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

Victor Solomon (1968-1969)

A relatively recent addition to the chapter, Solomon had formerly served as president of the NAACP chapter at Oberlin College. As Roy Innis’ right hand man, it seemed natural Solomon would take his place as Harlem CORE chairman. The chapter continued to exist as a separate entity from national CORE but the days of its independent projects were done. Innis restructured the organization, moving away from a decentralized structure to one that was highly centralized. All orders came from the national office. CORE was nowhere near the size or influence of its early days as a civil rights organization. How many members were still left in Harlem CORE at this time is not known. Estimates suggest slightly more three dozen in total.

A former Brooklyn school teacher and active member of the United Federation of Teachers, the Cuban born Solomon continued to press for an independent school board for Harlem.The essay he wrote for the Urban Affairs Quarterly (25) detailed Harlem CORE's ideas on the subject. Central to this argument was the idea that Harlem existed as a city within a city, an evolution of an idea articulated by Malcolm X that Blacks existed as a nation within a nation here in the United States. Harlem CORE members saw themselves as Americans but not de facto citizens. The effort to create an independent school board for Harlem reflected a larger effort to gain some amount of control over Harlem's local institutions.

Harlem CORE also became involved in the Columbia student takeover of 1968. According to historian Prof. Stefan Bradley, documentary film maker St. Clair Bourne and "students like Bill Sales, Leon Denmark, and Cicero Wilson (as members of the Students Afro-American Society)" were also members of Harlem CORE (26). The chapter also provided food, guidance and support through organized rallies in the local community as part of their larger demonstrations against Columbia’s expansion plans. The fact that Harlem CORE was still thought of as a respected organization is seen in the fact that Percy Sutton (at this time the Manhattan Borough President) defended the Columbia takeover in a press conference held at HC’s office. Just a few weeks earlier, Solomon and HC members were noted in the press for their efforts to stop the the rioting in Harlem that took place after Dr. King’s assassination, credit not given them during the 1964 uprisings (27).

As Harlem CORE members became involved in organizations funded by President Johnson's 1964 Anti-Poverty Act, Marshall England became the head of Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited (HARYOU), Harlem's largest anti-poverty agency. Gladys Harrington, who, like Harlem CORE members such as Joe Jackson and Wilbert Kirby, had previously worked for HARYOU, became the executive director for the South Bronx Community Progress Center (also known as the South Bronx Community Corporation). Harlem CORE member Nikki Springer worked with her as an administrative assistant. The equivalent of such organizations were also being run by former CORE chairman in other boroughs. Major Owens of Brookln CORE was the executive director of the Brownsville Community Corporation while Gular Glover of Queens CORE became the head of the South Jamaica Community Progress Center.

When Solomon became the national associate director for CORE, his vice chairman Jerome Smith took over as chairman.