Downtown CORE (pt.2)

Jane Weal (Black), Sprowal's girlfriend, was also his vice chair. Other officers included: Alexander Sandy Boyer (White), Helena Levine, Roy Garland and Karen Ireland. Loriman Rhodell, who worked on housing violations, would become a field secretary.

Members of the chapter worked door to door organizing among tenants who were primarily Puerto Rican. These members included Mickey Schwerner and Bell Gale (White). Gale also worked in Mississippi but had arrived with her husband, Paul Chevigny (White), a volunteer lawyer for CORE, the day before Schwerner, Goodman and Chaney went missing. Downtown CORE member Dick Jewitt had already been there as a task force worker with the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) on the Mississippi Freedom Summer project.

The murders affected not just the chapter and CORE but were felt throughout the movement and the country. They played a key role in the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was also a pivotal transition point to the coming Black Power movement. It signaled a shift in the attitudes towards non-violent direct action as CORE members began to openly voice support for defending themselves through violence if necessary.

You In My Hut Now
The initial rally on July 18th that led to the Harlem Riots was originally planned as a protest of the murders of Schwerner and the others. The rally that took place instead, which focused on the NYPD killing of an unarmed Black teen, was led by the Downtown, East River and South Jamaica CORE chapters. Sprowal (Black) was quoted by the New York Times at the rally as saying, “It is time to let ‘the man’ know that if he does something to us we are going to do something back…. I belong to a non-violent organization, but I’m not non-violent. When a cop shoots me, I will shoot him back.”

Murray Bookchin later stated the head of his chapter asked him not to go to Harlem the day of the riots because he was White. As in the case of Terry Perlman of East River CORE, this was clearly done for the protection of CORE's White members. At a July 17th protest demonstration led by Chris Sprowal and other CORE leaders, it was reported by Newsday that Whites in the vicinity were already being randomly attacked by some demonstrators.

Many of the White members of Downtown CORE, such as Belle Gale, instead marched down to NYPD’s headquarters at 240 Centre street to protest over the next few days. They were counter picketed by local Whites from the nearby Little Italy neighborhood who ‘picketed them with bricks + garbage’. According to the New York Times, as many as 200 Whites hurled rotten eggs at the CORE demonstrators who they referred to as ‘communists’. Comments made by these White counter demonstrators, who identified themselves as Italian-Americans, sound as if they came instead from southern Whites:
“Niggers are no good.”, “You want your daughter to marry a nigger?”, “We were getting along fine with the niggers until this happened”, “The White people who picket with them – they’re just a bunch of degenerates… beatniks.”
The demonstrations continued even in the drizzling rain as late as July 24 1964.

Ease On Down the Road
By that fall, Sprowal became a representative to the National Action Council (NAC), considered the ruling body of CORE responsible for setting policy.

By the beginning of 1965, however, many members had already ‘gone to the winds’. With membership down from one hundred to twenty two, the chapter had been on the downslide since the three murders in Mississippi. Having a hard time carrying on sustained actions, Downtown CORE was seen as having died somewhat but was being re-evaluated by members.

Seeking to become more an ‘arm of the community’, the Downtown CORE office moved to a store front at 311 east 3rd street between avenues C and D, making it easier to get people in off the street. Its worth noting that the length of avenue D which goes from 14th street down to Houston street was made up of public housing projects which continued for another few blocks on the other side of Houston street.

In trying to meet the needs and program around local community issues, Downtown CORE was becoming more a chapter of local people. For example, clothes were collected not for Mississippi but for locals. Eleven local school teachers were convinced to volunteer for a tutoring program that specialized in reading and arithmetic. Tutoring was seen as a means of initially reaching kids and getting them to get into activism.

Downtown CORE also organized local housewives to funnel housing and community complaints to the chapter. These same women were also part of a price comparison program in which prices of local chain stores were compared to those of chain stores in nearby mostly White neighborhoods. Such disparities were used as a demonstration of economic discrimination.

By March 25 of 1965, Jane Weal (Black), who may have come from avenue D, was chairman. This was unusual for the time since practically all other NYC CORE chapters consciuosly had Black males as chapter chairmen. Selvin Goldbourne was her vice chair. Other officers included Georgia Phillips, Jack Coombs, Barbara Jones, Chris Sprowal, Robert Grossman and St. Julian Alston.

Much of the chapter’s work during this time was directed towards working with and helping to organize union locals. For example, it demonstrated with union local 1199 when it went on strike at Lawrence Hospital where protesters were viciously beaten by police. One of the union’s leading organizers, Lenny Seelig, was also a member of the chapter. Downtown CORE also worked with Teamsters in organizing local picture frame manufacturers.

By the end of 1966, Roy Innis proposed closing the chapter, arguing it was ineffective. Eventually, like many other chapters once he became national director, Downtown CORE faded away.

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