James Forman  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

James Forman (October 4, 1928 – January 10, 2005) was a prominent African-American leader in the civil rights movement. He was active in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Black Panther Party, and the League of Revolutionary Black Workers. As the executive secretary of SNCC from 1961 to 1966, Forman played a significant role in the freedom rides, the Albany movement, the Birmingham campaign, and the Selma to Montgomery marches.

After the 1960s, Forman spent the rest of his adult life organizing black people around issues of social and economic equality. He also taught at American University and other major institutions. He wrote several books documenting his experiences within the movement and his evolving political philosophy including Sammy Younge Jr.: The First Black College Student to Die in the Black Liberation Movement (1969), The Making of Black Revolutionaries (1972 and 1997) and Self Determination: An Examination of the Question and Its Application to the African American People (1984).

The New York Times called him "a civil rights pioneer who brought a fiercely revolutionary vision and masterly organizational skills to virtually every major civil rights battleground in the 1960s."

As a part of his "Black Manifesto", on a Sunday morning in May 1969, Forman interrupted services at New York City's Riverside Church to demand $500 million in reparations from white churches to make up for injustices African Americans had suffered over the centuries. Although Riverside's preaching minister, the Rev. Ernest T. Campbell, termed the demands "exorbitant and fanciful," he was in sympathy with the impulse, if not the tactic. Later, the church agreed to donate a fixed percentage of its annual income to anti-poverty efforts.

On May 30, 1969, Forman made plans to pursue a similar course at a Jewish Synagogue, Congregation Emanu-El of the City of New York. Members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), led by Rabbi Meir Kahane, showed up carrying chains and clubs promising to confront Forman if he attempted to enter the synagogue. Kahane and the JDL forewarned Forman and the public about their intended actions and Forman never showed up at the synagogue.



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