While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Gail K. Beil

FARMER, JAMES LEONARD, SR. (1886–1961). James Leonard Farmer, Sr., believed to be the first black man in Texas to have a Ph.D., was born on June 12, 1886, in Kingstree, South Carolina, the son of Carolina and Lorena (Wilson) Farmer. His parents were former slaves. He attended grade school in Pearson, Georgia, and then studied at Cookman Institute in Daytona Beach, Florida, before going to Boston University, where he received B.A. and S.T.B. degrees. He received the Ph.D from Boston University in 1918. He also studied at Harvard in 1916–17 and received an honorary doctorate in 1929 from Gammon Theological Seminary, Atlanta, Georgia.

Farmer was a deacon in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1917 and after college served as pastor of black churches in Texarkana and Galveston. He taught philosophy and religion and also served in administrative capacities at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas (1919–20, 1933–38); Rust College, Holly Springs, Mississippi (1920–25); Samuel Huston (now Huston-Tillotson) College, Austin, Texas (1925–30, 1946–56); Gammon Theological Seminary (1930–33); and Howard University, Washington, D.C. (1938–46). From 1932 to 1956 he was also dean of Gulfside Summer School of Ministerial Training in Mississippi. He was versed in Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin, French, and German; he was a poet and the author of two books, The Coming of Peace and the Prince of Peace (1943) and John and Jesus in Their Day and Ours (1956). He wrote biblical criticism, articles for secular magazines, and Sunday school lessons for the Southwestern Christian Advocate (see UNITED METHODIST REPORTER) and contributed several sermons to a book, Pulpit Eloquence (1939).

Farmer married Pearl Marion Houston on September 2, 1917. They had three children. One, James Leonard Farmer, Jr., became a civil rights leader and founder of the Congress of Racial Equality. Farmer was a Mason, a Republican, and a member of Omega Psi Phi. He died in Washington, D.C., on May 14, 1961. In 1997 a Texas state historical marker was dedicated on the campus of Wiley College in Marshall, Texas.


National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 48. James Farmer, Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement (New York: Arbor House, 1985).

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Gail K. Beil, "FARMER, JAMES LEONARD, SR.," accessed July 02, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/ffa30.

Uploaded on June 12, 2010. Modified on July 11, 2012. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...