Black History at UMW: James Farmer Collections

James Farmer, an older Black man wearing an eye-patch and dressed in a suit, seated at a desk. Farmer is smiling and has his hands placed on the desk.

It’s no surprise that Civil Rights leader and icon James Farmer has placed his stamp on UMW history. His bust has stood outside of what is now James Farmer Hall for over two decades now, along with his quote that encourages young people to stand up and speak out on behalf of people denied their rights. Alumni who were fortunate enough to take his Civil Rights History course when he taught at Mary Washington between 1985-1998 tell incredible stories of his inspiring and powerful lectures. James Farmer spoke from the unique perspective of someone who truly lived at the center of a historic moment, and he spoke of his his experience with a profound mixture of honesty, knowledge, and courage.

While most members of the UMW community probably know about James Farmer’s history, many may not know how much of it still lives in the archives. Special Collections and University Archives holds multiple collections of James Farmer materials that add breadth and depth to the story that we know. These materials are open and available to use in Simpson Library’s Special Collections Reading Room.

The James L. Farmer, Jr. Papers is a manuscript collection of Dr. Farmer’s materials collected by the archives from his Spotsylvania home after he passed. The papers are mainly reflective of his life while at Mary Washington, and they include correspondence, printed materials, photographs, audiovisual materials, and other items reflective of his activities towards the end of his life.

James Farmer, an older Black man wearing an eye patch, standing at a podium with a microphone. He is speaking and pointing outwards.
James Farmer addressing Farmer Scholars, 1988.

The James Farmer Records from University Relations and Communications is a collection of materials transferred to the archives from the Office of University Relations and Communications, dating from 1984-2008, with the bulk of the contents from the late 1980s through the mid 1990s. The majority of the collection’s content includes public media materials such as television and radio appearances, and newspaper and magazine articles. The collection also includes correspondence, secretarial notes, speeches written by James Farmer, and documentation of some of Dr. Farmer’s many awards and honors. This collection offers insight into the life of James Farmer’s career as an educator and public figure later in his life.

Both of these collections are rich with audiovisual material that can be viewed or listened to in the Reading Room due to copyright restrictions. Fortunately, we also have many AV items available online that are publicly accessible from anywhere in the world! The James L. Farmer Digital Collection has a substantial collection of photographs, along with several videos of class lectures filmed at Mary Washington and audio of a 1968 speech delivered at Kent State University.

Contact us with questions or to make an appointment at We also have open hours in the Reading Room from 1:30 – 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Come visit us in Simpson Library, Room 217!

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