The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was founded in 1942 as
the Committee of Racial Equality by an interracial group of
students in Chicago-Bernice
Fisher, James R. Robinson,
Farmer, Jr., Joe Guinn,
Homer Jack.. Many of these students were members of
the Chicago branch of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR),
a pacifist organization seeking to change racist attitudes.
The founders of CORE were deeply influenced by Mahatma Gandhi's
teachings of nonviolent resistance.
CORE started as a nonhierarchical,
decentralized organization funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of its
members. The organization was initially co-led by white University of Chicago
student George Houser and black student
Farmer. In 1942, CORE began protests against segregation in public accommodations by organizing
sit-ins. It was also in 1942 that CORE expanded nationally. James Farmer traveled the
country with Bayard Rustin, a field secretary with FOR, and recruited activists
at FOR meetings. CORE's early growth consisted almost entirely of white
middle-class college students from the Midwest. CORE pioneered the strategy of
nonviolent direct action, especially the tactics of sit-ins, jail-ins, and
From the beginning of its
expansion, CORE experienced tension between local control and national
leadership. The earliest affiliated chapters retained control of their own
activities and funds. With a nonhierarchical system as the model of leadership,
a national leadership over local chapters seemed contradictory to CORE's
principles. Some early chapters were dominated by pacifists and focused on
educational activities. Other chapters emphasized direct action protests, such
as sit-ins. This tension persisted throughout CORE's early existence.
Through sit-ins and picket lines,
CORE had success in integrating northern public facilities in the 1940s. With
these successes it was decided that, to have a national impact, it was necessary
to strengthen the national organization. James Farmer became the first National
Director of CORE in 1953.
In April of 1947 CORE sent eight
white and eight black men into the upper South to test a Supreme Court ruling
that declared segregation in interstate travel unconstitutional. CORE gained
national attention for this Journey of Reconciliation when four of the riders
were arrested in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and three, including Bayard Rustin,
were forced to work on a chain gang.
In the aftermath of the 1954
v. Board of Education decision,
CORE was revived from several years of stagnation and decline. CORE provided the
1955 Montgomery Bus
Boycott with its philosophical
commitment to nonviolent direct action. As the Civil Rights Movement took hold,
CORE focused its energy in the South.
CORE's move into the South forced the leadership to address the question of the
organization's place within the black community. Though whites still remained
prominent, black leaders were sought out for high profile positions. CORE
remained committed to interracialism but no longer required that new chapters
have an interracial membership, largely expecting little white support in the
South. While middle-class college students predominated in the early years of
the organization, increasingly the membership was made up of poorer and less
educated African Americans.
CORE provided guidance for action in the aftermath of the 1960 sit-in of four
college students at a Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counter, and subsequently
became a nationally recognized civil rights organization. As pioneers of the
sit-in tactic the organization offered support in Greensboro and organized
sit-ins throughout the South. CORE members then developed the strategy of the
jail-in, serving out their sentences for sit-ins rather than paying bail.
In May of 1961 CORE organized the
Rides, modeled after their earlier Journey of Reconciliation. Near
Birmingham, Alabama a bus was firebombed and riders were beaten by a white mob.
Despite this violent event, CORE continued to locate field secretaries in key
areas of the South to provide support for the riders.
By the end of 1961, CORE had 53 affiliated chapters, and they remained active in
southern civil rights activities for the next several years. CORE participated
heavily in President Kennedy's Voter Education Project (VEP) and also
co-sponsored the 1963
on Washington. In 1964 CORE
participated in the Mississippi
Summer project; three activists
killed that summer in an infamous case,
Chaney, Andrew Goodman and
members of CORE.
By 1963 CORE had already shifted attention to segregation in the North and
West where two thirds of the organization's chapters were located. In an effort
to build CORE's credibility as a black-protest organization, leadership in these
northern chapters had become almost entirely black. CORE's ideology and
strategies increasingly were challenged by its changing membership. Many new
members advocated militancy and believed nonviolent methods of protest were to
be used only if they proved successful.
As the tactics were being questioned so was the leadership. In 1966, under
mounting pressure and with the organization losing members influence and
financial support, James Farmer stepped down as National Director and was replaced by the more
McKissick endorsed the term Black Power and was a much more acceptable leader to
the Black community than Farmer was.
When McKissick took over, the organization was badly dis-organized and
deep in debt. Although McKissick was a charismatic and respected leader,
he was unable to turn the organization's finances around. In 1968 he
announced his retirement to pursue his dream of building a "Soul
City" in North Carolina and
who was Chairman of the
Harlem Chapter of CORE, replaced him as the National Director.
Innis inherited the organization with a completely de-centralized structure,
with more than a million dollars in debt and no fundraising mechanism. The
organization's fundraising arm--CORE Health, Education & Welfare Fund--had
deserted the organization when Farmer left. Innis quickly declared the first
order of business was restructuring so that Chapters and field operatives were
responsible back to the National Headquarters. Innis also developed a new
fundraising arm--CORE Special Purpose Fund--and began to chip away at the
Under Innis's leadership, CORE embraced an ideology of pragmatic nationalism and
lent its support to
black economic development and community self-determination.