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

Phillip M. Mann (1975-1977)

Before becoming chairman, the 31 year old Mann was the director of Harlem CORE’s Kahali Modeling program and annual fashion shows. Emphasizing the concept of “Black is Beautiful”, the programs were an attempt at developing self confidence in Blacks to counteract feelings of inferiority and low self esteem.

In addition to providing college scholarships to HC’s younger members, Harlem CORE also established their own daycare center near its office. This was followed by CORE (with Victor Solomon as director of educational affairs) establishing its own elementary school in the South Bronx, the CORE Community School (36).

Harlem CORE members over the next few years continued to become part of the political establishment in New York. In many ways, they served as 'counterpart and counter point' to the mainstream Black political elite.

Gladys Harrington became a deputy administrator for the Human Resources Administration. Like Joe Jackson, who was directly mentored by Harrington and became a deputy manager in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, she is an example of the many former HC members who became leaders in New York's municipal agencies.

Others found positions for themselves in politics. Elaine Parker went on to work in the Manhattan Borough President’s office with Andrew Stein. Donald Elfe would soon find a position as an aide and forward man for Deputy Mayor Basil Patterson during the Koch administration. Wilbert Kirby also found a position in the Koch administration as an investigator (job title: Crisis Specialist). He also served as a special assistant to the Deputy Commisioner for Operations in the Department of Juvenille Justice. Part of his duties included overseeing the daily operations for Spofford Juvenille Detention. He had previosuly been appointed by Mayor Lindsay to the NYC Board of Corrections. The great irony is that Kirby was himself a former street hustler.

Kirby, although he ran several times for political office, never won. However, to paraphrase Dr. Brian Purnell's argument in his history of Brooklyn CORE, Harlem CORE's losses somehow turn into wins somewhere down the line. Take Tony Spencer for example. He first ran for office on Congressman Shirley Chisolm's slate in 1972. That effort, like his others, failed. However, he turned his experience into a series of high profile poitical appointments. Considered Basil Paterson's protege, Spencer served as assistant to both Paterson as Secretary of State of New York in 1979 and to his successor, Gail Shaffer, in the 1980's.

Harlem born and bred, Tony Spencer is the best example of what CORE was trying to do by coming uptown in terms of reaching into the indigenous community to produce and develop local leadership. He also represents the link between both the civil rights and Black Power groups with in Harlem CORE. Mentored and literally adopted by Gladys Harrington as a teenager, he considers himself a nationalist and was a member of the Black Male Caucus. A lieutenat colonel in the National Guard, he was the commander of the 369th Armory, just one of the many positions he held over the years. Spencer became in many ways the next generation of Harlem leadership.