The transition to Black power in Brooklyn CORE (BK CORE) is primarily blamed on or credited to (depending on who you speak to) Sonny Carson, a former gang leader, ex-offender and Korean War veteran, the epitome of what is referred to as 'gangstah'.
After Roy Innis, Carson is perhaps the most reviled member in the history of CORE. Along with Innis he is blamed more than anyone else for its decline. Unlike Innis, Carson remains highly respected among many of the city's Black activists and politicians.
According to members, when Carson first started showing up at chapter meetings he used to stand in the back just watching. Clearly he had been studying them and was obviously influenced. Throughout Carson's career as an activist he constantly referenced earlier BK CORE campaigns and tactics.
One example is in the story of nineteen year old Dorothy Morrow. After Carson and other BK CORE members took part in a rent strike at her mother's building, the building eventually went co-op and the Black residents became property owners. Rent strikes were a tactic popularized when Major Owens was chapter chairman. They were used to help community residents organize themselves to fight against racial discrimination and hopefully convince them to join BK CORE. Crediting the success to BK CORE's assistance, Morrow joined and became Carson's secretary.
Ms. Morrow's presence illustrates that Carson's group were more than just fellow thugs and gangsters, even though that element existed. Other members of the chapter included the local people which the chapter had always sought after and Black professionals that had always made up the chapter, such as social worker Marland Jeffries (who came into the chapter after being beat up for no reason by the police) and school teacher Les Campbell.
How Brooklyn CORE Changed
For example, Brooklyn CORE, like Harlem CORE, had its own security force. Ali Lamont was a former member of the Nation of Islam who also wanted to be more involved in activism. He became Carson's personal bodyguard and head of security for the chapter. An article in the Amsterdam News listed John Rucker, Reginald Nichols, Solomon Pelham and Charles Jenkins as members of BK CORE's security. Isaiah Lewis was listed in another newspaper article as the leader of CORE's Mau Mau unit.
While the chapter continued to use non-violent direct action tactics such as sit-ins, pickets and demonstrations, Dr. Brian Purnell in his PhD dissertation on Brooklyn CORE makes it plain that Carson did employ 'strong arm tactics' as he saw fit. He also points out that Black Power had become the dominant trend in the larger freedom movement and should not be seen as the cause for the chapter's decline. Main stream leaders such as the Black ministers in Brooklyn and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell had been insisting since the early 1960's that Blacks should be the leaders in all aspects of the civil rights movement.
As with Harlem CORE, the decision to exclude Whites was made by the Black members in general, not just Carson, and was something that was already in effect before Carson showed up. Carson however did play a leading role. Arnie Goldwag, for example, specifically blamed Carson for going out of his way to make Goldwag so uncomfortable he finally left the chapter. Goldwag's name in the early 1960's was virtually synonymous with Brooklyn CORE. After Goldwag left, Carson became the community relations director, Goldwag's former position.
However, there is also the story of Stan Breznoff who claimed that even though Carson told him he could no longer hold a leadership position within the chapter, he was still welcome to stay. Brezenoff left soon after anyway.
The chapter moved to a new office on 1233 Fulton street in Bedford-Stuyvesant (Bed-Stuy), the equivalent of being on 125th street just off of 7th avenue in Harlem. It claimed 350 members but how many were active is not known. Carson became chair that June when Ollie Leeds stepped down to work at the national office on its chapter expansion program but remained an active member of the chapter.
Other officers included Isaiah Lewis, Larry Singleton, Melvin Betty, Harold Brady, Leroy Atkins, Yvonne Harmon, Calvin Powell. Sonia Pearson worked as the receptionist. Some of the older Black members, such as Gil Banks, Vinny Young, Maurice and Winnie Fredricks were still active. In fact, it was Maurice who first brought Carson into the chapter. Mary Phifer was also still involved but left soon after Carson became chairman due to his 'abruptness'. Rank and file members included among others Chet Wooten, Larry Edwards and a number of still unknown local high school students.>>>> Part 2 <<<<