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

Clarence Funnye (1964-65)

Clarence Funnye, an architect and urban planner, had already served in the Air Force before he joined CORE. He earned his Master’s degree and was working on his PhD while a member of Harlem CORE. Luther Seabrook, who also served as education committee chairman, was his vice-chiairman.

A veteran of the 1960 housing campaigns in Brooklyn with Gladys Harrington, he became chairman as CORE nationally had begun their down hill slide. Harlem CORE, itself, was seen by members as in decline.

That summer was capped by the betrayal of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party at the Democratic National Convention, an act that has been cited as a primary cause for the changing attitudes of Blacks in the movement towards White allies. Many Black CORE activists began to argue that integration was a failure, the masses of Black people were not being helped and too many activists were being murdered and jailed. A desire to be in control not just of CORE but the movement itself became much more aggresively expressed openly, in arguing that something which was supposedly for their benefit often did not include them in the decision making process.

Non-integrationists like Roy Innis, who joined during Harrington’s tenure and had since become the education committee chairman, epitomized this attitude. His actions arguably contributed greatly to Whites of Harlem CORE being pushed out as its Black membership dramatically increased.

Almost all of Harlem CORE’s funding, however, came from White citizens and organizations. Gladys Harrington served as chief fund raiser for the chapter at a time when it received less donations than in previous years. By January 1965, Harlem CORE was more than $150,000 in debt and their phone service was shut off. Many funders became frightened by the Harlem riots and Harlem CORE’s actions during the World’s Fair protests (16). White members began to leave on their own in addition to those being pushed out of CORE chapters by Black nationalists.

In response to the state of Harlem CORE, Funnye decided less emphasis would be placed on direct action as a protest tactic. Following a trend started by Velma Hill's husband, CORE program director Norm Hill, Funnye attempted to move the chapter towards more meaningful local action. Working along with James Robinson, he led the TV Image Campaign which became a national effort to integrate the advertising industry, television commercials in particular. By doing so, CORE helped create new jobs for Blacks in the industry and change the image of the models and actors used in advertising. CORE's campaigns against large corporations like Colgate-Palmolive and Proctor + Gamble, two of the largest advertisers in television at the time, were among CORE's biggest successes (17).

Funnye, however, was constantly challenged by the nationalists in Harlem CORE as to what direction the group should go in. As an integrationist, Funnye believed it would be more effective working with White allies to rebuild ghettos and improve conditions in the community. He was opposed by the nationalists led by Roy Innis who believed Blacks should take charge of and be responsible for everything that happens within their own communities. This in-fighting was so bad Funnye was in many ways made ineffective as chairman (18).

Complicating matters was the relationship between Funnye’s sister, Doris, and Roy Innis, who were married either during or immediately after Fuunye’s tenure. Doris participated in the ’64 school protests with members like Owen Cahill (White) and was the editor of Rights and Reviews, Harlem CORE’s in house journal. Members like John Milton and Ronald Stark (Black) helped manage the magazine which sold for fifty cents on a quarterly basis (19).

After his tenure as chairman, Funnye continued to work for CORE as a consultant on urban renewal and housing. He also wrote and published a well respected book on urban planning, Deghettoization, before dying in a plane crash in 1970.