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James R. Forman Library Collection

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: SCA-0076

Scope and Contents

The James Forman Library consists of approximately 1,940 books; four thousand printed items (comprised of pamphlets, serials, and reports); ten linear feet of FBI files; five linear feet of media materials; and three linear feet of personal papers. Together, these materials provide evidence of Forman's intellectual interests and political influences during his time as a leader in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and activist in the progressive left in the United Sates throughout his life. Approximately 15% of the books show evidence of Forman’s reading and reference behavior.

Dates

  • Majority of material found within 1964 - 2000
  • 1872-2005

Creator

Language of Materials

English--Bulk; French; Spanish; German; Russian.

Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research. Staff may restrict access at its discretion on the basis of physical condition. Some electronic legacy format materials may not be supportable because of limited media devices.

Conditions Governing Use

The James Forman Library Collection is the property of Queens College Libraries. All intellectual rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assignees. Queens College assumes no responsibility for the infringement of copyrights held by the original authors, creators, or producers of materials.

Biographical / Historical

As Executive Secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which sought to register disenfranchised black voters in the Deep South, James Forman raised money, dispatched volunteers, and voiced the work of SNCC in speeches, press communications and marches. In 1972, Forman wrote a memoir, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, noted as a seminal text in radical literature and civil rights history. As president of the Unemployment and Poverty Action Committee (UPAC), Forman applied his ideas and administrative acumen to such issues as voter rights, reproductive freedom, government secrecy, commemoration of civil rights history, and D.C. rent control.

Born to a poor sharecropper family in 1928, Forman was raised on his grandmother’s Mississippi farm and as an adolescent moved to Chicago with his mother. Graduating in 1946 from Englewood High School, Forman matriculated at Wilson Junior College for a semester and joined the United States Air Force in 1947. Spending much of his four-year tour in the Pacific, Forman was discharged in September 1951, after which he enrolled in the University of Southern California. In early 1953, Forman suffered what he called a “breakdown” after a wrongful arrest and physical and psychological abuse by the Los Angeles Police Department. In March 1954 Forman returned trasnferred to Roosevelt University in Chicago, where he graduated in January 1957.

In 1960 Forman went to Fayette County, Tennessee, to assist sharecroppers who had been evicted for registering to vote. That summer he was was also jailed with other freedom riders protesting segregated facilities in Monroe, North Carolina.

In 1961 Forman left Chicago to join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), recognizing an opportunity to inspire mass change in black voter registration with a young, determined, maverick organization.

Forman acted as Executive Secretary of SNCC from 1961 through 1966, stumping for funds, managing field worker activity, and arranging transportation, food, and housing for volunteers. In the late 1960s, Forman served as International Affairs Director, traveling to Africa, and writing two books.

In 1969, Forman delivered the “Black Manifesto” at Riverside Church in New York City, which called for $500 million from religious groups as payback for slavery, that “America has exploited our resources, our minds, our bodies, our labor.” Originally a platform for the Black Economic Development Conference (BEDC), in Detroit, Michigan, Forman’s actions as a revolutionary and fundraiser were investigated by the FBI as crimes of racketeering and extortion.

In his memoir, The Making of Black Revolutionaries, Forman layers the narrative of his own story with oral histories, prison journals, sworn affidavits taken on paper towels in a Georgia jail, KKK propaganda, and unpublished manuscripts of fellow actors on both sides of the movement. Forman founded UPAC, a nonprofit social action organization which spearheaded the majority of Forman’s work after 1974.

In 1980, Forman studied Electronic Journalism at Howard University, and was a founding member of Sigma Delta Chi, the Society of Professional Journalists. Forman received a Master’s Degree in African and African American Studies from Cornell University, and in 1982 earned a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the Union of Experimental Colleges and Universities in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Forman settled in Washington, D.C. and started The Washington Times, a short-lived newspaper, and founded the Black American News Service. Forman wrote books and pamphlets, taught classes and produced documentaries. In 1990, Forman ran in the primary for State Senator, D.C., and in 1995 for local Democratic Party representative, Precinct 35, Ward 1. Forman was also an advocate of official Statehood for the District of Columbia, and edited Free D.C./Statehood Now: A Book of Documents, which included verbatim debate from the 1993 Congressional Record, newsclippings, factsheets, and correspondence by Forman. In 2004, Forman traveled with members of the D.C. delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Boston to take part in the “Boston Tea Party,” where bags of tea were tossed into Boston Harbor to protest the lack of representation for the District.

Forman was a provocative writer and book collector who advocated self-education and questioning of authority, and sought to transform words into action. “My best skills,” writes Forman, are “agitating, field organizing, and writing.”

Forman died in January 2005 of colon cancer at the age of 76.

Extent

170 Linear Feet (57 boxes comprised of 23 cartons, 33 manuscript boxes and 1 small flat box.)

Abstract

James Forman was an important figure in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, serving as Executive Secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) between 1961-1966, and a life-long intellectual and activist. The James Forman Library includes approximately 1,940 books; four thousand printed items (comprised of pamphlets, serials, and reports); ten linear feet of FBI files; five linear feet of media materials; and three linear feet of personal papers.

Arrangement

Series I: Books Series II: Printed Matter Series III: FBI Files Series IV: Papers Series V: Media

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Donated by Chaka Forman and James Forman, Jr. in 2010, after having spent several years in a storage unit in Washington D.C. Kathie Sarachild, a friend of the Forman family, who worked in SNCC and later in the women's liberation movement, also helped coordinate the acquisition.

Related Materials

The James Forman Papers are located at the Library of Congress, and include 100.2 linear feet of material: http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/mss/eadxmlmss/eadpdfmss/2010/ms010125.pdf.

Processing Information

The collection was first survyed in Fall, 2010, by Queens College GSLIS Fellow David Gary, who drafted a detailed report of approximately fifty boxes. Thirty additional boxes of books were severely water-damaged and determined a health hazard. Before the contents were disposed of at the discretion of Head of Special Colletions, a number of FBI files and media materials were salvaged. In Spring, 2011, Archives Fellow Andy McCarthy processed 21 boxes of FBI files. In Spring, 2012, 19 boxes of printed matter were processed and an item list drafted by Fellow Jessica Fisher. Fellow McCarthy later completed processing in Fall, 2012. In December, 2020, Intern Kuba Pieczarski and Head of Special Collections Annie Tummino made minor edits to the finding aid and entered it into ArchivesSpace for publishing.

Creator

Title
James R. Forman Library Collection
Status
In Progress
Author
Kuba Pieczarski
Date
2020-11-23
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the Queens College (New York, N.Y.) Department of Special Collections and Archives Repository

Contact:
Queens College Libraries, CUNY
Benjamin Rosenthal Library RO317
65-30 Kissena Boulevard
Flushing 11367 USA us