an individualistic as opposed to a communal enterprise?
  7. What implications did the liberal insistence on integration hold for African Americans and their institutions?
  8. What role does Farmer see for whites in the black struggle for freedom and equality?
  9. Compare Farmer's position with those of Pickens, Garvey, and Malcolm X.

Framing Questions
  •  What constitutes segregation?
  •  How did African Americans experience it?
  •  What is the difference between segregation and separation?
  •  What are the consequences of segregation? Separation?

Farmer: 6 pages
Supplemental Sites
James Farmer, Letters and telegrams to President John F. Kennedy, 1961-1963, from the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum

James Farmer, oral histories, from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum (National Archives)

James Farmer, "A Founder of CORE Recalls Freedom Rides," interview, 1985 (NPR)

*PDF file - You will need software on your computer that allows you to read and print Portable Document Format (PDF) files, such as Adobe Acrobat Reader. If you do not have this software, you may download it FREE from Adobe's Web site.

Image: James Farmer at a meeting of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, 15 April 1964. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division.

1. Segregation–Separation   2. Lynching & Segregation   3. Antilynching Dramas
4. Life Under Segregation   5. The Black Psyche   6. Passing
  7. De-segregation–Integration   8. Separation & Power   9. Ambiguity of Integration

TOOLBOX: The Making of African American Identity: Volume III, 1917-1968
Segregation | Migrations | Protest | Community | Overcome?

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