Recently, UMW launched a campaign to immortalize the image of civil rights activist and former UMW professor James Farmer on a postage stamp.
Of the “Big Four” civil rights activists—Martin Luther King Jr., James Farmer, Whitney Young and Roy Wilkins—Farmer is the only one not yet depicted on a postage stamp.
The idea for the campaign came from alumnus Rich Cooper, an avid stamp collector and student aide to Farmer when the activist taught at UMW.
“He taught here for nearly a decade,” said UMW Chief of Staff Martin Wilder. “When he taught the history of the civil rights movement, he would allow the class to get as large as anyone wanted. There were as many as 150 students in the Lee Hall ballroom to hear him teach. People from the community came to watch, too.”
The U.S. Postal Service states that to be eligible for depiction on a stamp the subject must be dead for two years and be relevant to an American subject, among other criteria.
The school began the campaign just over a month ago and will submit a formal application in November or December. However, the process can take up to three years.
A website is now available for anyone to sign the petition and share their stories about Farmer.
Leah Cox, assistant dean of academic services and chair of the stamp committee, said that she believes the legacy of Farmer is growing at UMW.
“I think we have now begun an effort for students to understand who he was—a prominent figure in American history,” Cox said.
“We need to raise the awareness level,” said Wilder. “Students know the memorial is there, but not what it is for.”
Farmer created the Freedom Riders and was the architect of a plan called “Jail no Bail,” in which those arrested would not contribute money to corrupt police systems and sit in jail until released.
“He sat in jail himself in Mississippi,” said Wilder.
The stamp committee, made up of various members of the faculty and alumni, will soon include students for a fresh perspective.
Cox and Wilder both agree that what they admire most about Farmer was his courage and commitment.
“They broke the mold on James Farmer,” Wilder said. “He should be a legend.”
Photo: The James Farmer memorial bust in front of Trinkle Hall. Marie Sicola/Bullet