Originally known as the Committee for Racial Equality, CORE started in 1942 in Chicago as a project within the pacifist organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation. It's goal was to end the Jim Crow system of segregation and 'get rid of the color line'. Influenced by the nonviolent philosophy of
Along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), National Urban League and the Southern Christian Leadership Committee (SCLC), CORE was one of the most important organizations of the civil rights movement. Its decentralized hierarchy oversaw autonomous chapters all across the country which focused on issues such as the right to vote, housing, employment and education.
Inspired by the 1960 student sit-in at the Woolworth's in Greensboro, North Carolina, CORE began a national campaign of sit-ins and demonstrations against the Woolworth chain stores. Combined with the Freedom Rides of 1961, these two campaigns marked a renaissance for CORE as the protests brought them increased public standing and membership. Dubbed 'the wild child of the civil rights movement', CORE was seen as the cutting edge of the freedom struggle.
Under the leadership of James Farmer, CORE chapters spread like wildfire. After years of trying CORE also made important inroads in the south. Taking it to the streets, CORE chapters made headlines with mass demonstrations followed by mass arrests. Blacks joined en masse. By the time of the March of Washington in 1963, which CORE members in NYC played a central role in organizing, the membership was approximately half Black and half White.
By 1964, Blacks had taken over most chapters as chairmen. The year is also said to represent CORE's zenith in terms of the intensity of activity. The murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner in Mississippi became a transitional moment. They directly led to the passing of that year's Civil Rights Bill but also pushed many CORE members more and more away from the philosophy of non-violent direct action.
By 1965, Whites were actively leaving and being pushed out of chapters. CORE began to move away from street demonstrations to focus on community organizing and political participation.
In 1966, Farmer stepped down as national director. Under his successor, Floyd Mckissick, CORE embraced the concept of Black Power. Whites in most cases were not allowed to be active members and violence was allowed in self defense. Target City in Baltimore became CORE's main project. Using a grant from the Ford Foundation, focus was also placed on Cleveland where CORE played a crucial role in helping get Carl Stokes elected as the first Black mayor of a major U.S. city.
In 1968 Roy Innis was elected 'leader for life'. CORE became a Black nationalist organization and Whites were formerly expelled. Many of the remaining chapters folded, but CORE was still a viable organization. Its overwhelming emphasis being on education, CORE helped pioneer the independent Black school movement.
Innis actively portrayed himself as being in the tradition of Marcus Garvey and for a few years enjoyed national prominence. Ironically, the 'beginning of the end' started with a trip throughout Africa and his alliance with Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in the early 1970's. This was followed by several stories in the press of Innis' plans to send Black mercenaries to become involved in an Angolan civil war angering many former CORE members and others from the Black nationalist community.
Several other stories came out in the 1970's of Innis ordering beatings and shootings of CORE members. Farmer went so far as to refer to CORE under Innis as a 'Black Mafia'. Along with McKissick and several other CORE leaders from the 1960's, Farmer led an effort to take CORE back that ultimately failed. A state Supreme Court decision in 1981 reaffirmed Innis as CORE's rightful head.
Throughout the 1980's and 1990's, in part to save CORE from bankruptcy, Innis made several alliances between CORE and the Republican Party and conservative right wing supporting everyone from President Ronald Reagan, NYC mayor Guiliani and George Bush, Jr.
CORE has taken a 180 degree turn from its positions of the 1940's through the 1960's. Innis' son, Niger, who currently runs the organization has become a spokesman for the National Rifle Association and supporter of the Tea Party. He recently moved CORE's headquarters to Las Vegas and announced his candidacy for Congress on the Tea Party ticket.