The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

By Amy Pellegrini

The he Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was formed in 1942 as one of the leading activist groups during the Civil Rights Movement. CORE was founded by a group of students at the University of Chicago. Founding members included: James L. Farmer, Jr., George Houser, James R. Robinson, Samuel E. Riley, Bernice Fisher, Homer Jack and Joe Guinn. CORE was an extension of the Fellowship of Reconciliation. The Congress of Racial Equality focused on being a pacifist group and wanted to end segregation with a non-violent approach. CORE worked with other civil rights groups in order to launch the Freedom Rides, the Freedom Summer voter registration project and the 1963 March on Washington.

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.

During the first twenty years of CORE, it was primarily focused in Northern cities.CORE did not establish its presence in the South until 1957. They hired a small staff that provided nonviolence training in the South.

CORE gained national attention after providing guidance for action in the aftermath of the 1960 sit-in at a Greensboro, North Carolina lunch counter. In 1961, after its support of the sit-ins, the organization was able to welcome its first black national director, James Farmer.

Not long after James Farmer became director, CORE organized the first Freedom Ride in order to desegregate interstate transportation facilities. Near Birmingham, Alabama a bus was firebombed and riders were beaten by a white mob. The riders in Alabama were unable to finish their ride, however, thousands of other participants, both black and white, continued the rides throughout the summer.

Towards 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.
In 1963, CORE was one of the sponsors of the March on Washington. The March on Washington was fighting for jobs and freedom. Over 250,000 demonstrators met in Washington, D.C., and at that time, was one of the largest public protests in the history of the nation.

In 1964 CORE participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer project; three activists were killed that summer in an infamous case. After that, CORE’s philosophy began to change. The continuation of violence led many CORE members to drift away from having a nonviolent approach. They also began to adopt principles of Black Nationalism.

In 1966, CORE found a more militant leader, Floyd McKissick. When McKissick took over, the organization was disorganized and deep in debt. Although McKissick was a 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. After McKissick, CORE chose to bar whites from membership and chose Roy Innis as its national director.

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 organization’s debt.