New York CORE

New York CORE (NY CORE) is the first of the CORE chapters in New York and in its day was considered 'the most energetic of the chapters'. It was also the de facto chapter for many of the national leaders of CORE who lived in New York. In many ways, NY CORE was indistinguishable from the national CORE office until about 1960.

The chapter was small with as few as a dozen to as many as three dozen members. As early as 1943, meetings were held at the Harlem Ashram just off 125th street. Some of its earliest members included chairman Dorothy Sullivan (White), Melba Stewart (Black), Jim Peck (White), Ina Sugihara (Japanese) who married Bill Jones, (Black), Ananbelle Henry, a young blind Black man named Vince Baker and James Farmer who lived there at the time. James Robinson lived around the corner in the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) on west 135th street.

Among the first New York CORE campaigns were demonstrations on 125th street as part of a larger campaign to integrate the YMCA. These campaigns focused on the hypocrisy of the Y’s unchristian policies towards non-Whites. While the campaign was considered unsuccessful in the end, New York CORE did manage to integrate a Y in Brooklyn. New York CORE also sought to get jobs for Blacks in banks as 1946-47's main project involved picketing financial institutions that discriminated against Blacks. Perhaps the most telling of their campaigns was the chapter’s early effort to open jobs in Woolworths and other downtown department stores.

Although a pacifist, Robinson and NY CORE saw non-violence less as a lifestyle and more as a 'technique for developing a racially integrated society'. They pushed to move CORE away from pacifism and towards a more militant stance.

This growing militancy could be seen in the tactics. For example, when demonstrating against barber shops that refused to serve Blacks, a Black member sat in a chair while White members took the other available seats but refused to be served. In housing campaigns, White NY CORE members signed leases for apartments in segregated apartment buildings then subleased them to Blacks.

One of NY CORE’s most note worthy campaigns was led by Al Ettinger against the Palisades amusement park in New Jersey during the summers of 1947-8. The demonstrations to integrate the park's swimming pools were dubbed 'stand ins' when members such as Wendell Foster went into the water and refused to leave. Over 60 demonstrators were arrested and some like Jim Peck were beaten by police with black jacks. The resulting publicity, however, led to successful litigation which forced New Jersey to pass civil rights laws which outlawed discrimination in public accommodations including public pools.

CORE's 'office' at this time consisted of a desk in the FOR's offices in the Harlem area including one near Columbia University on Broadway between 114-115 street. NY CORE meetings were instead held in member’s homes.

When CORE's membership declined due to the threat of McCarthyism in the 1950s.Three members of NY CORE are credited with having kept CORE alive during this time: James Robinson, Lula Farmer and Jim Peck. Both Robinson, who succeeded Houser as the head of CORE, and Lula Farmer served as chairman of NY CORE at various times throughout the 1950's.

Significant campaigns during this time included one in 1952 when, under threat of continued picketing, CBS capitulated to CORE's demands over the 'Amos + Andy' show. Blacks were rarely seen on TV at this time. When they were it was in negative roles. CORE wanted them to have 'straight roles' where they were the same as any Whites, and not just fools and servants. This is a precursor to the TV Image campaign of the 1960's.

The chapter’s 1958 demonstration at City Hall for the Sharkey-Brown-Issacs Bill, the '1st municipal fair housing law in the country', brought publicity which directly led to the bill's enactment. NY CORE immediately used it to challenge de facto segregation and discrimination in housing. Pamphlets were printed up advising people of their rights under the new law and checkers were sent to test building owners and real estate agents.

By 1959 the chapter was led by Black attorney Tom Roberts from donated space in the back of a union office on 42nd street. He was succeeded by Darwin Bolden (Black) who coordinated the Woolworths protests throughout New York. The first of these demonstrations was held in Harlem by NY CORE on Feb. 13, 1961. Genevieve Hughes (first female field secretary) led the dime store boycott committee. New recruits such as friends Lucy Komisar, Alixis Kate Shulman and Susan Brownmiller who led and walked on the picket lines typified the next wave of CORE members - White, middle class, leftist college students.

When James Farmer was elected the national director of CORE, James Robinson became involved again with NY CORE, especially its housing workshops. By then Gladys Harrington had become chairman. Besides the Fast for Freedom held at the Statue of Liberty to support the Freedom Rides, housing sit-ins were successfully held in Brooklyn, one of which helped future chapter chairman Clarence Funnye find an apartment.

By the end of 1961, NY CORE had approximately 50-60 active members. It moved uptown to Harlem where it opened an office on 125th street next door to the Apollo Theater. It would eventually become known as New York-Harlem CORE and Harlem CORE.