Columbia University CORE (pt. 2)

Following the CORE Rules of Action, the chapter did an investigation. It came out that the director of food services, James McDonald, had been forced to leave a job at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel for discriminatory practices toward employees. New York CORE a year earlier had successfully demonstrated against the Waldorf over the same issue.

Columbia CORE tried to negotiate but the administration refused. The chapter framed its discussion by bringing up a previous strike in 1952 in the same cafeteria over another unsuccessful attempt at unionization.

Columbia CORE finally organized a boycott of the cafeteria among students and faculty and got other student groups such as ACTION involved.

The actions included two different student hunger strikes, rallies and picketing. Another group of students did a ‘penny-in’ at the check-out counter during which the food was paid for all in pennies. The technique was meant to frustrate as it held up the line which led to loss of sales and caused trouble in general.

Some students and workers were fired for supporting the strike and unionization. They were only reinstated after CORE and other groups protested.

Hundreds of students and faculty signed petitions supporting the boycott. It got favorable coverage in the press. Columbia CORE used the coverage to point out the hypocrisy of Columbia’s position in that it supported and spoke for unionization off campus but opposed it on campus. The boycott also succeeded in getting support from several local politicians including then State Senator Constance Baker Motley.

The boycott lasted between June 1964 and January 1965. In the short term, it succeeded in getting the base wage raised. The move was seen as a conciliatory gesture because despite the pressure, Columbia refused to allow unionization. In 1968, Columbia was forced to when the New York State statute which allowed non-profit institutions to deny workers the right to unionize was repealed. Press coverage noted the act as being a response to the work of groups like Columbia CORE among others. When the cafetria workers did join a union they worked with Sidney Von Luther, then a leader of Local 1199 of the Drug and Hospital Workers Union. He also became the first political candidate CORE successfully ran for office when he became State Senator.

Columbia CORE also took on the university over expansion plans in Harlem, a major issue up until today. As early as the beginning of 1962, CORE had envisioned it was going to take on Columbia because it had been keeping Blacks out of apartment houses it owned. By the end of 1965, Columbia had bought up lots of local buildings, many of which were single room occupancy (S.R.O.’s), and kicked out the tenants, almost all of whom were poor Blacks and Puerto Ricans.

The university argued its expansion plans were a form of urban renewal. Columbia CORE countered, ‘Urban renewal should be used as a major tool to fight the effects of urban poverty’. It recommended ‘the following principles for urban renewal in our area: preserve middle and upper income housing but emphasis should be placed on providing new and better low income and improved living conditions for the poor’.

By the fall of 1964, Jemera Rone Flug was chairman. Mark Naison was her vice chairman. Other officers included: Judith Ceskin, Patrick Brogan, Alan Wallach, Michael Flug, Sylvana Foa, Bob Miller, Tom Schmidt and Paul Nyden, Anne Jaffe, Katia Hirschman and Bob Schapiro. By the fall of 1965 Jeffrey Nichols was chair. Other officers included Jean Bernard and Jonathon Wyle. Robert Pam by spring of 1966 was chair.

By the fall of 1967, the Columbia Spectator reported Columbia CORE, which once included as many as 150 members, had faded from campus. Part of the problem, according to Jeff Nichols, was figuring out the role ‘our essentially White chapter has in a Black Power organization'. There was still some interesting interaction between CORE and Columbia students during 1967-68.

During 1967-68, CORE and Columbia University’s School of Social Work cooperated on a student unit fieldwork activity program. The ‘Curriculm Development Program' was designed 'to identify the unique aspects of community organization practice utilized in non-social work settings’. Two students (Sandra Ashley and Paul Friedlander) worked at national CORE with Antoine Perot and Corine Jennings. Two others (Reginald Johnson and Louis Wheaton) worked with Victor Solomon and Modi Essoka at Harlem CORE.

Victor Solomon and Harlem CORE played a large part in local efforts and demonstrations to stop Columbia’s expansion plans. There was also a good deal of interaction between Harlem CORE and a group of Black students in the Society of Afro-American Students (SAS) that led the 1968 student takeover of Columbia. SAS Members such as St. Clair Bourne, Bill Sales, Leon Denmark, and Cicero Wilson were also members of Harlem CORE. Hilton Clark was one of the founders of SAS back in 1964.

Some Columbia CORE members, like Mark Naison and David Gilbert, were also part of the student takeover. Both became members of the Students for a Democratic Society, as many White members did after CORE, such as Elliot Linzer and Andrew Berman of Queens CORE.

It should also be noted that like CCNY CORE, Columbia CORE did have at least one Asian-American member, Richard Chung.