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Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings

Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn

Brian Purnell
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    Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings
    Book Description:

    The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) established a reputation as one of the most important civil rights organizations of the early 1960s. In the wake of the southern student sit-ins, CORE created new chapters all over the country, including one in Brooklyn, New York, which quickly established itself as one of the most audacious and dynamic chapters in the nation.

    InFighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings, historian Brian Purnell explores the chapter's numerous direct-action protest campaigns for economic justice and social equality. The group's tactics evolved from pickets and sit-ins for jobs and housing to more dramatic action, such as dumping trash on the steps of Borough Hall to protest inadequate garbage collection. The Brooklyn chapter's lengthy record of activism, however, yielded only modest progress. Its members eventually resorted to desperate measures, such as targeting the opening day of the 1964 World's Fair with a traffic-snarling "stall-in." After that moment, its interracial, nonviolent phase was effectively over. By 1966, the group was more aligned with the black power movement, and a new Brooklyn CORE emerged.

    Drawing from archival sources and interviews with individuals directly involved in the chapter, Purnell explores how people from diverse backgrounds joined together, solved internal problems, and earned one another's trust before eventually becoming disillusioned and frustrated.Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kingsadds to our understanding of the broader civil rights movement by examining how it was implemented in an iconic northern city, where interracial activists mounted a heroic struggle against powerful local forms of racism.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4184-8
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Maps and Illustrations
    (pp. viii-ix)
  4. Maps
    (pp. x-x)
  5. 1 Nostalgia, Narrative, and Northern Civil Rights Movement History
    (pp. 1-30)

    On February 3, 1964, one of the largest civil rights demonstrations in U.S. history occurred. Nearly half a million students boycotted a racially segregated municipal public school system as parents and activists demanded a plan for comprehensive desegregation. Ten years after the Supreme Court’sBrown v. Board of Educationdecision had declared racially segregated public schools unconstitutional, this city’s government had failed to desegregate the school system. The integration movement rallied behind a Christian minister, a man known for his eloquent, trenchant sermons against racial discrimination and poverty. He transformed his church into a movement headquarters, which organized racially integrated...

  6. 2 “Pass Them By! Support Your Brothers and Sisters in the South!”: The Origins of Brooklyn CORE
    (pp. 31-58)

    The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) formed in Chicago in 1942. Initially, CORE was a spin-off group of an interfaith, pacifist organization called the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). In the early 1940s a handful of FOR members formed CORE as an organization committed solely to attacking racial segregation in America. Like FOR, CORE was committed to philosophies of nonviolence promoted by the Indian anticolonial nationalist and pacifist leader Gandhi. The other pillar of CORE’s principles was its strict devotion to interracial membership. CORE hoped to create an interracial, nonviolent army that would end racial segregation in America with campaigns that...

  7. 3 Why Not Next Door? Battling Housing Discrimination, Case by Case
    (pp. 59-96)

    Housing discrimination was one of the most rampant forms of prejudice African Americans experienced in Brooklyn and in many other northern cities throughout the twentieth century. By the 1960s residential patterns in Brooklyn had taken on clearly visible racial borders, and nearly all the blacks in the borough lived in a racially segregated residential community whose epicenter was the neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant. Many Brooklynites, but especially whites who had at one point lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant or in neighborhoods surrounding it, such as Crown Heights, Brownsville, and East New York, blamed north-central Brooklyn’s postwar decline on black newcomers. Black Brooklynites’ identity...

  8. 4 Operation Unemployment: Breaking through the Color Line in Local Industries
    (pp. 97-128)

    When Oliver Leeds became chairman of Brooklyn CORE in January 1962, he inherited a membership that was small, socially cohesive, and very energetic, but also extremely disorganized. Aside from problems with its leadership, Brooklyn CORE lacked a regular meeting space, and the few general meetings that were held were unfocused and lasted for over three hours. The chapter’s Housing, Education, and Employment Committees discussed initiating investigations and staging campaigns, but they did little concrete planning. Brooklyn CORE’s Membership Committee also did a poor job of teaching CORE’s organizing philosophy and principles. The chapter was eager to continue building a movement...

  9. 5 Operation Clean Sweep: The Movement to Create a “First-Class Bedford-Stuyvesant”
    (pp. 129-170)

    Brooklyn CORE members chose to address the issue of inadequate garbage collection because the excessive trash was such an odious part of people’s everyday life in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and, by late 1962, after their work on housing and employment discrimination, they understood that, to build a powerful local protest movement, they would have to develop campaigns that connected with the grass roots and with local organizations. The housing cases and Ebinger’s campaign created a sense of camaraderie and trust among Brooklyn CORE’s members. The group’s unique ethos, represented in its democratic culture and penchant for audacious protest tactics, gave its members...

  10. 6 “A War for the Minds and Futures of Our Negro and Puerto Rican Children”: The Bibuld Family’s Fight to Desegregate Brooklyn’s Public Schools
    (pp. 171-208)

    In New York City during the 1960s, the race and class of a neighborhood’s inhabitants powerfully shaped the quality of education in its public schools. In economically stable communities, where residents’ incomes were at or above the city median, the schools seemed to work well. But in residential areas where the majority of people lived below the poverty line, public schools were plagued by numerous problems. In the twenty years after World War II, the poorest areas of Brooklyn became almost completely African American and Puerto Rican, and many children in those communities attended schools that were overcrowded, poorly staffed,...

  11. 7 “We Had Struggled in Vain”: Protest for Construction Jobs and Specters of Violence
    (pp. 209-248)

    Brooklyn CORE’s campaign to integrate the construction workforce building the Downstate Medical Center inspired tremendous community support and attracted over one hundred new affiliate members to the chapter’s ranks. The movement also set in motion conflicts between militants and reformers that would ultimately cause the chapter to move away from the types of demonstrations that made Brooklyn CORE able to gain audience with power brokers, as it did during the Ebinger’s campaign, the demonstrations against Lefrak, and its protests against infrequent garbage collection. For many reasons, the issue of discrimination in employment, especially discrimination in the construction industry, would be...

  12. 8 “A Gun at the Heart of the City”: The World’s Fair Stall-in and the Decline of Brooklyn CORE
    (pp. 249-278)

    After the Downstate campaign, the Young Turks waited for an opportune moment to launch their first full-scale attack against racial discrimination. The upcoming 1964–65 World’s Fair, which would take place in New York City, seemed like the ideal event. Nearly all the construction companies building the pavilions for the World’s Fair hired only white workers from racially exclusive unions. Brooklyn CORE’s new leadership saw this as an opportunity to continue the movement they had started during the Downstate campaign. But the Young Turks also had other plans for the World’s Fair, which would focus the attention of the entire...

  13. Conclusion: “Brooklyn Stands with Selma”
    (pp. 279-296)

    After the stall-in, Brooklyn CORE members struggled to find an action campaign. The Young Turks faded away from power. Isaiah Brunson disappeared from the organization. Oliver Leeds remembered that Brunson was so disturbed by the logistical failures of the stall-in that he never recognized its success in keeping people off the roads that day. The rest of his cohort stepped aside and let more moderate leaders come to the fore, although Arnold Goldwag remained as the public relations chairman.¹

    Many of the same people who had been members of Brooklyn CORE since 1960 remained involved to some degree, albeit in...

  14. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 297-298)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 299-332)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 333-346)
  17. Index
    (pp. 347-354)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 355-356)