CORE was founded in Chicago in March 1942. Among the founding members were James L. Farmer, Jr., George Houser, James R. Robinson, Samuel E. Riley, Bernice Fisher, Homer Jack, and Joe Guinn. Of the 50 original members 28 were men and 22 were women, roughly one-third of them were black and two-thirds white. Bayard Rustin, while not a father of the organization, was, as Farmer and House later said, "an uncle to CORE" and supported it greatly. The group had evolved out of the pacifist Fellowship of Reconciliation, and sought to apply the principles of nonviolence as a tactic against segregation. The group's inspiration was Mahatma Gandhi's teachings of non-violence resistance. Krishnalal Shridharani, a popular writer and journalist as well as a vibrant and theatrical speaker, had been a protege of Gandhi and had been jailed in the Salt March whose book War Without Violence influenced the organisation. Gandhi had, in turn, been influenced by the writings of Henry David Thoreau, the American author, poet, and philosopher. At the time of CORE's founding Gandhi was still engaged in non-violent resistance against British rule in India; CORE believed that nonviolent civil disobedience could also be used by African-Americans to challenge racial segregation in the United States.
In accordance with CORE's constitution and bylaws, in the early and mid-1960s, chapters were organized on a model similar to that of a democratic trade union, with monthly membership meetings, elected and usually unpaid officers, and numerous committees of volunteers. In the South, CORE's nonviolent direct action campaigns opposed "Jim Crow" segregation and job discrimination, and fought for voting rights. Outside the South, CORE focused on discrimination in employment and housing, and also in de facto school segregation.
Some of CORE's main leadership had strong disagreements with the Deacons for Defense and Justice over the Deacons' public threat to racist Southerners that they would use armed self-defense to protect CORE workers from racist organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan, in Louisiana during the 1960s. Others, however, strongly supported the organization. By the mid-1960s, Farmer tried to incorporate elements of the emerging black nationalist sentiments within CORE—sentiments that, among other things, would quickly lead to an embrace of Black Power. Farmer failed to reconcile these tensions, and he resigned in 1966, but he backed his replacement, Floyd McKissick.
Congress of Racial Equality march in Washington DC on 22 September 1963 in memory of the children killed in the Birmingham bombings
. The banner, which says "No more Birminghams", shows a picture of the aftermath of the bombing.
By 1961 CORE had 53 chapters throughout the United States. By 1963, most of the major urban centers of the Northeast, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and West Coast had one or more CORE chapters, including a growing number of chapters on college campuses. In the South, CORE had active chapters and projects in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, South Carolina, and Kentucky.
On April 10, 1947, CORE sent a group of eight white (including James Peck, their publicity officer) and eight black men on what was to be a two-week Journey of Reconciliation through Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky in an effort to end segregation in interstate travel. The members of this group were arrested and jailed several times, but they received a great deal of publicity, and this marked the beginning of a long series of similar campaigns.
By the early 1960s, Farmer, who had taken a hiatus from leading the group, returned as its executive secretary and sought to repeat the 1947 journey, coining a new name for it: the Freedom Ride.
On May 4, 1961, participants journeyed to the deep South, this time including women as well as men and testing segregated bus terminals as well. The riders were met with severe violence. In Anniston, Alabama, one of the buses was fire-bombed and passengers were beaten by a white mob. White mobs also attacked Freedom Riders in Birmingham and Montgomery. The violence garnered national attention, sparking a summer of similar rides by CORE, SNCC and other Civil Rights organizations and thousands of ordinary citizens.
Desegregating Chicago's Schools
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. (May 2012)
In 1960, the Chicago chapter of CORE began to challenge racial segregation in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). By the late 1950s, the Board of Education's maintenance of the neighborhood school policy resulted in a pattern of racial segregation in the CPS. Predominantly black schools were situated in predominantly black neighborhoods on the south and west sides of the city, while predominantly white schools were located in predominantly white areas in the north, northwest and southwest sides of Chicago.
Many segregated schools were overcrowded, and in order to ease overcrowding, the Board instated double-shifts at some schools. Double-shifts meant that students in affected schools attended less than a full day of class. In another measure to alleviate overcrowding at some schools, the Board sanctioned the construction of mobile classroom units. Moreover, a significant proportion of students dropped out before finishing high school. Faculty was segregated, and many teachers in predominantly black schools lacked full-time teaching experience compared to teachers in white schools. In addition, the history curriculum did not mention African Americans. According to CORE, "school segregation [was] a damaging bacteria, a psychological handicap, which [festered] a disease generating widespread unemployment and crime in Chicago".
Between 1960 and 1963, CORE wrote letters about the conditions of schools to the Board of Education (headed by Superintendent Benjamin Willis), Mayor Richard J. Daley, the Illinois State House of Representatives and the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In addition, CORE attended the Board's school budget hearings, speaking against segregation and asking for the Board to implement transfer plans to desegregate the schools. In July 1963, CORE staged a week-long sit-in and protest at the Board office in downtown Chicago in response to the Board's inaction. Finally, Board President Claire Roddewig and Willis agreed to meet with CORE to negotiate integration, but no significant changes came to the schools.
During the mid-1960s, CORE turned towards community involvement, seeking to equip Chicagoans with ways to challenge segregation. Freedom Houses, transfer petitions, community rallies and meetings served to educate Chicagoans about segregation and provide them with tools to circumnavigate the neighborhood school policy.
By 1966, the Chicago Freedom Movement, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Chicago's Coordinating Council of Community Organizations (CCCO), had assumed control over civil rights demonstrations and negotiations. While CORE was a member organization of the CCCO, it increasingly lost influence over desegregation efforts. And when the Chicago Freedom Movement met with representatives of the City to negotiate in the summer of 1966, they agreed on ten fair housing reforms but did not discuss reforms to desegregate the schools. While CORE played no role in the housing summit, it had shifted towards promoting and developing Black power in Chicago. By fall of 1966, CORE was no longer a civil rights organization, but a Black power organization. Changes in CORE's national leadership and continued inaction on behalf of the Board to desegregate the schools pushed CORE towards separatism and away from desegregation efforts. The chapter collapsed in October 1968.
In 1962, CORE set up a headquarters in Durham, North Carolina where upon arrival, local black women activists, including Sadie Sawyer Hughley, welcomed them into their homes. CORE worked with the local NAACP to organize pickets at Eckerd's Drug Store and Howard Johnson's. The goals were to increase employment opportunities for black workers and integrate local restaurants.
March on Washington
In 1963, the organization helped organize the famous March on Washington. On August 28, 1963, more than 250,000 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 Jr. made his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
The following year, CORE along with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) helped organize the "Freedom Summer" campaign - aimed principally at ending the political disenfranchisement of African Americans in the Deep South. Operating under the umbrella coalition of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), volunteers from the three organizations concentrated their efforts in Mississippi. In 1962 only 6.7 percent of African Americans in the state were registered to vote, the lowest percentage in the country. This involved the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic 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 COFO 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. Three CORE activists, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan on June 21, 1964 (see Murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner). These deaths created nationwide publicity for the campaign.
March in Cicero, Illinois
On September 4, 1966 Robert Lucas and fellow members of CORE led activists through Cicero, Illinois to pressure the city of Chicago's white leaders into making solid commitments to open housing. Shortly before the march, Chicago city officials, including Mayor Richard J. Daley, negotiated a Fair Housing agreement with Martin Luther King Jr, James Bevel, Al Raby and others in exchange for an end of demonstrations. Nevertheless, Robert Lucas and other members of CORE felt that the march was strategically necessary and proceeded with it anyway. The march is documented in the 1966 short documentary film Cicero March, which was added to the National Film Registry in 2013.
In 1966, James Farmer resigned as Director of CORE, to be replaced by Black Power advocate Floyd McKissick until 1968, when California activist Wilfred T. Ussery served a brief term as national chairman. He was replaced by Roy Innis, who had been National Chairman until his death in 2017. Innis initially led the organization to strongly support Black Nationalism. However, subsequent political developments within the organization led it to support conservative political positions.
CORE supported the presidential candidacy of Richard Nixon in 1972.
A CORE delegation toured seven African countries in 1971. Innis met with several heads of state, including Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta, Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Liberia’s William Tolbert and Uganda's Idi Amin, who was awarded a life membership of CORE. In 1973 he became the first American to attend the Organization of African Unity (OAU) as a delegate.
In 1981, to settle illegal fundraising allegations under Roy Innis, CORE paid a $35,000 fine.
Recently, on same-sex marriage and black health in the U.S.: "When you say to society at large that you have to accept, not only accept our lifestyle, but promote it and put it on the same plane and equate it with traditional marriage, that's where we draw the line and we say 'no.' That's not something that is a civil right. That is not something that is a human right", said Niger Innis, national spokesman for CORE, and son of Roy Innis. COREcares was an HIV/AIDS advocacy, education and prevention program for black women.
CORE provides immigration services to immigrants in the preparation of petitions and applications to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. CORE also provides classes for immigrants in fields such as English and American Civics in its center in Nevada.