Chauffeuring the SNCC Leadership

Japanese Canadian Concentration Camps Postwar Deportation Attempts Resettling in Chatham Father's Sacrifice Joining the Civil Rights Movement Chauffeuring the SNCC Leadership Navigating the movement as an Asian Photographing the movement Re-examining Identity Defining "Nikkei"

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Forman was a tough cookie. James Forman was the executive secretary of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Brilliant mind. Brilliant organizer. He ran that office incredibly efficiently. And we're talking about managing a lot of very strong personalities.

So Forman was one of the people I drove to Atlanta from my first entry from Birmingham. I had James Forman, I had Danny Lyon, the SNCC photographer, and Julian Bond, the director of communications at that point. And we're all driving to Atlanta. And this first time I had this car loaded with that many people. And Forman himself was a very bulky, big figure. It would have been tough, but with all those other people, and the VW is not a very powerful car. So I'm following behind this farm truck and it's going really slow. So I try and pass this guy, and I went around to pass him and there's this semi coming at me. And I'm saying, “Come on, Bug! Crank it up there!” And I'm barely, barely manage to get in there before the semi comes swooping by. And it's like, holy shit. Wiping out the leadership of a major civil rights organization would not have been a good way to begin my career as a freedom fighter.

So we get to Atlanta and Forman, who is, as I say, a genius. And he's not one to suffer fools lightly. And he had a whole arsenal of really heartfelt sighs and disgusting looks and sneers and contempt oozing from him. And he was quite an intimidating figure, and he says, “You want to clean up the office?” I said, “Sure.” So I took out the garbage and straightened out. And he has some work to do, and I say, “Well, can I drive you to wherever you want to go?” He says, “Okay. You can come back, stay in the office if you want.” So I said, “Cool. Good deal.” We're driving down, and he looks at me. And I could feel the contempt oozing out of him. And his most demeaning voice, he says, “Hey, man. What are you? You're one of them humanitarians?” And I said, “Uh, no sir. I'm a Sokuseki Buddhist.” I just made that up, it made no sense, it’s an instant Buddhist. So I was rewarded by stunned silence for the rest of this trip, like what the hell is that?

Date: February 9, 2011
Location: California, US
Interviewer: Patricia Wakida, John Esaki
Contributed by: Watase Media Arts Center, Japanese American National Museum

Activism civil right movement freedom fighter James Forman SNCC

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