7 Arts CORE (pt. 2)

The chapter’s first action project was initiated on February 17, 1964. It launched a major campaign on the issue of hiring ‘non-white performers and technicians for industrial trade shows’. Such jobs were considered well paid.

Focusing on automobile manufacturers, 7 Arts first contacted Ford then other car companies such as General Motors (GM), Chrysler and American Motors. Ford agreed to integrate all future trade shows but only if all the other companies went along. General Motors was the one hold out.

As a result, 7 Arts launched demonstrations in front of the GM building on 57th street and Broadway on March 4th. The picketing lasted at least five weeks but 7 Arts was eventually successful. Forced to the table to negotiate, all the car companies eventually capitulated, resulting in three to four hundred jobs gained for Blacks and other non-Whites. ‘For the first time, major industrial shows now have integrated companies’.

Having created the opportunity to audition for these shows, 7 Arts set up free workshops to ‘teach non-white performers about’ the auditions and how to succeed at them. Showing performers what to expect would hopefully make them better equipped to compete for jobs.

By the end of 1964, Jack Jeffers, a jazz musician playing in Broadway orchestras, was asked to become co-chairman with Foster. Like other CORE chapters, the consensus was a Black male should be at the head of the chapter.

Bethea became treasurer with Ned Wertimer. Other officers included Gerald and Sarah Pinks, Joan Gethers, John Cordoza, Theodore (Ted) Wilson, Leslie Rivers, Beverly Walker. Its office moved to 4 W. 76th street. Monthly membership meetings were held at the Universalist Church on 76th street.

By 1965, activity in 7 Arts was in decline. While little was done in terms of chapter projects, it was still supporting other CORE campaigns. Working with Bronx CORE, there was an investigation of artist agencies for a possible future campaign. Jeffers was also a head on the Coordinating Committee on Banking and Civil Rights, a coalition of NYC CORE and NAACP chapters with other local groups. It campaigned against investing in financial institutions that bought state of Mississippi bonds since that money supported the state’s segregated colleges.

The chapter was still in existence as of October, 1965. By the time CORE officially embraced Black Power in 1966, 7 Arts had phased out. Its members were fundamentally integrationists. While many may have been supportive of some of the ideals of Black Power, members would not have been supportive of Roy Innis’ form of Black nationalism.

As an example, CORE's campaign in the early 1970’s against what it saw as negative stereotypes of Black images in Hollywood films targeted Ralph Bakshi's animated film 'Coonskin' (aka ‘Street Fight’). Even though it was a brillant parody of the racist imagery found in such films as Disney’s ‘Song of the South’, CORE, working with a young Rev. Al Sharpton, succeeded in stopping the film from being released. Ironically, it starred Charles Gordone in what is perhaps his best performance on film. It has since been recognized as a classic by such noted film makers as Spike Lee.

In 1977, Jeffers testified before the Commission on Human Rights held by Eleanor Norton Holmes (former chairman of New Haven CORE) on the subject of racial discrimination and the hiring for Broadway musicals. In my interview, he discussed how, when he was in 7 Arts, he would be, if not the only Black working in the orchestra for a Broadway show, certainly one of the only Blacks. Jeffers was associate director for the Broadway production of ‘The Wiz’ during the time of the hearings. As a result of his testimony, Jeffers believes he was blacklisted for a period from such work even though it ultimately helped others.

His story speaks to how the significance of 7 Arts was not just in the chapter but also in how its members went on to play important roles in desegregating not just Broadway, but Hollywood, as well. Many of its members who became pioneers of the Black theater and cinema have since been recognized for their breaking barriers. Frances Foster, for example, was a founding member of the Negro Ensemble Company (NEC). Juanita Bethea and Lloyd Richards (Black), whose wife Barbara (White) was also in 7Arts, were also in the NEC.
The Negro Ensemble Company itself was an outgrowth of The Group Theatre Workshop co-founded by Robert Hooks and Dr. Barbara Ann Teer in 1963. Teer, who was married to Godfrey Cambridge, was the founder of the National Black Theater on 125th street in Harlem. It sits on a block named after her sister, CORE field secretary Fredrika Teer.

Other such notable Black members of 7 Arts include Gloria Foster, Fredrick O’Neal, Moses Gunn and Garrett Morris.

Among the White members were some surprising and interesting names as well such as Ned Wertimer,Valerie Harper, Jack Gilford and his wife Madeline Lee.

My thanks to Alixis Kate Shulman.