From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
WHAT PRICE EQUALITY?
05 May 1996 12:59:00
95138 WHAT PRICE EQUALITY?
AN INTERVIEW WITH JAMES FORMAN
By Julian Shipp
CHICAGO--The fiery rhetoric of the '60s is gone, but Dr. James Forman still
exudes intensity as he discusses the impact of his Black Manifesto, a
document that demanded American churches pay $500 million to African
Americans and other minorities as compensation for slavery and
On April 22, Forman broke more than 20 years of silence when he told
the 25th Anniversary Convocation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
Committee on the Self-Development of People (SDOP) why action on the
document has remained in stasis for more than two decades. He later spoke
with the Presbyterian News Service at the Chicago O'Hare Marriott Hotel.
"There were some black ministers and perhaps other people inside what
are called white denominations who said, We agree with [the Manifesto],
but we believe we should be the recipient of the funds,'" Forman said. "We
didn't want to publicly talk about the individuals who might have said
this, but we did have many meetings over this issue. It would have been
divisive. We felt that we were being betrayed and the program was being
changed, and we just didn't want to make a public fight about it."
On Sunday, May 4, 1969, Forman strode resolutely down the main aisle
of the predominantly white, nondenominational Riverside Church in New York
City, representing the Detroit-based Black Economic Development Conference
(BEDC), to present the demand for reparations.
"Reparations is a valid concept under international law where people
have been abused and violated," Forman said. "Germany is still paying
reparations to the Israeli government for the loss of life [of Jews in the
1930s and '40s]."
To say the least, the awestruck congregation at Riverside Church had
scarcely expected such a dramatic boost to the work it had in fact already
sponsored under the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization
That same year, Forman presented his Manifesto to the 181st General
Assembly (1969) of the former United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The
following year, the Presbyterian Church created its SDOP ministry.
The BEDC suggested funds demanded by the Manifesto go to IFCO. IFCO's
chair at that time was the Rev. Lucius Walker, who was also chair of the
BEDC's committee to oversee implementation of the Manifesto. Amid the
controversy, Walker resigned as BEDC chair.
Forman said the Presbyterian Church agreed to support the BEDC's
programmatic demands, but around that same time, IFCO's board of directors
passed a resolution saying that any money sent to the BEDC through IFCO had
to be specifically earmarked.
Due to IFCO's resolution, Forman said, BEDC officials advised the
Presbyterian Church to send monies for the BDEC to IFCO.
As a further consequence of the IFCO board's decision, Forman said,
the BEDC attempted to incorporate and obtain its own tax-exempt status.
Forman said he was told by BEDC's attorney that then Gov. Nelson
Rockefeller of New York refused to let the BEDC incorporate in the state of
Riverside Church was built 65 years ago with donations from John D.
Rockefeller. Forman insisted he selected the church for presentation of
the manifesto not as a personal attack against the Rockefeller family but
because of the tremendous wealth they represented.
To this day, Forman said, he does not know if any money was sent to
IFCO for the BEDC, but he was told that a check for $50,000 was sent,
directly to the BEDC by the Young Men's Christian Association for the
purpose of black economic development.
Among other reasons, Forman said he chose the Presbyterian Church's
SDOP Convocation as the event at which he would explain what happened to
the Manifesto because the public has a right to know, especially supporters
of the document within the church.
"The Manifesto was so dear to many people and it had such an impact,"
Forman said. "We've grappled through the years [with] how to explain this,
but we feel the churches have a right to know what happened because a lot
of people made a lot of decisions based on the Manifesto."
Forman also acknowledged the FBI has maintained an interest in him
over the years. He said the bureau has more than 3,000 pages of documents
on him that have been compiled since 1961 and sealed since 1978.
When the files were released in 1978 under the Freedom of Information
Act, Forman said, he learned that at some time in his career he was listed
on the FBI's Security Index -- a category given to those considered to be a
threat to the internal security of the United States.
Forman said he was the object of FBI harassment following the release
of the Manifesto. But FBI records state his name was removed from the
Security Index in 1976. Forman insists that writing the Manifesto was
worth any personal sacrifice he had to make and it remains a valid
document for today's church and society.
"There are a lot of people who are still pushing for reparations,"
Forman said. "We just decided that we had to curtail our efforts of seeking
reparations from the churches until we could find a better way in which to
Forman received his Ph.D. from the Union Institute in Cincinnati,
Ohio, in 1982. He is also president of the Unemployment and Poverty Action
Committee (UPAC) a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization that seeks to
address political issues that affect people all around the world.
Forman is the author of several books, the latest of which is "High
Tide of Black Resistance," a collection of political and literary essays
from 1957 to 1967. One of the stories, "The Song Festival," deals with a
white minister in the South who wanted to conduct a nonsegregated song
festival before 1954.
For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
phone 502-569-5504 fax 502-569-8073
E-mail PCUSA.NEWS@pcusa.org Web page: http://www.pcusa.org
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