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Millard Farmer:

A Guide to His Papers at Georgia State University Library

Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
100 Decatur St., S.E.
Atlanta, Georgia, 30303

May 2, 2014

Profile Description

Creation: This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit 2016-06-15T16:28-0400
Language: English

Collection Summary

Repository: Special Collections and Archives, Georgia State University Library
Creator: Farmer, Millard
Title: Millard Farmer papers
Dates: 1960-1995; 2001-2002 [bulk 1975-1995]
Quantity: 79.7 Linear feet (in 179 boxes)
Abstract: Attorney Millard Farmer has fought against the death penalty since the 1960s. His papers primarily comprise legal files and records, the papers include correspondence, photographs, sound recordings, and printed material such as reports, articles, and clippings.
Identification: Y002
Language: English

Scope and Contents of the Papers

Millard Farmer's papers, 1960-1995, 2001-2002 (bulk 1976-1995) document his lengthy career as an anti-death penalty attorney. Primarily comprising legal files and records, the papers include correspondence, photographs, sound recordings, and printed material such as reports, articles, and clippings. Many of the notable cases Farmer participated in are documented in the papers, including the "Dawson Five" case, the Henry Willis case, and Farmer v. Sherrod. The papers also include records related to Team Defense Project, Inc., the organization Farmer cofounded to provide defense in capital cases to those who could not afford attorneys.

Biography of Millard Farmer

Born in 1934, noted death penalty defense attorney Millard C. Farmer, Jr. grew up in Newnan, Georgia. Majoring in Business Administration, Farmer graduated from the University of Georgia in 1956 with a BBA. He then worked in his father's agricultural supply business and attended Woodrow Wilson College of Law during the evenings in Atlanta, Georgia. He received LL.B, ML.B, and J.D. degrees and was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 1967. Farmer built a successful practice in Newnan, and was a co-founder of the Bank of Coweta there.

Farmer also represented bootleggers and disadvantaged clients, and came to question whether African American defendants could be tried fairly before all-white juries. By 1970, he and his associates were challenging jury composition on the grounds of race. In 1975 he joined the Georgia Criminal Justice Council, a statewide indigent defense system. The following year he cofounded the Team Defense Project with Courtney J. Mullin, a social psychologist who had worked on jury composition, and Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).

Team Defense Project (TDP) was dedicated to the representation of indigent persons in death penalty cases. Farmer and TDP had a number of widely publicized successes. In one nationally followed 1977 case, Farmer and TDP prevented the "Dawson Five" from going to trial for a 1976 murder in Terrell County, Georgia, by drawing attention both to the lack of evidence against the defendants and to the local racial climate. However, the relationship between TDP and Dees' SPLC fragmented, leading SPLC to sue TDP unsuccessfully in 1977. Sustaining TDP financially would be a continuing challenge.

Most of Farmer and Team Defense Project's work was intended to bring attention to the inequities in the way capital punishment is used, and many of TDP's litigation strategies, such as jury composition challenges and motion filings it developed, have become widely adopted tactics. Farmer and his colleagues taught and lectured on these strategies to numerous legal groups and audiences. A number of attorneys worked with Farmer and TDP over the years, including Robert Altman, Joseph M. Nursey, and Andrea Young. Others joined Mullin in her team of social scientists and organizers, including Kimellen Tunkle, who would work with Farmer and TDP longer than anyone. Besides representing defendants at trial, Farmer has assisted many clients post-conviction, during lengthy and complex appeals. One such case was chronicled in the book by Sister Helen Prejean about Louisiana death row prisoners, Dead Man Walking (1994). Not all of Farmer's efforts were successful. He represented Henry Willis when Willis was convicted of participating in a 1976 murder, and pursued appeals for years before Willis's 1989 execution.

An acknowledged expert in capital cases, Farmer has also represented clients bringing racial discrimination suits. In the courtroom, he has been willing to draw attention to the attitudes of his opponents and to inequities in the justice system. In one widely publicized 1979 case, Farmer was held in contempt by Judge Elie L. Holton for repeatedly objecting to the fact that the prosecutor referred to his African American client, George Street, by his first name. Farmer spent three nights incarcerated in Blackshear, Georgia following Street's trial. Representing a man charged with murder in Lubbock, Texas in 1992, Farmer found evidence that prosecutors were aware of misconduct by the case's medical examiner. The prosecutors indicted him and two police officers who were willing to testify about the examiner. Supported by prominent attorneys in Texas and elsewhere, Farmer won an injunction of the prosecution against him and the officers in federal court, and ultimately a financial settlement ( Farmer v. Sherrod).

Awards and recognitions bestowed upon Millard Farmer include:
A.C.L.U. Georgia Person of the Year, 1975
Honorary Membership, Florida State Prison Jaycees, 1979
Individual Rights Section of the State Bar of Georgia, Defender and Protector of Individual Rights Award, 1979
State Committee on the Life and History of Black Georgians' Courage and Human Rights Award, 1979
Law Students Civil Rights Research Council, Courageous Effort and Work Award, 1980
Official Key to Omaha, Nebraska, Omaha Human Relations Committee, 1980
American Whig-Cliosophic Society of Princeton University, James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service, 1981
Black American Law Students Association, Community Service Award, 1981
California Attorneys for Criminal Justice Award for Significant Contributions to the Criminal Justice System, 1984
Honorary Fellow, University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1986
Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' Annual Justice Albert Tate, Jr. Award, December, 1988
3rd Annual Herbert and Sara Ehrmann Award, Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty, April, 1988
Honorary lifetime membership, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, 1993
Abolitionist Award of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, 1993
Georgia Association of Criminal Lawyers, Annual Scholarship awarded in Millard Farmer's name for training of attorney to represent indigent persons, 1997
Fellow, National College for Criminal Defense

Index Terms

Capital punishment--Trial practice
Civil law--Cases
Discrimination in capital punishment
Legal assistance to the poor
Racial discrimination
Mullin, Courtney J.
Nursey, Joseph M.
Southern Poverty Law Center
Team Defense Project
Tunkle, Kimellen
Young, Andrea, 1955-
Dawson (Ga.)
Lubbock (Tex.)


Restrictions on Access

Access to certain files is restricted. Consult archivist.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

To quote in print, or otherwise reproduce in whole or in part in any publication, including on the Worldwide Web, any material from this collection, the researcher must obtain permission from (1) the owner of the physical property and (2) the holder of the copyright. Persons wishing to quote from this collection should consult the reference archivist to determine copyright holders for information in this collection. Reproduction of any item must contain the complete citation to the original. All requests subject to limitations noted in departmental policies on reproduction.

Administrative Information


[item], [folder title], [series title], Millard Farmer papers, Y002, Social Change Collection. Special Collections and Archives Department, Georgia State University, Atlanta.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Millard Farmer, November 18, 2011.

Processing Information

Processed by Abiola Akamo, 2012-2014. Descriptions by William W. Hardesty and Peter J. Roberts, April 2014.

Related Material

Related Materials in This Repository
Millard Farmer oral history interviews (2012 March 9; 2012 April 6; 2012 May 11; 2012 September 28; 2012 November 2), Y2013-03, Social Change Collection, Georgia State University Library, Atlanta [available online in Digital Collections]

Related Materials in Other Repositories
Millard Farmer: death penalty litigator and social agitator, 2001 March 2. Legal oral history project. No. 29, Biddle Law Library. University of Pennsylvania Law School, Philadelphia.

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