Congress of Racial Equality

views updated May 18 2018

Congress of Racial Equality


The Congress of Racial Equality, or CORE, played a leading role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. CORE is best known for organizing freedom rides to challenge segregation in interstate busing.

CORE was founded in Chicago in 1942 as a permanent interracial group committed to the use of nonviolent direct action opposing discrimination (Meier and Rudwick 1973, p. 8). The key components of COREs ideologyinterracialism and nonviolent direct action stemmed from the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi (18691948). The charter members of CORE included both blacks and whites, many of whom were students at the University of Chicago. Several of COREs founders had been jailed or interned as conscientious objectors to war.

CORE affiliates soon formed in cities across the country. The local affiliates organized sit-downs, or sit-ins as they later became known, to challenge racially segregated public accommodations. They also mounted campaigns to end discrimination in employment, housing, and schools.

In 1947 the national organization organized the Journey of Reconciliation, a two-week bus trip through the upper South to enforce a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision outlawing segregated seating on interstate buses and trains. The participants, who included eight black and eight white men, were arrested and jailed along the way, but most of the charges were later dropped. Although segregation in interstate travel persisted, CORE believed the publicity garnered by the journey made it a success. The Journey of Reconciliation provided the model for the freedom rides of the 1960s.

The student sit-in at a Greensboro, North Carolina, lunch counter in early 1960 gave new life to COREs campaign to end segregation in public accommodations. Along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), CORE helped to organize the sit-ins that spread throughout the South after Greensboro and resulted in the arrests of thousands of protesters. These organizations joined forces again in 1963 to launch a voter registration drive in the South.

James Farmer (19201999), who had been a founding member of CORE, was appointed national director in 1961. Farmers leadership propelled the organization to the forefront of the civil rights movement. His first project was the Freedom Ride of 1961. The 1961 ride differed from the Journey of Reconciliation in a few respectsthe riders included women, they traveled through the deep South, and they challenged segregated terminal facilities as well as seating. The severe violence encountered by the riders, including beatings and the firebombing of a bus, drew national attention to the cause. Other freedom rides followed.

The efforts of those involved in the civil rights movement came to fruition with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, banning racial discrimination in public accommodations, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, enforcing the right to vote.

In the mid-1960s COREs focus began to shift from direct action and voter registration to community organization and black identity. At the same time, the groups membership changed as well, from a balance between white and black members to a predominantly black makeup. At its 1966 national convention, CORE adopted Black Power as its slogan and renounced absolute nonviolence, and Floyd McKissick (19221991) was selected to succeed Farmer as national director. McKissick resigned in 1968 and was replaced by Roy Innis, who maintained the organizations emphasis on political and economic empowerment for blacks. At the end of the twentieth century, CORE had approximately 100,000 members.

SEE ALSO Civil Rights; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.


Arsenault, Raymond. 2006. Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Meier, August, and Elliott Rudwick. 1973. CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 19421968. New York: Oxford University Press.

Malia Reddick

Congress of Racial Equality

views updated May 23 2018


CONGRESS OF RACIAL EQUALITY. Founded in 1942 in Chicago, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was originally an interracial group seeking to use Gandhian tactics of nonviolent direct action in the struggle for racial equality. During the 1940s, it organized sitins and pickets to protest segregation in public accommodations and had success in integrating public facilities in the North. In 1947, CORE organized the "Journey of Reconciliation," the precusor to its later "Freedom Rides." Eight black and eight white men traveled together throughout the upper South to test the 1946 Supreme Court ruling that segregation on buses in interstate travel was unconstitutional. The men were beaten in some towns, and three ended up working on a chain gang in North Carolina after convictions under local segregation laws. But the journey was not a failure; it garnered national publicity and kicked off CORE's long campaign against discrimination in interstate travel.

Despite the success of its early efforts, CORE remained a minor organization until the southern black college student sit-ins of 1960, for which CORE officials provided guidance. The organization became nationally famous a year later with its Freedom Rides. In December 1960, the Supreme Court extended its earlier decision banning segregation on interstate buses with a ruling that prohibited segregation in the waiting rooms and restaurants serving interstate bus passengers. CORE decided to test compliance with the decision by once again sending interracial teams on buses throughout the Deep South. The freedom riders' dramatic challenge to southern segregation and the violent response ultimately led to the ending of segregation on interstate bus routes.

By the end of 1961, CORE had 53 chapters throughout the United States. For the next four years, it played a major role in the African American protest movement, North and South. CORE participated in President Kennedy's Voter Education Project. It was part of the 1963 Birmingham campaign that included the CORE-SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) Freedom Walk in honor of a white postal carrier who had been assassinated as he walked across Alabama wearing signboards urging an end to segregation. CORE also cosponsored the 1963 March on Washington. Along with SNCC and the NAACP, it organized the Mississippi Freedom Summer project in 1964. And it organized rent strikes, school boycotts, and demonstrations against police brutality in cities outside of the South.

By the middle of the 1960s, however, CORE was losing members and, in the minds of some, relevancy. In 1966, Floyd McKissick replaced James Farmer as National Director of the organization. McKissick endorsed "Black Power" and moved the organization away from its original commitment to interracialism and nonviolent direct action. Current National Director Roy Innis replaced McKissick in 1968. Innis focused CORE's efforts on black economic development and community self-determination. Innis has become one of the country's leading black conservatives, a philosophical position indicated by his support of the nominations of Robert Bork and Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court. By the end of the twentieth century, CORE had a membership of around 100,000.


Bell, Inge Powell. CORE and the Strategy of Nonviolence. New York: Random House, 1968.

Branch, Taylor. Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954–63. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1988.

Farmer, James. Freedom, When? New York: Random House, 1965.

Meier, August, and Elliott Rudwick. CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 1942–1968. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Powledge, Fred. Free At Last?: The Civil Rights Movement and the People Who Made It. Boston: Little, Brown, 1991.

Sitkoff, Harvard. The Struggle for Black Equality, 1954–1980. New York: Hill and Wang, 1981.


Cynthia R.Poe

See alsoBlack Nationalism ; Civil Rights Movement ; Freedom Riders ; National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ; Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee ; Suffrage: African American Suffrage .

Congress of Racial Equality

views updated May 09 2018


Although World War II (19391945) signaled the end of the Great Depression for many Americans, the new age of prosperity largely bypassed African Americans. The Civil War amendments to the Constitution that guaranteed equal rights to African Americans were circumvented by Jim Crow laws throughout the South, and segregation remained common. This deprived blacks of access to education, jobs, and decent housing. In 1942, an interracial group founded the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) to work for social change through nonviolent means. CORE members worked with black organizations, such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), to bring national attention to issues such as segregation and voting rights.

One of the most effective strategies against segregation was the sit-in, the first of which occurred on January 31, 1960, when a group of black college students sat down at the "white only" section of the Woolworth's lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina. The students refused to leave, drawing attention to the injustice of segregation statutes. Soon, protesters were engaging in other sit-ins throughout the South. Many participants were beaten and arrested.

In 1961, CORE, with the help of SNCC, organized "freedom rides." These sent busloads of northern blacks and whites on rides to various cities and town in the South. The riders expected to encounter hostility in the region, but racial discrimination on interstate buses was illegal and the participants planned to demand that the U.S. attorney general's office protect their right to travel together. The Freedom Riders were frequently attacked by white mobs; in Birmingham, Alabama, police officers conspired to allow Ku Klux Klansmen to beat them without intervening. In some places, freedom riders' buses were burned. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy (19251968) finally authorized federal protection for the freedom riders against mob violence, but not from illegal arrest. Freedom rides and other actions helped to galvanize support throughout the country for the growing Civil Rights movement. Though the slow pace of change through the 1960s drew some African Americans toward more extremist groups, such as the Black Panthers or the Black Muslims, CORE remained dedicated to nonviolent confrontation and continued to include white members.

See also: Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow Laws, Sit-Down Strikes

Congress of Racial Equality

views updated May 29 2018

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) US civil rights organization, founded in 1942 by James Farmer. It employed sit-ins, picketing, and boycotting tactics to combat discrimination in employment.

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Congress of Racial Equality