Saturday, June 07, 2008

This Week in Texas Methodist History June 8

James Leonard Farmer Born June 12, 1886

One of the greatest figures in Texas Methodist education, James Leonard Farmer, was born June 12, 1886 in South Carolina. His path from poverty to a distinguished academic career is an inspiring one. He attended grade school in Georgia and then went to Daytona Beach, Florida where Mary McCloud Bethune had founded Cookman Institute (today Bethune-Cookman University). His brilliance earned him scholarships at Boston University, but no way to get to Boston. The only way to get there was to walk—so he did. He earned three degrees, including the Ph.D. in 1918. During those same years he was also employed and completed ordination requirements for the MEC. In 1919 he was ordained an elder in the Texas Conference of the MEC. He maintained conference membership until his death.

Also in 1919 he joined the faculty of Wiley College, probably the first African American Ph.D. at any Texas college. Although his dissertation was in Old Testament, he taught many subjects including Latin, philosophy, and religion at Wiley. Students would also come to him for help with their calculus and physics homework. His Sunday afternoon sermons in the chapel were so powerful that they attracted white citizens of Marshall to those services.

Farmer gained such a reputation that he was in great demand from other institutions. He left Wiley and went to Rust College in Mississippi and then back to Austin, Texas where he joined the faculty of Samuel Huston College (now Huston-Tillotson University). He went back to Wiley and then to Howard University. He later moved back to Samuel Huston.

Although Farmer had significant administrative duties in addition to his teaching responsibilities, he also served as principal of the pastor’s school at Gulfside Assembly and edited the Sunday School department of the Southwestern Christian Advocate. He also contributed book reviews and articles to scholarly publications and lectured widely on a vast array of subjects.

Although James Leonard Farmer was one of the greatest intellectuals in Methodist colleges of the first half of the twentieth century, he is remembered today mainly as the father of James Leonard Farmer, Jr., founder of the Congress Of Racial Equality, and rightly recognized as one of the giants of the civil rights movement in the United States.


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