Long Island CORE

Long Island CORE (LI CORE) was arguably the most successful of the NYC CORE chapters. Even during its Black Power phase, where other chapters diminished or died, Long Island CORE multiplied.

Levitown CORE
Even though Long Island (LI) physically contains the NYC boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, when people refer to LI they usually mean Nassau and Suffolk, two suburban counties separate from NYC but still considered part of the NYC metropolitan area.
Nassau, the closest of the two to NYC, is made up of two small cities, Long Beach and Glen Cove, and three towns. Each town is made up of any number of villages and smaller hamlets (the equivalent of neighborhoods). Levittown is one of those hamlets in the town of Hempsted. When it was created as part of the post World War II building boom in housing, Blacks were specifically prohibited from owning or renting. In 1960, out of a population of sixty five thousand, it had only fifty-seven Black residents.

Long Island CORE was the first of the suburban NYC CORE chapters. Formed in April of 1960, it was originally called Levittown CORE, was almost all White and according to a field report from Genevieve Hughes, was 'overwhelmingly Jewish'. The small group of 12-15 active and 60 associate members were first led by co-chairmen Mark Dodson, a music teacher, and his wife Jo. Other officers included Phyllis Newberger, Anita Weissman, Zena Goldfarb, Betty Groden, Millie Willen, Vicky Tattz and Bob Vitale.

Hughes' report also indicates the chapter may have had a hard time attracting Blacks at first. While meaning well, it may not have had much experience dealing with Blacks. As an example, it held a square dance as one of its events, apparently not realizing how unappealing that would have been to northern Blacks. Among the first Black members were Alvin Petrus and Lincoln Lynch.

Committees often met at individual members homes but the chapter’s meetings and rallies were usually held in Levittown Hall. Chapter reports stated it may have been the only time the Hall ‘held a really integrated meeting’, an indication to just how few non –Whites were living in the area.

Like a lot of chapters when first starting, Levittown CORE had no real action projects of its own. More time was spent supporting national CORE than with instigating local activities. It participated in letter writing campaigns, sent telegrams and generally worked spreading word of CORE. It was also good for holding fund raisers such as its benefits for the Freedom Rides.

One project it initiated in the early spring of 1961 led to the formation of the first NYC CORE student chapter, LI SCORE. An adult from Levittown CORE worked with twenty one of the student participants to start their own group and acted as a supervisor.

Because there were so few Blacks in Levittown, and so no real violence, the chapter was not sure how to go about undertaking an action project. In its own estimation, it made the group lackadaisical. Housing, while a long term campaign and not as dramatic, was where it was most successful.

Levittown CORE went out of its way to actively integrate LI and Levittown. By the end of 1961 its Freedom Dwellers campaign ‘to open up areas of housing hitherto unavailable to Negroes” found houses for sale. It then started its own clearing house to list dozens of ‘homes available to be sold in the open market’. An ad was placed in the New York Times’ ‘houses for sale’ section was complemented by a letter writing campaign to inform Black groups. Jo Dodson stated in the press Blacks were reluctant to move to such areas because of the history of segregation.

A Lynching
By June of 1962, the chapter had officially changed its name to Long Island CORE. Lincoln Lynch became chairman. The chapter’s officers were still predominately women: Carmen Elijah, Arlene Mecker, Ruth Schwartz, Millie Willen, Diane Lewis, Betty Grodon, Marie Berler, Mrs. Jerry Morton and Mr. Carl Griffler. The women in chapter documents and sometimes in the press, however, were often identified only by their husband’s names, which says something about local ideas of class and gender. Jo Dodson, for example was listed as ‘Mrs. Mark Dodson’.

Monthly meetings alternated between different towns and membership grew to 65 active. There was still only an average of 20 for meetings.

A poor boy originally from Jamaica, Lynch served as a machine gunner in Great Britain’s Royal Air Force. He brought an entirely different dynamic to the chapter. Testing began to include houses in the process of being built. Knowledge of the Metcalf-Baker law was a main tool in the chapter's arsenal.

Operation: Windowshop, previously used by Los Angeles CORE, was designed to determine and document the extent of discrimination in new housing and real estate broker’s offices. LI CORE used the campaign to test over one hundred fifty homes in all White neighborhoods. Approximately fifty Black and White families took part. The cases were used as a basis for filing complaints with State Commission for Human Rights. The complimentary housing workshop had ten move ins.

Jo Dodson believed even though real estate agents knew it was illegal to discriminate, they found other ways to deny Blacks from buying in White areas. Blacks were told the homes had already been sold or were discouraged in terms of getting a mortgage, excessive down payments were asked for, brokers missed appointments, just about anything to frustrate the process.

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