James R. Forman Library Collection
Scope and Contents
- Majority of material found within 1964 - 2000
- Forman, James (Creator, Person)
Language of Materials
Conditions Governing Access
Conditions Governing Use
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.
170 Linear Feet (57 boxes comprised of 23 cartons, 33 manuscript boxes and 1 small flat box.)
Immediate Source of Acquisition
- James R. Forman Library Collection
- In Progress
- Kuba Pieczarski
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Box: 1 (Mixed Materials)
- Box: 2 (Mixed Materials)
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- Box: 46 (Mixed Materials)
Part of the Queens College (New York, N.Y.) Department of Special Collections and Archives Repository
Queens College Libraries, CUNY
Benjamin Rosenthal Library RO317
65-30 Kissena Boulevard
Flushing 11367 USA us