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


In 1976, James Farmer officially quit CORE over Innis' attempts to hire African American mercenaries to fight in the Angolan civil war on behalf of the Union for the Total Independence for Angola (UNITA). Leaders from the African National Conference and the Organization of African Unity openly questioned Innis' motives since UNITA was aligned with the U.S. and South Africa’s apartheid regime. Even Idi Amin, who had since broken ties with Innis, accused him of being a spy for U.S. intelligence (37).

The following year Innis faced a large scale revolt by several of his closest aides. Former Harlem CORE chairman Leonard DeChamps, former regional directors Waverly Yates and Charles Cook, along with Farmer, McKissick and several of Innis’ former supporters began speaking out openly in the media against Innis, accusing him of destroying CORE. They called for a federal investigation into allegations of Black Mafia-like activities by CORE under Innis, including his misappropriation of half a million dollars and ordering the beatings and shootings of several CORE members, including that of Leonard DeChamps' vice chairman, James Howard (38).

When three states including New York launched probes against Innis for using deception and strong arm tactics to solicit funds for CORE as a non-profit organization, their funds were frozen by the New York State Supreme Court. This helped end many of Harlem CORE’s programs, including its day care center. In 1978, CORE was forced to move out of its offices on 135th street to a new building at 1916-35 Park Avenue between 130th and 131th street. George Holmes, the current executive director for CORE, was Harlem CORE chairman at this time. Tom Howard was listed as assistant director.

Yates and other former members of CORE, in a bid to oust Innis, held a convention in 1978 and elected Yates as national director of CORE. Yates would go so far as to establish a second Harlem CORE led by Danny Gant, a former head of Baltimore CORE and the Target City project (39). In 1983, the New York State Supreme Court decided in Innis’ favor, ending the coup.

By 1984, Harlem CORE was defunct, its last leaders being Cyril Boynes and Anjelique Wimbush. CORE, after being evicted from its building over back taxes, moved its main office downtown.

Many of Harlem CORE’s original goals in terms of creating an integrated society have been achieved since the chapter first came to 125th street. Many of its members have achieved personal success as local politicians and municipal leaders. Quincy Boykin became Director of Consumer Affairs for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. A Freedom Rider and volunteer lawyer in Mississippi, Ruth Moskowitz became a New York State Supreme Court Justice. Tony Spencer was appointed deputy of African American Affairs for Governor Mario Cuomo and later the State Committeeman for the 70th A.D. Ironically, he also served on the Board of Directors for Harlem Hospital, the site of demonstrations first held by Gladys Harrington and Harlem CORE in the 1960's and chairmen Leonard DeChamps and Elaine Parker in the early 1970's.

Most members who I have interviewed, however, do not believe their efforts brought about long term substantial changes for the masses of Blacks and Latinos currently living throughout New York City. The state of today’s public school system is still used as a perfect example.

However, the former Harlem CORE offices on 135th street and 7th avenue (now called Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard) have been remade into the Thurgood Marshall Academy, a charter school that caters to specifically to the children of that community. As a charter school, it operates independent of the Board of Education while still receiving the majority of their funding from the government. The school was created and run by the Abyssinian Church, the former church of Adam Clayton Powell. Its existence validates ideas Harlem CORE conceived of and fought for more than forty years ago.

CORE has since shifted politically to the right, aligning themselves with conservative, corporate, Republican interests, most of whom were former opponents of the civil rights movement. Innis, who became a supporter for politicians like President Reagan and NYC Mayor Guiliani, made various unsuccessful bids for political office, including that of mayor, governor and congressman. He is still the national chairman of CORE.

“There are a lot of guys around who call themselves Black nationalists (and) who don’t know what the word means. Generally, they use the movement as their own private hustle. They call themselves Black nationalists; Black nationalists call them pork chops.” Roy Innis, 1972 (40)