Civil Rights Community Mourns Other Stalwarts

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 14, 2005 | Go to article overview

Civil Rights Community Mourns Other Stalwarts


Byline: Adrienne T. Washington, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As the nation prepares to commemorate the contributions of civil rights icon Martin Luther King, the civil rights community mourns the loss of two faded but not forgotten stalwarts: James Forman, the former executive secretary of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and former New York Rep. Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for U.S. president.

Although Mr. Forman and Mrs. Chisholm are not household names, their tireless, heroic work to advance the cause of civil rights in this nation and in the world was no less formidable than those who stood in the spotlight.

Mr. Forman, 76, who had lived in the District since 1981, died Monday after a battle with colon cancer, surrounded by family and friends at the Washington House hospice. Mrs. Chisholm, 80, died in Florida on New Year's Day.

Mrs. Chisholm's lasting impact on impressionable young black women, including yours truly, was immeasurable. From this feisty, intelligent role model, we got the idea that a black woman no longer had to stay in her place. Her courageous penchant to "speak truth to power" made an indelible mark on me, and for that encouragement alone, I will be eternally grateful.

Mr. Forman's personal prodding was no less inspirational. A Chicago native raised in Mississippi, he was a prolific journalist, author and historian, getting his start covering the integration of Little Rock, Ark., schools for the Chicago Defender and eventually publishing a small paper, a different Washington Times, for a brief run.

Whenever I came in contact with him, either standing in the shadows at a rally, handing out leaflets at community events or running into him on the streets of Adams Morgan, this fatherly figure never failed to offer encouragement or say, "Keep up the good work, sister." By the time I met Mr. Forman in the early 1980s, he was physically half his former self and a much quieter, gentler man, though no less erudite. Others, such as Dorie Ladner, whom he led at SNCC in "freedom rides" and "freedom schools" to organize voters in the South in the '60s and to establish the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, remember him as "a robust, very energetic, outspoken man."

"He was always ushering us into new areas of endeavor ... and he was the glue that held us all together," she said, the person who made it possible for young SNCC workers to go out into the difficult field to do some very difficult work by building an organizational infrastructure. Some of those workers are local notables, including D. …

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