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Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was founded in 1942 by a group of students in Chicago. Early members included George Houser, James Farmer, Anna Murray and Bayard Rustin. Members were mainly pacifists who had been deeply influenced by Henry David Thoreau and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi and the nonviolent civil disobedience campaign that he used successfully against British rule in India. The students became convinced that the same methods could be employed by blacks to obtain civil rights in America.

In early 1947, CORE announced plans to send eight white and eight black men into the Deep South to test the Supreme Court ruling that declared segregation in interstate travel unconstitutional. organized by George Houser and Bayard Rustin, the Journey of Reconciliation was to be a two week pilgrimage through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Although Walter White of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) was against this kind of direct action, he volunteered the service of its southern attorneys during the campaign. Thurgood Marshall, head of the NAACP's legal department, was strongly against the Journey of Reconciliation and warned that a "disobedience movement on the part of Negroes and their white allies, if employed in the South, would result in wholesale slaughter with no good achieved."

The Journey of Reconciliation began on 9th April, 1947. The team included George Houser, Bayard Rustin, James Peck, Igal Roodenko, Nathan Wright, Conrad Lynn, Wallace Nelson, Andrew Johnson, Eugene Stanley, Dennis Banks, William Worthy, Louis Adams, Joseph Felmet, Worth Randle and Homer Jack.

Members of the Journey of Reconciliation team were arrested several times. In North Carolina, two of the African Americans, Bayard Rustin and Andrew Johnson, were found guilty of violating the state's Jim Crow bus statute and were sentenced to thirty days on a chain gang. However, Judge Henry Whitfield made it clear he found that behaviour of the white men even more objectionable. He told Igal Roodenko and Joseph Felmet: "It's about time you Jews from New York learned that you can't come down her bringing your ******s with you to upset the customs of the South. Just to teach you a lesson, I gave your black boys thirty days, and I give you ninety."

The Journey of Reconciliation achieved a great deal of publicity and was the start of a long campaign of direct action by the Congress of Racial Equality. In February 1948 the Council Against Intolerance in America gave Houser and Bayard Rustin the Thomas Jefferson Award for the Advancement of Democracy for their attempts to bring an end to segregation in interstate travel.

James Farmer became National Director of the Congress of Racial Equality in 1953 and he helped organize student sit-ins during 1961. Within six months these sit-ins had ended restaurant and lunch-counter segregation in twenty-six southern cities. Student sit-ins were also successful against segregation in public parks, swimming pools, theaters, churches, libraries, museums and beaches.

The Congress of Racial Equality also organised Freedom Rides in the Deep South. In Birmingham, Alabama, one of the buses was fire-bombed and passengers were beaten by a white mob. By 1961 CORE had 53 chapters throughout the United States. Two years later, the organization helped organize the famous March on Washington. On 28th August, 1963, more than 200,000 people marched peacefully to the Lincoln Memorial to demand equal justice for all citizens under the law. At the end of the march Martin Luther King made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.

In 1963 Floyd McKissick replaced James Farmer as national director of CORE. The following year, CORE, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) organised its Freedom Summer campaign. Its main objective was to try an end the political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the Deep South. Volunteers from the three organizations decided to concentrate its efforts in Mississippi. In 1962 only 6.7 per cent of African Americans in the state were registered to vote, the lowest percentage in the country. This involved the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Party (MFDP). Over 80,000 people joined the party and 68 delegates attended the Democratic Party Convention in Atlantic City and challenged the attendance of the all-white Mississippi representation.

CORE, SNCC and NAACP also established 30 Freedom Schools in towns throughout Mississippi. Volunteers taught in the schools and the curriculum now included black history, the philosophy of the civil rights movement. During the summer of 1964 over 3,000 students attended these schools and the experiment provided a model for future educational programs such as Head Start.

Freedom Schools were often targets of white mobs. So also were the homes of local African Americans involved in the campaign. That summer 30 black homes and 37 black churches were firebombed. Over 80 volunteers were beaten by white mobs or racist police officers and three men, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan on 21st June, 1964. These deaths created nation-wide publicity for the campaign.

The following year, President Lyndon Baines Johnson attempted to persuade Congress to pass his Voting Rights Act. This proposed legislation removed the right of states to impose restrictions on who could vote in elections. Johnson explained how: "Every American citizen must have an equal right to vote. Yet the harsh fact is that in many places in this country men and women are kept from voting simply because they are Negroes."

Although opposed by politicians from the Deep South, the Voting Rights Act was passed by large majorities in the House of Representatives (333 to 48) and the Senate (77 to 19). The legislation empowered the national government to register those whom the states refused to put on the voting list.

Floyd McKissick, national director of CORE became a supporter of Black Power and this resulted in some moderates leaving the organization. Until he left in 1968, McKissick increasingly directed CORE's attention to the problems of the black ghetto.

I am sure that Marshall is either ill-formed on the principles and techniques of nonviolence or ignorant of the process of social change.

Unjust social laws and patterns do not change because supreme courts deliver just decisions. One needs merely to observe the continued practice of Jim Crow in interstate travel, six months after the Supreme Court's decision, to see the necessity of resistance. Social progress comes from struggle; all freedom demands a price.

At times freedom will demand that its followers go into situations where even death is to be faced. Resistance on the buses would, for example, mean humiliation, mistreatment by police, arrest, and some physical violence inflicted on the participants.

But if anyone at this date in history believes that the "white problem," which is one of privilege, can be settled without some violence, he is mistaken and fails to realize the ends to which men can be driven to hold on to what they consider their privileges.

This is why Negroes and whites who participate in direct action must pledge themselves to non-violence in word and deed. For in this way alone can the inevitable violence be reduced to a minimum.

If you are a Negro, sit in a front seat. If you are white, sit in a rear seat.

If the driver asks you to move, tell him calmly and courteously: "As an interstate passenger I have a right to sit anywhere in this bus. This is the law as laid down by the United States Supreme Court".

If the driver summons the police and repeats his order in their presence, tell him exactly what you said when he first asked you to move.

If the police asks you to "come along," without putting you under arrest, tell them you will not go until you are put under arrest.

If the police put you under arrest, go with them peacefully. At the police station, phone the nearest headquarters of the NAACP, or one of your lawyers. They will assist you.

The American Revolution was fought for a very simple reason - to establish the principle of liberty in our land. That revolution - that phase of it - was essentially successful. The principle was established but the principle did not include all Americans.

For many people it did not mean liberty. It did not, for example, apply to women in the early days of America. Women did not have the rights which were guaranteed to other Americans. They did not have even the right of suffrage, and they had to struggle to achieve that right. They struggled under the banner of the suffragettes and significantly, my friends, they used techniques which are quite similar to those which for the past several years have dominated the civil-rights movement.

This principle established in the eighteenth century in the first stage of the American Revolution did not include workers. Working men and women of our country got half the freedoms which had been proclaimed. They had no voice concerning their wages or hours or establishing their working conditions. That was not freedom. They then had to struggle for their freedom, for their own inclusion in the American compact of liberty. They fought hard with the same weapons - the demonstration, the march, the picket line, the boycott. They established the principle of their inclusion; they won the right to collective bargaining and the right for union recognition.

For many years like a great slumbering giant, Negroes accepted the status quo. For a long time, we thought so little of ourselves that we accepted segregation and discrimination, with all of its degradation.

The fight for freedom is combined with the fight for equality, and we must realize that this is the fight for America - not just black America but all America. In the words of the great rabbi who wrote, 2,000 years ago, "Hither, if I am not for myself, who will be for me; if I am for myself alone, what am I? If not now, when?"

Norman Thomas, spoke if them as "secular saints" - this handful of young Negroes in their teens and early twenties. They and a few white sympathizers as youthful and devoted as themselves have begun a social revolution in the South with their sit-ins and their Freedom Rides. Never has a tinier minority done more for the liberation of a whole people than these few youngsters of C.O.R.E. (Congress for Racial Equality) and S.N.C.C. (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee).

When the Greyhound bus pulled into Anniston, it was immediately surrounded by an angry mob armed with iron bars. They set about the vehicle, denting the sides, breaking windows, and slashing tires. Finally, the police arrived and the bus managed to depart. But the mob pursued in cars. Within minutes, the pursuing mob was hitting the bus with iron bars. The rear window was broken and a bomb was hurled inside. All the passengers managed to escape before the bus burst into flames and was totally destroyed. Policemen, who had been standing by, belatedly came on the scene. A couple of them fired into the air. The mob dispersed and the injured were taken to a local hospital.

We got about 14 Negroes to go to the court house with the intention of registering to vote. Sheriff Smith greeted the party with a six shooter drawn from his pocket, and said "Okay, who's first?" Most of the Negroes remained cautiously quiet. After several seconds a man who had never before been a leader stepped up to the Sheriff, smiled and said, "I'm first, Hartman Turnbow". All registration applications were permitted to be filled out and all were judged illiterate. The next week, Turnbow's house was bombed with Molotov cocktails. When the Turnbows left the burning house, they were shot at. A couple of days later, Turnbow was accused of having bombed his own house which wasn't insured. Sheriff Smith was the one witness against them. Mr. Turnbow was convicted.

My husband, Michael Schwerner, did not die in vain. If he and Andrew Goodman had been Negroes, the world would have taken little notice of their deaths. After all, the slaying of a Negro in Mississippi is not news. It is only because my husband and Andrew Goodman were white that the national alarm had been sounded.

Segregation must be stopped. It must be broken down. Those of us on the Freedom Ride will continue. No matter what happens we are dedicated to this. We will take the beatings. We are willing to accept death. We are going to keep going until we can ride anywhere in the South.

I was certain I was going to die. What kind of death would it be? Would they mutilate me first? What does it feel like to die? Then I grew panicky about the insurance. Had I paid the last installment? My wife and little girls - how would it be for them? Well, damn it, if I had to die, at least let the organization wring some use out of my death. I hoped the newspapers were out there. Plenty of them. With plenty of cameras.

We in the non-violent movement of the 1940s certainly thought that we were initiating something of importance in American life. Of course, we weren't able to put it in perspective then. But we were filled with vim and vigor, and we hoped that a mass movement could develop, even if we did not think that we were going to produce it. In retrospect, I would say we were precursors. The things we did in the 1940s were the same things that ushered the civil rights revolution. Our Journey of Reconciliation preceded the Freedom Rides of 1961 by fourteen years. Conditions were not quite ready for the full-blown movement when we were undertaking our initial actions. But I think we helped to lay the foundations for what followed, and I feel proud of that.

Welcome to the National Congress Of Racial Equality

The History of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) is essentially part of the history of the civil rights movement in America. CORE played such an important role in so many critical milestones in the civil rights movement that to tell the history of CORE without referencing those milestones would be out of context and incomplete. For that reason we have included links within this text to descriptions of some of the major civil rights events that CORE either led or participated in.

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was founded in 1942 as the Committee of Racial Equality by an interracial group of students in Chicago-Bernice Fisher, James R. Robinson, James L. Farmer, Jr., Joe Guinn, George Houser, and Homer Jack.. Many of these students were members of the Chicago branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), a pacifist organization seeking to change racist attitudes. The founders of CORE were deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings of nonviolent resistance.


The Seattle Chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality was a powerful force in the city’s civil rights movement during the 1960s, spearheading efforts to bring to public attention the inequalities black people suffered in housing, employment, and education. In 1960, Seattle's black population was mostly confined to housing in the Central Area, not seen as sales clerks in grocery or department stores, and studying in segregated public schools. The organization was successful in opening job opportunities and in calling attention to other forms of discrimination.

Origins of the Organization

The National Congress on Racial Equality was founded by James Farmer (1886-1961) and a group of Chicago pacifists in 1942. It took almost 20 years to jolt the group into decisive action. This was finally spurred by the non-violent action of students in Greensboro, North Carolina, who held a sit-in at a Woolworth lunch counter.

CORE rushed to assist them because of their non-violent posture, one that the organization had espoused. The publicity surrounding this action gave momentum to the group and led to the Freedom Rides to Southern cities, challenging their right to segregate after the Supreme Court prohibited it in interstate travel. On May 4, 1961, the first Freedom Riders, both black and white, boarded Grayhound and Trailways buses and rode into the segregated South with the intention of testing whether bus stations and facilities were in compliance with the law. (They were not.) There was considerable violence with one bus being burned, arrests, protests, and press conferences by the Freedom Riders. After six months the Interstate Commerce Commission outlawed discriminatory seating practices on interstate bus transit and ordered the removal of "whites only" signs from interstate bus terminals.

Formation of the Seattle Chapter

Although an attempt was made in 1957 by Don Matson, Walt Hundley (1929-2002), Ivan King and Ray Williams to form a CORE chapter in Seattle, it was not until June 1961 that the chapter was formed albeit without official recognition from the National CORE. The television accounts of the beatings, assaults, and other horrors dealt the Freedom Riders in southern states caused a groundswell of reaction in Seattle. Money was raised to send a white Seattleite, Ray Allen Cooper, to Mississippi as a Freedom Rider, where he was arrested. Many other dedicated people joined the organization, and by February 1962 the Seattle group was recognized as an official chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality.

Within a year the interracial membership grew to almost 100 even though a rigorous process of orientation and training was involved. A person was required to go through training in non-violence and commit to CORE’s "Rules for Action," which mandated that dignity and respectability be maintained. It was also emphasized that before action was taken, there had to be an investigation to determine if there was in fact racial injustice occurring. If discrimination was found, there was to be an attempt at negotiation, and non-violent demonstrations would follow only if negotiations failed.

Unlocking the Doors to Jobs

The young group, anxious to make changes in Seattle, was faced with choices of how to proceed. There were many areas of discrimination -- in housing, employment, schools, and police treatment -- but CORE decided to zero in on employment. The arena was narrowed to banks, department stores, and grocery-store chains where black people did business. Surveys were made to determine the number of black people employed in these banks and businesses.

Grocery chains had the worst record and were targeted first. On September 20, 1961, negotiations began with Safeway, but had no success. Leaflets were distributed stating "Don’t Shop Where You Can’t Work." Boycotting and picketing followed. Within 16 months Safeway had 28 black employees, with many working outside the Central Area, and the "Selective Buying Campaign" was successful in other grocery chains as well.

A&P and Tradewell, however, did not fulfill their promises of employment of blacks. This led to the very successful and disruptive A&P "shop-ins." CORE shoppers would fill grocery baskets with small items requiring time consuming reshelving. After the clerk rang up everything in the cart, the shopper would announce that they did not want the items and would not shop at the store again because of its discriminatory hiring practices. A&P finally hired blacks in each of its 15 stores. The same tactics by CORE shoppers at Tradewell stores in the Laurelhurst and Wedgwood neighborhoods resulted in the hiring of 10 blacks.

By 1964 CORE had 30 trained members negotiating with all the supermarket chains, major department stores, bakeries, Carnation and Darigold Dairies, and Washington Natural Gas. Others firms contacted were Bartell Drug Stores, Clark’s Restaurant, Crown Zellerbach Paper Company, Fisher Flour Mills, Greyhound Bus Line, Manning’s Coffee Cafes, Pay 'n Save Corporation, Rainier Brewery, taxi cab companies, and Western International (later called Westin Hotels).

Downtown Stores Are Targeted

Data was collected on downtown department store employment and CORE began negotiations with them, starting with J.C. Penney at 2nd Avenue and Pike Street and Rhodes Department Store at 2nd Avenue and Union Street. Rather than withstand subjection to boycotts and pickets, the two stores began hiring on a nondiscriminatory basis.

The Bon Marche (now Macy’s) had only three full-time and two part-time black salespeople out of a total of more than 400, but negotiations with management were not fruitful. A Freedom March was scheduled to be held on June 15, 1963, in downtown Seattle to protest discriminatory hiring, especially at the Bon. Upon hearing of this impending event, Bon Marche management hired 11 full time-black salespeople, five black office workers, and five warehouse workers, all within one week.

Deeds Project

Because of the incremental progress being made in employment in certain targeted businesses in downtown Seattle, CORE members decided to undertake a new employment project that would include all of downtown and be called "Drive for Equal Employment in Downtown Seattle." Research by Dr. Charles Valentine (1929-1990) and CORE volunteers produced a report which indicated that out of 63,000 jobs in downtown Seattle, blacks held only 2,160, or less than 3.5 percent, of them.

The organization's goal was to increase black employment by 1,200 in a few months by boycotting of downtown businesses. Unfortunately, during the fall and winter of 1964 there were far fewer new hires than hoped for, and the organization found the project too costly, both in money and volunteer effort, to continue. This was especially true without the support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which had not joined in. However, by the end of 1964, Seattle CORE claimed that its actions had resulted in the hiring of more than 250 white-collar employees, making it one of the most successful chapters in the country.

Fighting Segregated Housing

In 1960, according to historian Quintard Taylor, 75 percent of Seattle’s 30,000 black residents lived in the Central Area, and by 1965 eight out of 10 black residents lived there. Although the city did nothing to change the restrictive pattern of housing for minorities, others, such as church groups and the Christian Friends for Racial Equality, were working to overcome the status quo. In addition, Sidney Gerber’s Harmony Homes, which built homes for minorities outside the Central Area, and the Fair Housing Listing Service worked to overcome segregation in housing.

CORE entered the fight on July 28, 1963, with Operation Windowshop, a day set aside to encourage black people to go to open houses and to real-estate listings of homes in the newspaper. The real-estate industry countered by closing all of their offices and canceling all open-house viewings. The project, and the response of the real-estate industry, were so unprecedented that the effort became national news and helped to expose the industry's discriminatory practices. It also encouraged some white homeowners to welcome minority buyers.

A six-state, real-estate conference was held at the Seattle Center in September 1963, and a very successful demonstration took place for three and a half days, with overwhelming support from the religious community. The local media, however, largely ignored the wave of indignation at the industry’s discriminatory practices.

Despite calls for action from CORE and other groups, Mayor Gordon Clinton (b. 1920) refused to sign any ordinance condemning discrimination that included enforcement provisions. Instead, a Human Rights Commission was formed, and it drafted an open-housing initiative, with penalties for discrimination. It was submitted to the voters on March 10, 1964, and defeated by a margin of two to one.

CORE continued its efforts to end housing discrimination by focusing on Picture Floor Plans Real Estate Company and picketing and demonstrating at the firm's offices in Bothell and on Greenlake and Aurora for several months. But it was not until April 19, 1968, that Seattle finally passed an open housing ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on race in the sale and rental of housing.

Desegregating the Schools

Statistical studies had shown that eight Central Area schools were more than 85 percent non-white, and that 90 percent of all black elementary school children were enrolled in only 10 schools in the city. Although CORE was engaged in many projects, the members felt in the spring of 1964 that it was time to focus on the segregated schools.

In response to a suit filed by the NAACP against the Seattle School Board in 1961 demanding a change in the segregated schools, the board created the Voluntary Racial Transfer Program. In 1963 both black and white children were allowed to transfer into and out of the various schools to enhance integration. This turned out to be a feeble attempt, so in the summer of 1964, CORE's education committee met with the school board and began negotiations. Out of these meetings one positive action was taken: closed circuit TV programs in human relations for all teachers.

Despite plans submitted to the school board by the NAACP and the Urban League to integrate the schools, the board was adamant, claiming that it was not in the business of imposing social reforms. In the spring of 1966, CORE and other civil rights groups organized a highly successful school boycott. More than 3,000 children skipped school for two days to attend Freedom Schools located in churches, YMCAs, and community centers. It attracted media attention and inspired a community dialogue regarding de facto segregated schools. The school district responded by paying transportation costs for the Voluntary Racial Transfer Program, giving sensitivity training for teachers, updating curriculum, and hiring black administrators. (In 1978 the Seattle School District implemented the Seattle Plan involving cross town busing of entire neighborhoods of children.)

Black Power and a Change in Direction

Some members of CORE began questioning the non-violent approach and wanted a more militant one. This became a challenge to the leadership. The divisive faction worked within CORE and organized themselves as an ad hoc committee, but the leadership prevailed and the faction dissipated. But in July 1967 at a CORE national conference in Oakland, California, an amendment passed which stated that CORE was a mass membership organization to implement the concept of Black Power for black people. Integration was no longer a goal of CORE.

White members stepped back without bitterness and accepted the goal of letting black people work out their problems and try to end white racism. The fledgling all-black Seattle chapter of CORE dissolved itself in 1968 due in large part to a lack of continuity in leadership and a lack of money and participants, although the changing face of the civil rights movement was also a factor.

Seattle’s Inheritance

Early members of CORE, other civil rights organizations, and followers of the civil rights movement in Seattle filled the auditorium of the Northwest African American Museum on March 24, 2011, to hear readings from the book Seattle in Black and White: the Congress of Racial Equality and the Fight for Racial Equality. The four authors of the book were founding members of CORE: Jean Durning (b. 1934), Joan Singler (b. 1934), Bettylou Valentine (b. 1937), and Maid Adams.

They felt that a history of CORE should be written before memory of the organization and its work was lost, their feelings were so strong that when it was published, by the University of Washington Press, they refused royalties in order to reduce the price of the book and give it a larger readership.

The work of these four women and the other members of the organization did much to change practices and attitudes regarding race in Seattle. In less than a decade, they made Seattle a different and a better place for both white and black people. But they would concede that, though much had been accomplished in eliminating discrimination in employment and housing, there is still much left to be done.

CORE officer Bettylou Valentine sitting in at realtor firm Picture Floor Plans, Seattle, May 10, 1964

Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (63901)

Walt Hundley (l) and Gilbert Esparza, CORE members sitting in at realtor Picture Floor Plans, Seattle, May 10, 1964

Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives (63897)

Mugshot, Ray Allen Cooper, Seattle Freedom Rider arrested in Mississippi, July 15, 1961

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

Founded in 1942 by an interracial group of students in Chicago, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) pioneered the use of nonviolent direct action in America’s civil rights struggle. Along with its parent organization, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), CORE members provided advice and support to Martin Luther King during the Montgomery bus boycott. King worked with CORE throughout the late 1950s and into the mid-1960s, when CORE abandoned its dedication to nonviolence and adopted black separatist policies.

Early CORE activists James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, Homer Jack, and George Houser had all been affiliated with FOR, an international peace and justice organization. Influenced by Gandhi, in the 1940s CORE used sit-ins and other nonviolent direct actions to integrate Chicago restaurants and businesses. In 1947 CORE organized the Journey of Reconciliation, a multi-state integrated bus ride through the upper South in order to test the previous year’s Supreme Court ruling against segregation in interstate travel. This precursor to the 1961 Freedom Rides was met with minimal violence, although several of the riders were arrested, and two were sentenced to work on a chain gang in North Carolina.

In the first weeks after the start of the Montgomery bus boycott, CORE-affiliated activists such as James Peck, Rustin, and Jack visited King. Jack wrote to his colleagues, “ I never expected to see such a disciplined, effective protest in the South in 1956, ” and suggested CORE send field workers to support the movement (Jack, 9 March 1956). During the Montgomery bus boycott, CORE publicized King’s work in its pamphlets. In October 1957 King agreed to serve on CORE’s Advisory Committee.

In the following years, King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), worked with CORE on several projects, including the 1959 and 1960 Prayer Pilgrimage for Public Schools in support of integrated education, the Voter Education Project, and the Chicago Campaign. CORE supported southern blacks during the sit-in movement of 1960 CORE field secretaries traveled through the South, advising student activists on nonviolent methods.

CORE organized the Freedom Rides in the spring of 1961. Modeled after the earlier Journey of Reconciliation, the rides took an integrated group through the Deep South. Although King supported the rides, he considered them too dangerous to participate in himself. In Anniston, Alabama, one bus was firebombed, and its fleeing passengers were forced into an angry white mob. As the violence against the Freedom Rides increased, CORE considered halting the project. A Freedom Ride Coordinating Committee was formed by representatives of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, CORE, and SCLC to sustain the rides.

Following the Freedom Rides, CORE concentrated on voter registration. In 1962, along with other civil rights groups, CORE joined the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), which coordinated the activities of local and national civil rights organizations in Mississippi. COFO’s efforts culminated in the 1964 Freedom Summer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which challenged the state’s all-white official delegation at the Democratic National Convention of 1964.

The murder of three CORE workers, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, in Mississippi in the summer of 1964, coupled with the limited success of MFDP, led many activists, including some in CORE, to become disenchanted with nonviolence. By 1966 a power struggle within CORE forced Farmer to step down as national director, leaving the more militant Floyd McKissick in his place. After King worked with McKissick during the summer of 1966 on the Meredith March Against Fear, CORE adopted a platform based on Black Power and limited white involvement in the organization.

Following King’s assassination, McKissick called him “ the last prince of nonviolence ” and declared that nonviolence was “ a dead philosophy ” ( “ McKissick Says Nonviolence ” ). From this point, CORE focused its efforts on black nationalism and political self-determination in the black community.

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By MPL Staff on Feb 5, 2014 9:22 AM
By O'Halloran, Thomas J., photographer [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) may be most remembered for their organization of the Freedom Rides, a series of interracial protests against segregated bus seating in the late 1960s. Founded in 1942 by James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, Homer Jack, and George Houser in Chicago, IL, CORE was created to improve race relations and end discrematory policies through direct action and nonviolence. Following the principals of Mahatma Gandhi, CORE organized sit-ins, voter registration drives and the aforementioned freedom rides throughout the South. With their parent organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), CORE supported and advised the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in his Montgomery Bus Boycott. Throughout all of these nonviolent actions CORE members and volunteers faced teargas, were assaulted and jailed and some even killed. The leadership of CORE founder James Farmer helped with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1968, Roy Innis became the National Director of CORE and the organization became more centralized. CORE's headquarters are in New York City and currently focuses on worker training and equal employment opportunities, crime victim assistance, and community-oriented crisis intervention. For more information on the Congress of Racial Equality check out these titles at your local Milwaukee Public Library.

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This Day in History: A throwback to CORE's protests that led the ླྀs movement for racial justice

Washington, D.C. protests the death of children in the Birmingham bombings (Wikimedia Commons)

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was founded by an interracial group of students at the University of Chicago campus. In the early years of the American civil rights movement, CORE emerged as one of the leading activist organizations. It spearheaded the use of non-violent action during the struggle. In 1955, CORE and its parent organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), and international peace and justice organizations, joined forces to support Martin Luther King in the Montgomery bus boycott. Regarded as America's first large-scale protest against racial segregation, the Montgomery bus boycott was a civil rights protest where black Americans refused to ride city buses in Montgomery, Alabama. The demonstrations lasted a whole year and following this, King continued to work with CORE through the later 50s and into the 60's, even serving on its Advisory Committee.

The group first gained national recognition in the 1960s when it used Gandhi's non-violence principles in organizing sit-in m movements to integrate restaurants and businesses that refused to host black patrons. The early activists in CORE comprised James Farmer, Bayard Rustin, Homer Jack, and George Houser who had also been associated with FOR.

In the early 1960s, when the civil rights movement began gaining momentum, CORE collaborated with other civil rights groups to launch several initiatives including the Freedom Summer voter registration project, the Freedom Rides which aimed at desegregation in public places and the momentous 1963 Washington march. While it initially adopted a pacifist, non-violent approach in the fight against racial segregation, in the late 1960s the group's dedication was shifted towards the political ideology of black nationalism and separatism. James Farmer was appointed as CORE's first black national director in February 1961.

Civil Rights March, Washington 1963 (Getty Images)

In 1961, CORE orchestrated the first Freedom Ride, a multi-state integrated bus ride through the Deep South, with the aim of desegregating interstate transport facilities. Despite being brutally attacked in Alabama to the point that it had to be discontinued, more than a thousand participants, both black and white were a part of the Freedom Rides, that summer. Later that year, CORE prioritized voter registration as its new goal in the fight for civil rights. They centered mostly on Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. But this time, several civil rights activists and workers were beginning to feel that black political power was more likely to help them achieve racial equality, rather than just integration. So the organization's directions shifted entirely but kept racial understanding as its nucleus. However, the emphasis now was on black autonomy. The voter registration projects were with pessimistic views on integration following a slew of violent activity. CORE then expanded its work in the North, which also brought to light the rampant racial discrimination problem that had been persisting in the US.

American civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King (1929 - 1968) and his wife Coretta Scott King lead a black voting rights march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capital in Montgomery (Getty Images)

CORE joined the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) which co-ordinated between local and national activities of civil rights organizations in Mississippi, in 1962. This resulted in the 1964 Freedom Summer and the Mississipi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). This questioned the state's all-white delegation at the annual Democratic National Convention. That year, three CORE activists, Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner were killed by members of the white-supremacist extremist group, Ku Klux Klan, while they were working as volunteers during Freedom Summer. The murders coupled with limited success of the MFDP led to many activists including some members of CORE to be discontent with non-violence. In 1966, there was a power struggle within CORE, and Farmer, a pacifist advocate of racial integration was replaced by Floy McKissick, who was more militant and had committed himself to black separatism. King was fully immersed in work with CORE, but after his assassination, McKissick declared that non-violences was a "dead philosophy". Thereafter, CORE's primary focus was on efforts of black nationalism and political and economic justice for the black community.

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The Civil Rights History Project: Survey of Collections and Repositories

Collection Description (CRHP): Tape 449A is a recording of CORE Rally, 1964, May 17.

Collection Description (Extant): Records of a national inter-racial organization of semi-autonomous groups dedicated to the use of non-violent direct action to combat racial discrimination. Although CORE was founded in 1942, the majority of the records date from the period 1959-1964 when the organization expanded greatly in size, financial support, and activities. During this period CORE also received its greatest national attention through sit-ins protesting discrimination in public accommodations in the South in 1960, Freedom Rides in 1961, participation in the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project in 1964, and various other national projects protesting discrimination in employment and housing. Earlier records are contained in the files of the executive secretary and the National Action Council later material on the administration of Floyd B. McKissick is not included.
Although the type of materials present vary for each series, the documentation generally consists of correspondence, constitutions, minutes, reports, memoranda, financial statements, press releases, clippings, and printed matter. Most of the collection is available on film from the Microfilm Corporation of America, together with a printed guide, The Papers of the Congress of Racial Equality, 1941-1967 (1980).
The processed portion of the collection is summarized above, dates 1941-1967, and is described in the register. Additional accessions date 1945-1964 and are described below.

Additions, 1946-1964 (mostly 1964), including miscellaneous memoranda concerning harrassment and violent incidents, notes on meetings, flyers re starting Negro-owned grocery and marketing co-ops in Opelousas, La., and publications and reprints. See box list with accession form. Qty: 0.2 c.f. (1 archives box)

Photographs including newsphotos, portraits, and snapshots, ca. 1945-1964. Images show meetings, parties, award presentations, demonstrations, and other activities. Qty: 58 photographs and 11 negatives (1 folder)

Date(s): 1941-1967

Existing IDs: Mss 14 Micro 806 Tape 449A

Extent: 43.5 c.f. (103 archives boxes), 49 reels of microfilm (35mm), and 1 tape recording, plus additions of 0.2 c.f., 58 photographs, and 11 negatives.

Language: English

Related Archival Items: The Wisconsin Historical Society holds numerous other (non-audio/video) records related to CORE activities, including:

Congress of Racial Equality Washington Interracial Workshop Records, 1942-1956 (Mss 223 no audio). This collection comprises 1.0 c.f. (3 archives boxes), plus additions of 61 photographs and 91 negatives photographs document protests against segregation at the Rosedale Playground.

Jack and Judith L. Ladinsky papers, 1951-1972 (M82-302): Papers, mainly 1960-1962, of two University of Wisconsin professors, who were involved with the Ann Arbor Direct Action Committee (affiliated with the Congress of Racial Equality) and SDS while graduate students at the University of Michigan and the University of Missouri. Includes 41 photos.

Interviewees: James Farmer

Rights (CRHP): Contact the repository which holds the collection for information on rights

Congress of Racial Equality (1942)

The Congress of Racial Equality pioneered direct nonviolent action in the 1940s before playing a major part in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Founded by an interracial group of pacifists at the University of Chicago in 1942, CORE used nonviolent tactics to challenge segregation in Northern cities during the 1940s. Members staged sit-ins at Chicago, Illinois area restaurants and challenged restrictive housing covenants. Early expansion beyond the University of Chicago brought students from across the Midwest into the organization, and whites made up a majority of the membership into the early 1960s.

Civil rights activists from other organizations used CORE’s nonviolent tactics during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, but CORE did not establish a presence in the South until 1957. When it came to the South, CORE orchestrated or participated in some of the civil rights movement’s most iconic struggles. In 1961 CORE’s newly installed national director, James Farmer, Jr., organized the Freedom Rides to test a recent United States Supreme Court decision integrating interstate buses and stations. Seven black and six white volunteers met staggering violence as they rode buses through the Deep South. Shocking television images of mob violence (and the inaction of local and national authorities) gained national attention.

CORE cosponsored the March on Washington in 1963. The next year CORE volunteers participated in Freedom Summer, a project that brought white Northerners to Mississippi to register black voters. Again, Southern racists reacted violently. With the help of local police, Ku Klux Klansmen in Philadelphia, Mississippi killed three CORE volunteers at the beginning of the summer. Two of the victims were white, and the incident gained national attention and led to an increased federal presence in Mississippi. Still, violence continued, and tensions ran high between white and black volunteers.

The next few years would see drastic shifts in CORE’s philosophy. The horror of Southern violence and the radicalization of other groups led many CORE members to move away from principles of nonviolence. They also began to adopt principles of Black Nationalism. In 1966 CORE chose a new, more militant leader in Floyd McKissick. Under McKissick, the group initiated short lived programs to fight poverty. Two years later CORE barred whites from membership and chose Roy Innis as its national director. Innis advocated black entrepreneurship, but his alleged misappropriation of CORE funds weakened the organization. During the Reagan and Bush administrations, Innis became increasingly conservative. He moved CORE out of the mainstream of civil rights organizations, opposing busing and supporting welfare reform. Innis also supported judicial nominees that mainstream civil rights groups opposed, including Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas. He remained CORE’s leader in 2007.

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Seattle Chapter (1961-1970)

The Seattle chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) emerged as one of the most significant grass roots organizations in the fight for civil rights in the Pacific Northwest. Established in 1961, the Seattle chapter embodied the non-violent principles of the national organization which had been founded in Chicago in 1942. Multi-racial in composition, the Seattle chapter established a reputation for being one of CORE’s most active by the early 1960s. Best known for its organized protests against Seattle employers who engaged in racial discrimination, the Seattle chapter also worked to end discrimination towards African Americans in housing and education in the Greater Seattle area.

Several people, both black and white contributed significantly to the founding of Seattle’s chapter of CORE. Among the most important were Ken Rose, Ed and Joan Singler, and Ray Cooper whose participation in the Freedom Rides of 1961 helped inspire many others to join the organization. Ray Williams served as the first chair of CORE and Don Matson provided significant leadership. Harold “Tim” Martin played a key role along with Reginald Alleyne, Jr.

Beginning in October, 1961, the Seattle chapter began “selective buying” campaigns against various supermarkets in the city including Safeway and the A & P. Black patrons were encouraged not to shop where they could not be employed. One of the most effective tactics was the “shop-in” where protesters would take all the shopping carts, fill them, have the cashier ring them up, and then refuse to pay. By 1962, CORE shifted its focus to the downtown department stores. Jean Durning and Reverend Mance Jackson led efforts to integrate the Bon Marche. Soon to follow were efforts against Nordstroms, and J.C. Penney. Picketing was often used as a tactic. By the end of 1963, it was estimated that African Americans had been hired into more than 250 white-collar positions. Based on these gains the Seattle chapter was considered one of the most successful in the country. The chapter made a major effort to increase the hiring of African Americans in October, 1964 with what was called Operation DEEDS (Drive for Equal Employment in Downtown Stores). The plan called for a total boycott of Seattle’s downtown shopping area. One of the most ambitious projects in the country, the boycott achieved mixed results.

Led by chairmen Walter Hundley and John Cornethan, the Seattle chapter also played a key role in the larger struggle for fair housing. These efforts included the establishment of a Fair-Housing listing service, and the picketing of real estate firms who discouraged the sale of homes to African Americans.

The chapter played a key role in the effort to desegregate Seattle’s public schools. In February, 1966, CORE’s leadership called for a two-day boycott of Seattle schools. Students, both black and white, were encouraged to voluntarily attend “Freedom Schools” that were mostly held in churches throughout the city. The curriculum for those two days featured black history and culture that was missing from the regular public schools. Although controversial, the Freedom Schools were deemed to be a success with more than 3,000 students in attendance.

As the sixties wore on, the debate over strategy that divided the national civil rights struggle found its way into the Seattle chapter. The “Black Power” movement and the desire to emphasize Black identity eventually led the national organization to abandon integration as a strategy. This divided the Seattle chapter and eventually led to a requirement that all of the CORE membership be black. However, by the end of 1968, the chapter was effectively disbanded, but its legacy in the civil rights movement was significant and undeniable.

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) is a civil rights organization founded in Chicago, Illinois, in 1942 that pioneered the use of nonviolent direct action tactics in the civil rights movement. Most notably, the organization gained national prominence in 1961 through sponsoring the Freedom Rides, which sought to test supposedly desegregated bus terminal facilities. Although CORE was a marginal presence in Arkansas compared to other civil rights organizations, it established a chapter in the state, in Fort Smith (Sebastian County), that lasted from 1962 to 1965.

CORE was an offshoot of the pacifist organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). In 1942, it held some of the civil rights movement’s first sit-ins, targeting lunch counters in Chicago. In 1947, along with FOR, CORE sponsored the Journey of Reconciliation, an interracial bus ride across the Upper South to test interstate buses that had been ordered to desegregate in the U.S. Supreme Court ruling Morgan v. Commonwealth of Virginia (1946). The ride met with some success but failed to garner national attention.

When a new wave of nonviolent direct action was launched through the sit-in movement of 1960, CORE national director James Farmer reprised the Journey of Reconciliation. This time, the protests were known as Freedom Rides. The Freedom Rides followed another U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Boynton v. Virginia (1960) that ordered an end to segregation in interstate bus terminals.

The Freedom Rides ventured into the Deep South, where they were attacked by segregationists in Alabama. As CORE abandoned the Freedom Rides amid escalating violence, another civil rights organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), vowed to continue them. Eventually, the federal government was forced to act to protect the riders against white violence. A number of follow-up rides to test bus terminal facilities across the South were instigated by CORE in conjunction with other civil rights organizations that worked together in a Freedom Ride Coordinating Committee (FRCC).

One of the follow-up rides, setting off from St. Louis, Missouri, arrived in Little Rock (Pulaski County) on July 10, 1961. Two African-American Freedom Riders, Benjamin Cox and Bliss Anne Malone, and two white Freedom Riders, John Curtis Raines and Janet Reinitz, were arrested by Little Rock city police soon after arrival. A fifth black Freedom Rider, Annie Lumpkin, was there as an observer.

The riders were held overnight and tried the next morning in the court of municipal judge Quinn Glover. Glover offered them a deal: if they headed back home, he would set them free. They agreed. However, when they later discovered that Glover actually meant for them to go back to St. Louis rather than to continue their ride, they turned down the deal and submitted to re-arrest. After the intervention of city businessmen worried about the negative national headlines the episode might trigger, Glover agreed to release them if they left the state. This time, he said that they could continue their journey on to New Orleans, Louisiana, as planned.

Though the Freedom Ride in Little Rock did not achieve its immediate goal of desegregating bus terminals, this was finally achieved by order of the Interstate Commerce Commission later that year on November 1, 1961 (an order that covered all southern bus terminals). The Freedom Ride also promoted the founding of an important new local Little Rock civil rights organization, the Council on Community Affairs (COCA), in 1962.

At a grassroots level, however, CORE was a marginal presence in Arkansas. This was largely due to competition from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and SNCC, which were already established in the state by the 1960s. Only one CORE chapter ever existed in Arkansas, at Fort Smith, between 1962 and 1965.

When the Fort Smith CORE chapter filed for affiliation with the CORE national office on June 26, 1962, it listed Safeway store worker Reginald Watson as chair. The chapter had sixteen active members and twenty-four associate members. All were African American.

The chapter reported that it was in negotiations with the mayor and a local committee to desegregate Kress, McCrory, and Woolworth lunch counters, and that it was also pushing for the desegregation of restaurants. A national office CORE field secretary, Mary Hamilton, visited Fort Smith chapter members in September 1962. She reported that the group consisted of “day workers, three ministers, one doctor and one dentist” as well as “a few soldiers from Fort Chaffee.” The chapter held meetings every first and third Tuesday in the basement of Mallalieu Methodist Episcopal Church at North 9 th and H Streets.

The chapter successfully arranged the nomination of Dr. Harry McDonald, a CORE member and president of the Fort Smith NAACP, to run for a position on the Fort Smith school board. McDonald lost the contest. In December 1962, Mary Hamilton visited again. She discovered that negotiations for desegregation were going well, and she felt that the situation would be resolved without the need for direct action. Her main worry was dissention within the chapter. Two members, who were established black leaders in the city, were concerned about Watson’s leadership and wanted him removed. Hamilton persuaded chapter members that they were better off working together in a united front. In the summer of 1963, several downtown lunch counters desegregated. Afterward, the chapter tried to persuade local stores to hire black workers.

Reginald Watson’s last letter to the CORE national office, sent in March 1965, reads: “I have been fired from my position at Safeway Stores here because of my work with CORE. I will need support from National and sister chapters if I am to do much about this. I also request that you send someone to Fort Smith to help me reorganize the chapter. Since I do not have a job and can’t get a comparable one here I may have to leave Fort Smith to get work. When I leave the chapter others may also drop out. I do not want this to happen. I want a bigger and better chapter in Fort Smith. Please help us.” This is the last recorded CORE activity in Arkansas.

For additional information:
Congress of Racial Equality Records, 1941–1967. State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin.

Congress of Racial Equality, Southern Regional Office Records, 1954–1966 . State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin.

Farmer, James. Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement. New York: Arbor House, 1985.

Kirk, John. “‘Please Help Us’: The Fort Smith Congress of Racial Equality Chapter, 1962–1965.” Arkansas Historical Quarterly 73 (Autumn 2014): 293–317.

Meier, August, and Elliott Rudwick, CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 1942–1968. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

John A. Kirk
University of Arkansas at Little Rock

Watch the video: Congress of Racial Equality Overview (January 2022).