Oct. 21, 1999
Vol. 19 No. 3

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    CORE panel discussion will bring to light importance of World War II era to civil rights movement

    By William Harms
    News Office

    The early days of the civil rights movement and current activism on campus will be reviewed Tuesday, Oct. 26, at “Revisiting the Congress of Racial Equality: A Panel Discussion with CORE Alumni from the 1940s through the 1960s.”

    The Congress of Racial Equality was founded at the University in 1942 as an interracial civil rights organization that developed nonviolent, direct-action strategies. CORE became one of the foremost civil rights organizations during the 1960s.

    The panel is being organized to help students understand the origins of the civil rights movement as well as its transformation during the 1960s, said Laurie Green, Visiting Assistant Professor in History. “CORE was one of the most important civil rights organizations during the 1960s and helped bring the struggle for civil rights from the South to the North.

    “What this discussion will do is help students think through how issues of social justice grew out of the experiences of the World War II era,” said Green. “When people study the history of civil rights, they are now looking past the 1960s and 1950s to this earlier time as being a watershed.”

    Jim Robinson (A.M., ’42), now a resident of New York, helped found CORE and served as its executive secretary from 1957 to 1960. He came to the University as a graduate student in English in 1941 and got involved in a pacifist group that established a committee to examine race relations. People at the time were concerned that Americans were being called upon to fight injustice abroad when injustices such as racial discrimination took place in the United States, said Robinson, who will speak at the panel discussion.

    People involved in the group contacted blacks living in Chicago and talked with them about their experiences. “They took us to the ghetto and showed us the problems people were having with housing because of segregation,” Robinson recalled.

    He and other activists, including James Farmer, who became a leading civil rights figure, formed CORE and established an interracial housing cooperative in Hyde Park.

    The group pioneered nonviolent confrontations, such as sit-ins at lunch counters, to draw attention to segregation. “Jim Farmer and I went to a lunch counter on 47th Street one night to have a cup of coffee, and they gave him a hard time, so we decided to do something about it,” Robinson recalled.

    “The owners called police, but the police didn’t do anything as there was a law in Illinois that outlawed segregated service,” Robinson said. The lunch counter was desegregated, and the group went on to desegregate other facilities, including most of the restaurants in Chicago’s Loop.

    Among the organization’s other actions was a Journey of Reconciliation in 1947, during which black and white activists rode buses and trains together through the segregated South to test compliance with a Supreme Court decision overturning segregation in interstate travel. That journey became the model for the Freedom Rides of 1961, which further challenged segregation and discrimination.

    During the following years, CORE became a leading organization in desegregating facilities and advancing civil rights causes such as the expansion of voting rights.

    “Revisiting the Congress of Racial Equality: A Panel Discussion with CORE Alumni” is being presented by the Social History Workshop, the Department of History, the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture and the Divinity School.

    The panel discussion will begin at 4:30 p.m. in the Social Science Research Building, Room 122. A reception for CORE members at 3:30 p.m. in the John Hope Franklin Room on the second floor of the Social Science Research Building will precede the panel discussion. For more information, call (773) 684-7502.