August 12, 2020

Marion Sanford: Following in Farmer’s Footsteps

Since 2010, Marion Sanford has been the director of the James Farmer Multicultural Center. Photo by Matthew Binamira Sanders.

Since 2010, Marion Sanford has been the director of the James Farmer Multicultural Center. Photo by Matthew Binamira Sanders.

The most treasured object in Marion Sanford’s office is Raymond Arsenault’s book Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. It’s a riveting account of the quest to desegregate interstate transportation led by Dr. James L. Farmer Jr., the late civil rights pioneer and Mary Washington professor who died in 1999.

Sanford never met the namesake of the James Farmer Multicultural Center, where she’s been director since 2010. But in this book, she has collected autographs from seven of the Freedom Riders – five of whom were among the original 13 men and women who left Washington, D.C. and put their lives on the line to fight injustice.

“When I think of their bravery and sacrifice, it inspires me to keep working for freedom, justice and equality,” said Sanford, who earned a bachelor’s degree from Jackson State University in Mississippi and a master’s degree and Ph.D. from Iowa State University.

On Monday, Jan. 13, UMW kicks off Farmer Legacy 2020, a yearlong celebration honoring the late civil rights pioneer and Mary Washington professor, who died in 1999 and whose 100th birthday would have been Jan. 12, 2020.

On Monday, Jan. 13, UMW kicks off Farmer Legacy 2020, a yearlong celebration honoring the late civil rights pioneer and Mary Washington professor, who died in 1999 and whose 100th birthday would have been Jan. 12, 2020.

A new signature was added when Sanford was among the UMW delegation that recently met with Congressman John Lewis. A civil rights icon in his own right, Lewis will serve as honorary chair for Farmer Legacy 2020, a yearlong celebration launching on Jan. 13, the day after what would have been Farmer’s 100th birthday.

Lewis has the same “energy, passion and determination” as when he boarded the bus as a college student nearly 60 years ago, Sanford said. She’ll never forget, she said, watching him interact with Student Government Association president Jason Ford, who was among the UMW group that traced the journey of the Freedom Rides last fall.

“It was the passing of a torch,” said Sanford. “Lewis is the past and present of the civil rights movement – and he looked at Jason like he was the future.”

 

 

 

Rep. John Lewis speaks with UMW Student Government Association president Jason Ford about Lewis' participation in the Freedom Rides and the march from Selma to Montgomery. Twice, through UMW’s Fall Break Social Justice Trips in 2018 and 2019, Ford has taken in sites visited by Farmer and Lewis during the height of the civil rights movement. Photo provided by the James Farmer Multicultural Center.

Rep. John Lewis speaks with UMW Student Government Association president Jason Ford about Lewis’ participation in the Freedom Rides and the march from Selma to Montgomery. Twice, through UMW’s Fall Break Social Justice Trips in 2018 and 2019, Ford has taken in sites visited by Farmer and Lewis during the height of the civil rights movement. Photo provided by the James Farmer Multicultural Center.

Q: What are some highlights of Farmer Legacy 2020?
A: Besides the birthday celebration, UMW students are planning a special tribute on Jan. 16 to honor Dr. Farmer. This spring is the 30th anniversary of the Multicultural Fair, and in March, we’ll have our Social Justice and Leadership Summit. In the fall, there will be a talk by Chief of Staff and History Professor Jeff McClurken and Associate Provost Tim O’Donnell, who will share their memories of Dr. Farmer.

Q: What is a typical day for you?
A: I usually start by helping students resolve an issue or plan an upcoming program or activity. There are committee meetings with faculty and staff, and my day often ends by attending a Cultural Awareness Series event or one of our social justice initiatives.

Q: What’s the most rewarding part of your job? The most challenging?
A: I love getting to know our students and seeing them become active members of the campus community. But it’s difficult to accomplish our mission and continue to provide high-quality programs and services with limited resources.

Q: How do you spend your free time?
A: I enjoy reading or playing tennis.

Q: What are your favorite social justice books?
A: Readings for Diversity and Social Justice, by Maurianne Adams, et.al.; Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, by Ozlem Sensoy and Robin DiAngelo; and White Fragility, also by DiAngelo.

Q: What’s your motto?
A: Keep the faith!