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The “Shakedown Gang”: Roy Innis and the New Congress of Racial Equality (CORE)

Guest post by Patrick Jones

Founded in 1942 by an inter-racial group of pacifist students in Chicago, including George Houser, James Farmer, Anna Murray and Bayard Rustin, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) became one of the most important and influential civil rights organizations in the United States until the end of the 1960s. Profoundly influenced by the writing of Henry David Thoreau and the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, CORE organized the Journey of Reconciliation in 1947 and the 1961 Freedom Rides, and also played a crucial role during the student sit-in movement of the early-1960s, the 1963 March On Washington and the 1964 Mississippi “Freedom Summer” Project. CORE chapters were also involved in struggles for racial justice throughout the urban North, organizing rent strikes and a variety of campaigns to end employment and housing discrimination, segregated public schooling and police brutality.

Since 1968 when Roy Innis, one of today’s most prominent black conservatives, wrested control of the organization away from Farmer and others, CORE has become an affront to the group's founding principles and to its important contributions to the struggle for racial justice in the forties, fifties and sixties. Under Innis’s leadership, CORE has moved sharply right, aligning itself with the Republican Party, conservative think-tanks, anti-environmental organizations and large multi-national corporations, including drug companies like Monsanto, who give it large donations. The organization rarely engages in direct action and does not appear to have a significant grassroots membership, relying instead on its sizable contributions from Right-wing think-tanks and corporate donors to lobby in favor of their favorite conservative issues.

Roy Innis came to power within CORE during the Black Power era after a tumultuous and divisive internal struggle. He led the drive away from inter-racialism and toward an increasingly conservative black nationalism/capitalism. According to one former member of the group, Innis opposed the leadership of Gladys Harrington, the long-time head of the New York chapter of CORE, saying that women should not head black organizations. During the 1970s, Innis and CORE supported the murderous Ugandan dictator and Nazi sympathizer, Idi Amin, stating, "Ugandans are happy under General Amin's rule of Africa for black Africans” and terming the despot’s decision to expel 50,000 Asians from the country "a bold step." The following decade, Innis reportedly said “the so-called anti-Apartheid struggle” was "a vicarious, romantic adventure" with "no honest base." Also in the 1980s, Innis teamed with Bob Grant, the right-wing radio host who at one point called Dr. King a "scumbag," to form the Howard Beach Legal Defense Fund, which assisted a group of white youths who had chased a black man into the street to his death in a racial attack. Innis supported the nomination of Robert Bork to the Supreme Court and publicly defended “subway vigilante” Bernhard Goetz who shot and killed four African American youth on a subway in New York City in 1984.

More recently, the group organized an anti-Greenpeace campaign to uncover what it calls "eco-imperialism" on the left. Under Innis’s leadership, CORE has instigated or participated in a variety of campaigns to support and protect multinational corporations in their relentless pursuit of profit over worker/human rights and respect for the natural environment. CORE also defended Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott after his sympathetic comments about Senator Strom Thurmond's "Dixiecrat" run for President in 1948. In 2000, Innis supported extreme right-wing candidate Alan Keyes’s unsuccessful bid for the presidency. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he told Justice Department officials that young African American Muslims in prison and at colleges were ripe for terrorist recruitment ("a clear and present danger," in his estimation). During a February 2005 speech, Innis lamented "liberals coming into Black churches" and "the 1500 black children aborted every day." He also said it is a myth that "slavery has done some irreparable harm [to African Americans].” Addressing the supposed dearth of black leadership in the U.S. today, Innis reportedly said, "We have a black leadership; George Bush is our leader." In April 2005, CORE sent a letter to the Senate encouraging an end to the filibuster in order to get President Bush's upcoming Supreme Court nominees through the process. CORE has also advocated an abstinence-first policy to combat AIDS in Africa and has criticized the UN ban on DDT in Africa calling it a means to hold back those nations from "modernizing." Roy Innis has served on the boards of the Hudson Institute, a Right-Wing think-tank, the Landmark legal Foundation, which led the charge against Bill Clinton in the 90s, the National Traditionalist Caucus, a group that works against women’s rights and equality for gays and lesbians, and the National Rifle Association. Innis has also been a featured speaker at a Christian Coalition gathering.

Niger Innis, Roy’s son, acts as CORE’s public spokesperson and has taken an increasing leadership role in the organization over the past few years. In early 2005, Niger called WV Senator Robert Byrd a "racist" for delaying confirmation of Condaleeza Rise as Secretary of State. Niger occasionally writes for the National Review and has spoken at the American Conservative Union's annual Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC] on several occasions, which is billed as the “largest gathering of conservative political activists in the country." He is a board member of the Alliance for Marriage, which seeks a constitutional amendment to define marriage solely as a union of a man and a woman, and “Project 21,” which bills itself as a "National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives.” During a recent interview supporting John Roberts’s nomination for the Supreme Court, Niger Innis called African Americans who vote for Democrats "useful fools."

Over the past few years, CORE has honored a series of individuals at their annual Martin Luther King, Jr., celebration who are hostile to racial justice and human rights, including Jorg Haider, Australian politician and Nazi-sympathizer, Bob Grant and President George W. Bush’s political architect, Karl Rove, claiming Rove's “mission is to fully integrate our people in every aspect.” In 2006, the group is scheduled to honor Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, UN Secretary John Bolton, and Pfizer Vice-President Rich Bagger.

James Farmer called CORE under Roy Innis's leadership a "shakedown gang." Glen Ford and Peter Gamble, prominent black journalists, have written that CORE now has "a tin cup outstretched to every Hard Right political campaign or cause that finds it convenient - or a sick joke - to hire black cheerleaders" and describe Innis as a "gangster 'civil rights' caricature." Shiela Michaels, a long-time civil rights activist, has written that Innis has “shamed the name of CORE.” Dr. Herschelle S. Challenor, Professor at Clark Atlanta University, in a 2000 speech at the U.S. embassy in Kinshasa, drew this comparison between James Farmer's leadership of CORE and Innis's: "James Farmer, the leader of CORE during the highpoint of the civil rights movement, was a bright, dedicated activist of unimpeachable integrity. His immediate successor, Roy Innis was seen as a chameleon prepared to change his political ideology as necessary. There were rumors that he worked in later years as an FBI informant."

This summary was culled from a variety of print and online sources. It is intended as a public service, rather than a piece of formal or original academic work.

{ 4 comments… add one }
  • Brandon December 18, 2005, 8:14 pm

    I’m borrowing this for my blog.

  • Christopher King December 27, 2005, 11:02 pm

    Those guys totally ignored my case because it doesn’t do anything for them politically.



    online movies at the website and check my name for an interesting dialogue i started at dailykos on jewish-black relations.


    no justice, no peace.

  • NewsGuy February 26, 2006, 1:18 am

    You may remember two of Bob Grant’s more famous callers to his show, Frank from Queens and John of Staten Island.

    They have been doing their own talk radio show for the past 7 years, “The Right Perspective.” It is now heard on shortwave WWCR 3.215 Mhz every Friday night at 10pm EST.

    You can also hear the show over the Internet at http://www.therightperspective.com and catch full archives of the show at http://therightperspectivepodcastblog.blogspot.com

  • BLAIDS March 26, 2007, 12:10 pm

    Recently, on same sex marriage and Black health in the U.S.- “When you say to society at large that you have to accept, not only accept our lifestyle, but promote it and put it on the same plane and equate it with traditional marriage, that’s where we draw the line and we say ‘no.’ That’s not something that is a civil right. That is not something that is a human right,” said Niger Innis, national spokesman for CORE, and son of Roy Innis. Niger Innis is on the board of the conservative Project 21 organization. An HIV/AIDS advocacy, education and prevention program for Black Women was dismantled.

    In 1966, James Farmer one of the founders of CORE, said in a Village Voice interview: “this organization has become fraudulent and now existed only to serve the Innis Dynasty”.

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