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

Jerome Smith (1969-1970)

Jerome Smith was born and raised in Harlem.
(note: this is not the Jerome Smith of New orleans CORE who was also a Freedom Rider)

Just after he became chairman, Smith and members of Harlem CORE appeared with Roy Innis at a banking conference in Hawaii uninvited. There, Smith snatched the microphone for Innis who demanded six billion dollars from the banking industry to be used for the creation of an independent Black institution. James Forman of SNCC had recently made similar demands with his Black Manifesto at Riverside Church in NYC. While it may have been seen as a case of one upmanship, the incident raised the question of reparations for the slave trade. Harlem CORE began picketing banks on 125th street a few weeks later, resulting in the arrest of Smith for leading a demonstration (28).

Education was still at the center of their work. HC members point out that campaigns such as this and the work done by Brooklyn CORE in Ocean-Hill Brownsville were what eventually led to the decentralization of the city’s public schools. Many believe this move was an attempt by the city to pacify the movement by appearing to compromise on the issue of community control while still maintaining control over the city’s public school system. Like many Harlem CORE members, Smith felt the next step would be to take over the local community school boards which were created as a result of decentralization. In 1970, he ran for the District 5 community school board, foreshadowing future work by other Harlem CORE members like Velma Hill, who successfully won a seat on the District 2 communitty school board in the late 1980's (29).

That same year, Smith became chairman for the Committee for a Harlem High School. The committee's goal was to create an all Black independent school in Harlem with funding from the Board of Education. It was supported by the Harlem political leadership across the board, including Basil Patterson, Percy Sutton, congressman Charles Rangel, Livingstone Wingate (head of the New York chapter of the Urban League) and former Harlem CORE chairman Marshall England, then serving as head of HARYOU-ACT (30).

The city donated an old junior high school on west 140th street between Lenox and 7th avenue. Central Harlem High School was created. It operated between 1972-1973. Although the school was closed after little more than a year, it demonstrated how Harlem CORE's ideas were not only evolving but were also accepted by the community as a viable solution to their educational dilemmas.