Living Legacy

James Farmer’s Lessons Still Shape and Inspire

By Emily Freehling Nearly 500 people came to the University Center’s Chandler Ballroom in January to celebrate the 100th birthday of Dr. James Farmer, a civil rights icon who spent his final years sharing his first-person account of history with students at Mary Washington. “Thirty-five years ago, he became a part of the Mary Washington Community,” UMW President Troy Paino said of Farmer, who taught the history of the civil rights movement at Mary Washington from 1985 until shortly before his death in 1999. “He left us a legacy.” At UMW, 2020 is a year of reflection on that legacy. Former students remember Farmer’s deep, warm voice, which would at times burst into song. He captivated them with tales of fighting to change the status quo in Jim Crow America, and urged them to remember that the fight for equality and social justice has no endpoint. “He was a human history book,” said Rich Cooper ’90, who not only took Farmer’s class but also served as his driver and … [Read more...]

Willard Hall

Historic Residence Gets a Modern Touch

By Edie Gross Jacki Richards Sowers ’69 still recalls the first time she laid eyes on Willard Hall in the fall of 1965. Its stately brick walls and column-lined entrances made the first-year student from Petersburg, Virginia, officially feel like a college girl, she said. “Of all the dorms on campus, that was the grande dame of them all,” she reminisced. “It just looked so regal.” The residence, the oldest one on campus, looked considerably less regal when Sowers toured it during the summer of 2019, after it had been stripped down to its floor joists for a massive renovation and restoration project. Still, she had no trouble locating the triple where she spent her first year at Mary Washington, Room 302. On Saturday nights, she said, the entire floor smelled like a salon as girls prepared for their dates, who waited patiently in the first-floor parlor under the watchful eye of the house mother. “There was something magical about Willard, and I think it had to do with the … [Read more...]

At the Center of Things

JFMC Fosters Inclusion

By Emily Freehling Brianna Reaves ’22 was looking for a sense of community. When she arrived at Mary Washington for her first-year Welcome Week, she immediately sought ways to find her niche on campus. As an African-American, “I didn’t see a lot of people who looked like me,” Reaves said. But that didn’t stop her from getting out and seeking a place to make her mark. Reaves was asking a diversity speaker about how she could get involved to pursue her goals of activism and public service when she met Christopher Williams, assistant director of the James Farmer Multicultural Center (JFMC). “He told me to come by the center the next day, he said we could talk, and he would have a senior there to help me figure out what I wanted to do,” said Reaves, who is from Culpeper. She did, and immediately found a home on her new campus. “From that point on, I was kind of in the Multi-realm,” Reaves said, using the Multicultural Center’s nickname. “I was constantly in the … [Read more...]


A Bridge to the Community

By Emily Freehling How much do Mary Washington students engage with the broader Fredericksburg community? That question has been discussed in the city for as long as the school has sat on Marye’s Heights. But there are plenty of community connections to be found in the experience of Carleigh Rahn ’22, an education major from Loudoun County. Rahn talks fondly of helping an older campus neighbor with yard work as part of UMW’s annual Good Neighbor Day. Afterward, she stayed for coffee and brownies and heard his history of serving in the military and living in England. One day she was stopped at a traffic light when two little girls rolled down the rear window in the adjacent car and began yelling her name. These were children she had tutored at the Bragg Hill Family Life Center, which serves at-risk youth. “It’s true connection,” Rahn said. “It’s crazy how much you get to feel a part of someone else’s life here.” Rahn’s service experiences have been part of her work … [Read more...]

James Farmer Jr.: Core Events

            1920    Born Jan. 12 in Marshall, Texas             1934    Enrolled in Wiley College, where he excelled on the debate team             1938    Graduated with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry             1941    Graduated from Howard University School of Divinity with a Bachelor of Divinity             1942    At age 22, co-founded the Congress of Racial Equality, also known as CORE             1942    With CORE, organized the nation’s first civil rights sit-in in Chicago, followed by many others in the 1940s and ’50s             1960s  Established as one of the Big Four of the civil rights movement along with Martin Luther King Jr., Whitney Young, and Roy Wilkins             1961    Organized and led the Freedom Rides to test federal law desegregating interstate bus travel             1963    Watched the March on Washington on a small TV from his jail cell in Plaquemine, Louisiana; though Farmer was a march organizer scheduled to speak in D.C., … [Read more...]

Farmer Scholars

Nurturing the Next Generation

By Emily Freehling When Christopher Williams entered the James Farmer Scholars Program at the University of Mary Washington as a seventh-grader from Spotsylvania County, he couldn’t foresee the opportunities the program would open to him. “Neither of my parents went to college, and this program afforded me the opportunity to come to a college campus not far from where I lived,” said Williams, who graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University. Today he is assistant director of UMW’s James Farmer Multicultural Center. “It really changed my life.” The James Farmer Scholars Program, which welcomed its first class of students in 1988, was the vision of retired Vice President for Academic Affairs Philip Hall. “He knew that we needed to think about access for African-American students,” said Professor of Education Venitta McCall, the program’s founding director. “He wanted something for African-American children in our area to talk about college access and … [Read more...]


First-Years Discover Farmer

By Emily Freehling Charles Reed Jr. ’11 had never heard of James  Farmer until, shortly after arriving on the University of Mary Washington campus, he registered for a first-year seminar about the life and legacy of the civil rights leader. “I got my first introduction to who he was and how pivotal of a role player he was in the civil rights movement, founding CORE [the Congress of Racial Equality] and spearheading the Freedom Rides movement,” Reed said of the class, which was taught by Professor Timothy O’Donnell, now associate provost for academic engagement and student success. Despite James Farmer’s enormous contributions to the struggle for civil rights in America, his isn’t a name many students learn as they go through the typical high school American history curriculum. In the years since Farmer’s death in 1999, UMW faculty have sought ways to ensure that students don’t leave the school without an understanding of this man whose bust is displayed on Campus Walk … [Read more...]