1934 – March 17, 2018
Raised in Chicago, Illinois
Mildred Forman, young and newly-wed, didn’t expect to spend the next many years of her life on the front lines of the Black Freedom Struggle. She had a good job in Chicago and was a part of a thriving church community. But sometimes, the Movement comes knocking on your front door.
It was the fall of 1961 when Mildred Forman came home one day after work to find Diane Nash and others sitting in her living room. This came as no surprise; her husband Jim had spent many summers working with civil rights organizers, and they had been sending funds and supplies south for some time. However, it was more than money that the students were interested in – they wanted help organizing SNCC. Jim agreed to do so, and unwilling to let her husband go alone, Mildred packed her bags and they moved south.
Mildred soon became involved in the work herself, helping organize and participating in direct actions. However, the practice of nonviolence while being assaulted by the police was sometimes difficult. In Atlanta in 1962, Mildred surrendered herself to a young officer during a pray-in for Rev. Shuttlesworth at the Fulton County Jail. He pushed her. Then, “He pushed me again, this time with more force. His eyes were filled with hate and determination to harm me,” remembered Mildred, “At that moment I remembered that nonviolence was only a tactic, not my Chicago way of life. Somehow my arms became uncrossed, my limp wrists became rigid, and my fists balled up. I proceeded to fight him. I fought him all the way to the jailhouse door, where other officers restrained me.”
After that incident, Mildred Forman began spending more time in the Atlanta Office. She had a strong secretarial background, which positioned her well for helping keep the books and manage the office. The role of the Atlanta office was to support the work SNCC was doing out in the field. There was the Communications Department that published press releases and articles on Movement activities to keep the nation informed. There was the Research Department, headed by Jack Minnis, that supplied facts, statistics, and background on whatever SNCC staff needed to know. There was also the Northern Coordination Department, the Printing Department, the WATS Department, the Accounting Department, and more. The hours were long, and the work was plenty.
SNCC was always in need of money. In the summer of 1966, Mildred spent the summer traveling with Harry Belafonte learning how to fundraise. The following year, she was hired to build a promotions program and continue in that development work. She also became a sort of “den mother” for the Freedom Singers, traveling with them and helping them book shows. In a letter written to “Lovers of Freedom songs everywhere” Mildred wrote, “But we do need bookings-not just because of their fund raising potential, but also because the appearances of the Freedom Singers give us an excellent opportunity to keep spreading the word about FREEDOM, NOW!”
After many years with SNCC, Mildred Forman moved back to Chicago and remarried. She remained active in the Chicago Area Friends of SNCC, working to preserve the history and legacy of SNCC by building an archive, conducting interviews, and hosting events.
Mildred Forman Page, “Two Variations on Nonviolence,” Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts by Women in SNCC, edited by Faith Holsaert, et al. (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010), 53-55.
“Who Does What In Atlanta,” undated, Civil Rights Movement Veterans, Tougaloo College.
Central Committee Meeting minutes, June 10-12, 1966, Civil Rights Movement Veterans, Tougaloo College.
Letter from Mildred Forman to Lovers of Freedom songs everywhere, undated, SNCC Papers, ProQuest History Vault.