FBI Surveillance and Undercover Police Agents, part 3

What documents I have received overwhelmingly deal with the civil rights phase of CORE. Most of what is on CORE in the FBI's Counter Intelligence program (COINTELPRO) files that have been released have to do with chapters outside of NYC such as those in Cleveland, Cincinnati and Chicago. One would think there would have been quite a few documents generated on NYC CORE activity since the national office was located there, the city had more chapters than any other city and that many men in its Black Power groups like Harlem CORE had substantial military experience. Some members such as Sonny Carson had criminal backgrounds and substantial arrest records before coming into CORE.

What is clear is that CORE and national director Floyd McKissick specifically were targeted by COINTELPRO. Its papers show the FBI was monitoring CORE's 1968 convention and the resulting transformation of CORE into a Black nationalist organization. It also appears that just as COINTELPRO played the Black Panthers against Ron Karenga's US group (and vice versa), COINTELPRO was used to manipulate the Jewish Defense League (JDL) to go after Sonny Carson and his Brooklyn CORE group. Several documents speak to efforts to encourage the JDL to attack the BPP and Black nationalist groups in NYC for anti-semitism. Since Carson, Ali Lamont and others from Brooklyn CORE were also members of the BPP and Brooklyn CORE was making headlines as an anti-semitic group at the time, it is safe to assume Brooklyn CORE would have been one of the other Black nationalist groups that the documents referred to.

One of the most interesting stories to come up in this research is of the militant Black police officer. Not all cops in CORE were undercover or agents. Harlem CORE's Bob Harris was an above board police officer whose being NYPD was known to the chapter. In fact, Harris was the chapter's treasurer and for a brief time, in charge of Harlem CORE chairman Roy Innis's security. As Harris points out, he became a police officer as a member of Harlem CORE, not the other way around. He joined NYPD directly after the 1964 Harlem Riots when organizations such as CORE were arguing the riots would not have happened if there had been more Black police officers, captains, and commanders of precincts. In many ways, Harris was fulfilling the mandate of CORE like the many members who got jobs in the predominately White municipal agencies such as the Board of Education, the Human Resources Administration and the Health and Hospitals Corporation.

Harris was not the only one. James Steward as a member of Brooklyn CORE was in the police academy. Cliff Brown of Mount Vernon CORE was a probation officer. Harris' good friend Donald Elfe from Harlem CORE came out of the Air Force Police. Although it was rare, there have been CORE members that have also been police officers going all the way back to the 1940's such as Lynn Coleman, a Black member of the Cleveland police department who was also co-chairman of Cleveland CORE.

Such stories are also important because in the mainstream narrative of the Black liberation movement, the police officer is always the villain and nothing but. But as the complex story of CORE in NYC suggests, it is sometimes just not that simple.

Unlike groups like the Black Panthers that took a more provocative stance in regards to law enforcement, and even though many CORE members will admit they would at times engage in similar rhetoric, according to Don Elfe, "We were not at war with the police". Roy Innis, for example, with all the scrapes he had with NYPD, was the son of a police officer back in his native St. Croix. There was in many ways a 'push and pull' relationship with law enforcement, in that while they recognized the need for law enforcement to do its job, CORE members risked arrest in pursuit of that goal.

Even chapters like Brooklyn CORE under Sonny Carson, which arguably had a more adversarial relationship with NYPD, would still find a way to work with NYPD's Lloyd Sealy, the city's first Black precinct commander. That being said, the chapter might literally be the next day be out in the streets fighting with Sealy and other members of NYPD, especially during the Ocean Hill Brownsville controversy. Despite the myth of pacifism that pervades the history of the civil rights movement, there were several members of the NYC CORE chapters that physically fought the police at demonstrations, from Harlem CORE's Ralph Poynter and Mary Hamilton to the Bibulds of Brooklyn CORE. Whether or not they were true, there are also a few stories of Long Island CORE's Lincoln Lynch kicking cops in the nuts.

It should also be noted that there were several other members who worked for military intelligence before coming into CORE such as Marv Rich, Harlem CORE's Jerome Jackson, Brooklyn CORE's Marland Jeffries. Future research detailing what, if anything, they brought with them in terms of such experience into CORE will be of interest. Rich for example has stated that his job in PsychOps was to essentially come up with ways to convince people not to fight.

The Death of Clarence Funnye
Harlem CORE chairman Clarence Funnye died in a 1970 plane crash. His death at the time was of particular concern to others from the chapter and caused minor speculation in the press because of the time period in which it happened. As fellow Harlem CORE member Jerome Jackson stated, "Assassinations were in the air". In the years leading up to his death, there had been several murders of civil rights leaders and those sympathetic to the cause, from Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy to lesser known activists like Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo, William Moore of Baltimore CORE and of course, Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner. Both James Farmer and Floyd McKissick had endured several threats to both themselves and their families.

In many of these cases, members of police and intelligence agencies were known to have played roles. Taking this into account, it would not have been out of line to think that something similar could have happened to Funnye.

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