7 Arts CORE

The 7 Arts chapter of CORE was a specialized chapter in that its goal was to specifically break the color line on Broadway and desegregate the theater arts world.

The origins of this group are in a January, 1962 meeting between Norm Hill and a group of black actors and actresses (including Yaphet Kotto of Bronx CORE) who were interested in doing something about racism in the entertainment industry. Out of this meeting came the Committee for the Employment of Negro Performers (CENP) led by Charles Gordone and Godfrey Cambridge (both Black). Although a separate organization, it worked so closely (and successfully) with CORE on several campaigns some saw it as a subsidiary of CORE.

Starting in March, the two organizations began picketing two Broadway shows, Subways are for Sleeping, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, stories which were based in New York City but featured no non-White actors.

The first success in this joint campaign to integrate Broadway came when the previously all White show, Fiorello, agreed to hire at least ‘five Negro performers and one Oriental’.

The two groups also took on the film, The Longest Day, in a nation wide protest over its exclusion of any images of Black troops, despite the fact hundreds were at D-Day. This led to direct negotiations with Daryl Zanuck, producer of the film and, as president of 20th Century Fox, one of biggest power brokers in Hollywood. He agreed to a non-discriminatory casting policy and urged other members of the Motion Picture Association to take similar action.

By ‘pushing to comply with directives urging non-discriminatory casting on all shows’, CORE and the CENP also got the television broadcasting companies NBC and CBS to agree to not just hire Blacks but to hire them in significant roles for shows.

The 7 Arts chapter began because of the March on Washington. At least three hundred theater people, many of whom were involved in the CORE/CENP actions, marched under the banner of the Theater Committee. The day’s success led many of them to form the Theater Chapter of CORE. Its membership was made up primarily of actors, directors, various techs and musicians. It included members from the CENP such as Hugh Hurd, Leslie Rivers and Alice Webb. Other members such as Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee and Godfrey Cambridge served on the advisory committee.

Like most other chapters in the city, the membership was approximately half White, half Black. There were some Latinos who would have been considered Afro-Latinos and at least one Asian couple, Yuri and Bill Kochiyama. Perhaps because of the unique nature of the chapter, it seems to have been free of much of the racial animosity that plagued other chapters.
Frances Foster and Juanita Bethea, two Black actresses, were the first co-chairmen. Other officers included: Barbara Colton, Terry Foster, Rich Kanehl, Lenka Peterson, Elna Laun, Beryl Towbin, Valerie Harper, Conrad Bromberg, Abigail Kellogg, Allyn Monroe, Burrell Smith, Rochelle Davis, Loretta Young, Milt Larkin. Each position and committee specifically had co-officers to cover one another. The nature of being in show business meant it might have been necessary to go out of town at any given moment.

By the beginning of 1964, the chapter counted two hundred members and changed its name to the 7 Arts chapter of CORE. Its first office was in room 507 at 303 W. 42nd st. Approximately thirty to fifty people attended the regular meetings held at St. Clements Church, 423 W. 46th street.

Projects were elected as complaints came in. Emphasis was placed on issues dealing with the entertainment industry but it also worked on issues of housing, employment, and education. For example, 7 Arts participated in the first Citywide School Boycott in February 1964. At least two members, Joan Gethers and Theodore Wilson, was arrested at the World's Fair demonstrations. It also participated in the May 18th March for Democratic Schools and the demonstration at City Hall. Frances Foster herself worked in one of the Freedom Schools set up in Harlem for the day.

7 Arts (with Godfrey Cambridge) also played a major role in CORE’s TV Image campaign, the highly successful national effort to integrate the advertising industry by hiring Blacks for television commercials. CORE historians Meier and Rudwick argued the victory also helped in ‘changing the racial perceptions of millions’.

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