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Millard Farmer papers

Identifier: Y002

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.


  • Creation: 1960-1995, 2001-2002
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1975 - 1995


Restrictions on Access

Collection is open for research use. Access to some items is restricted for 75 years from the date of creation.

Box/folder 48/5, 48/10, 51/4, 51/19, 51/21, 58/16, 74/8, 81/2, 82/5, 85/1, 85/2, 94/14, 107/18 are restricted

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Georgia State University is the owner of the physical collection and makes reproductions available for research, subject to the copyright law of the United States and item condition. Georgia State University may or may not own the rights to materials in the collection. It is the researcher's responsibility to verify copyright ownership and obtain permission from the copyright holder before publication, reproduction, or display of the materials beyond what is reasonable under copyright law. Researchers may quote selections from the collection under the fair use provision of copyright law.

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).

Farmer died in 2020.

Awards and recognitions bestowed upon Millard Farmer include:

  1. A.C.L.U. Georgia Person of the Year, 1975
  2. Honorary Membership, Florida State Prison Jaycees, 1979
  3. Individual Rights Section of the State Bar of Georgia, Defender and Protector of Individual Rights Award, 1979
  4. State Committee on the Life and History of Black Georgians' Courage and Human Rights Award, 1979
  5. Law Students Civil Rights Research Council, Courageous Effort and Work Award, 1980
  6. Official Key to Omaha, Nebraska, Omaha Human Relations Committee, 1980
  7. American Whig-Cliosophic Society of Princeton University, James Madison Award for Distinguished Public Service, 1981
  8. Black American Law Students Association, Community Service Award, 1981
  9. California Attorneys for Criminal Justice Award for Significant Contributions to the Criminal Justice System, 1984
  10. Honorary Fellow, University of Pennsylvania Law School, 1986
  11. Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' Annual Justice Albert Tate, Jr. Award, December, 1988
  12. 3rd Annual Herbert and Sara Ehrmann Award, Massachusetts Citizens Against the Death Penalty, April, 1988
  13. Honorary lifetime membership, Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, 1993
  14. Abolitionist Award of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, 1993
  15. Georgia Association of Criminal Lawyers, Annual Scholarship awarded in Millard Farmer's name for training of attorney to represent indigent persons, 1997
  16. Fellow, National College for Criminal Defense


79.7 Linear Feet (in 179 boxes)

Language of Materials



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.


The papers are arranged into seven series:

  1. Series I: Court Cases, 1961-1995, 2001-2002
  2. Series II: Dawson 5 Case, 1960-1979, bulk: 1976-1979
  3. Series III: Henry Willis Case, 1975-1988
  4. Series IV: Team Defense Project, 1972-1985, 1990-1992
  5. Series V: Conferences, 1975-1985, 1992-1993
  6. Series VI: Supporting Files, 1965, 1970-1992
  7. Series VII: Audiovisual, 1974-1982, 1990, undated

Acquisition Information

Donated by Millard Farmer, November 18, 2011.

Related Archival Materials

Related Materials in This Repository

  1. 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]
  2. Millard Farmer oral history interviews, March 9, 2012, April 6, 2012, May 11, 2012, September 28, 2012, and November 2, 2012. Available in Georgia State University Library Digital Collections

Related Materials in Other Repositories

  1. 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.

Processing Information

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

Millard Farmer:
A Guide to His Papers at Georgia State University Library
William Hardesty
2 May 2014
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Repository

100 Decatur St., S.E.
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
404-413-2881 (Fax)