(A History of) The Harlem chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality


In many ways, the history of Harlem CORE represents both the best and worst aspects of the civil rights and Black power movement(s). While it does support in some ways the traditional historiographies of said movement(s), it also challeneges them, as well.

1. In the early years of Harlem CORE, many women, both Black and White, held rank in significant positions of power. This supports scholars who challenge the idea that only men were leaders in the civil rights movement. If anything, the women of Harlem CORE were known to be very effective and dynamic leaders. I would go so far as to suggest that, like Mae Mallory, Ella Baker and Gloria Richardson, Gladys Harrington seems to be one of the unsung heroines of the civil rights movement as it manifested in New York.

2. Harlem CORE 's struggle demonstrates that racism and the struggle against it were not something exclusive to the South. Segregation and discrimination were wide spread in New York City, especially in the fields of housing, employment, education and in the Black community's (i.e. Harlem) relationship to the police department.

3. Harlem CORE's story may support those scholars who argue that the civil rights and Black power movement(s) may not have been mutually exclusive, but instead, should be seen as two different aspects of a larger Black Liberation movement (or the Black Freedom movement). Statements by many of the Black members interviewed for this research and statements included in Rights and Reviews indicate the Black power movement was in many ways seen as an extension and natural evolution of the civil rights movement. However, statements made by nationalist members denigrating civil rights activists indicate they saw themselves as something separate.

4. The men of Harlem CORE are clearly more than the stereotypical angry, reactionary, gun toting Black revolutionary as often characterized by the media. When is the last time you saw a group of macho Black men from working class backgrounds get fighting mad over the issue of public school education? If anything, these men (and women) are, by and large, professionals, not thugs. This does not discount the sexism and perhaps corruption of Harlem CORE that has come to be associated with the Black power movement.

5. Several members have spoken to me about both the indirect and direct influence of Malcolm X, on their philosphy as members of Harlem CORE, and as someone who was an early presence in the chapter. I have been told that he not only attended the weekly meetings on occasion, he was in regular contact with Gladys Harrington.Given this and the fact that they are situated on Main Street of the largest, most popular Black community in the nation - Harlem, the Black Mecca - it seems almost inevitable that the chapter would have eventually gone the way of nationalism.

See: Theoharris, Jeanne. Woodard, Komozi. Groundwork: Local Black Freedom movements in America. New York: New York University Press. 2005

Joseph, Peniel E. Waiting 'til the Midnight Hour. Holt and Co., 2006.

A movement grows in Brooklyn : the Brooklyn chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Northern civil rights movement during the early 1960s . Brian Purnell ; Thesis (Ph.D.)--New York University, Graduate School of Arts and Science, 2006.

* Peace to Russell Rickford over at Columbia... thanks for letting me sit in on your class, " The Historiography of the Black Power Movement".