Columbia University CORE

The Columbia University chapter of CORE, Columbia CORE, 'set the table' in that it played a large part in creating the environment that led to the 1968 student takeover of the Columbia University campus.

Columbia University sits on the upper west side of Manhattan just this side of Harlem, across 110th street. Columbia CORE formed in April of 1962. It had approximately 20 active members. Gerald Melniek was listed as chairman. Other officers included Dave Pittinsky, Marge Gettleman and Eli Minkoff.

In a sign of what was to come, Columbia CORE got involved early on in apartment testing. It used the CORE method of sending in a Black renter than a White to successfully determine if there was racial discrimination in off-campus housing listed in Columbia's registry.

As with other NYC CORE college chapters, however, much of Columbia CORE’s time was spent supporting CORE actions as opposed to initiating projects specific to the chapter.

It worked with Brooklyn CORE on its Ebinger’s campaign and New York CORE on its housing sit-ins. It participated in the Route 40 freedom rides and CORE’s campaigns against Howard Johnsons and 20th Century Fox’s film, The Longest Day, It also worked on petitions to support a bill making the minimum wage in NY State $1.50.

For CORE’s Sealtest campaign, Columbia CORE concentrated on ‘Spanish Harlem’ (east Harlem) with poster marches, rallies and bilingual leafleting. A photo in the student newspaper Columbia Spectator showed members Chuck Lieppe and other members on a November, 1962 poster walk. The article that accompanied it quoted a Sealtest executive at the scene admitting the demonstrations were ‘cutting into Sealtest business’.

In 1963, Reuel Liebert was chair, followed by Samuel Leiken. Other officers included: William H. Abrashkin, Pat Hornaday, and Micaela F. Hickey. Officers in 1964 included: Jeffrey Nichols, Bob Schapiro and Jemera Rone Flug. Paul J. Nyden was listed as chairman.

Columbia CORE, as part of CORE’s campaign against Schaeffer’s Beer, was part of the March 2, 1964 demonstration at the brewery’s main office in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. At least six members were arrested for sitting down in the truck driveway, a technique used by Brooklyn CORE in its Ebinger's campaign. Michael Flug, Hilton Clark (Black), Robert Miller, Louis Perez (Latino) were charged with resisting arrest. Sylvana Foa and Anne Jaffe were charged with disturbing the peace: Also arrested were two other Columbia students - Steven Galper and Mitch Kamen.

Columbia CORE members also protested at the Schaeffer pavilion during the World’s Fair demonstration that year. Among those arrested were: Michael Flug, Jemera Rone Flug, Joe Drew, Paul Nyden, Sylvana Foa, William Abrashkin, Patrick Brogan, Bob Schapiro, and Tom Schmidt. According to the Columbia Spectator, Louis Perez had a tooth knocked out while being arrested. It also reported the group at the Schaeffer Pavilion was led by Joe Lewis (of East River CORE).

Two members were chastised for not showing up for court to answer to the charges: Paul Jasper, who was suspended and Tom Bieber, who was expelled from the chapter for being ‘irresponsible’.

The large number of Columbia CORE members arrested during these two campaigns speaks to the importance of the college chapters in supporting CORE’s actions. They made up the troops used to back threats made by CORE that forced opposing companies and agencies to negotiate.

Columbia CORE’s position began to shift that year to something akin to that of East River CORE, a chapter directly influenced by the ideas and methods of both Bayard Rustin and Malcolm X. By the end of the year, Columbia CORE's correspondence to the national office stated that ‘CORE chapters in New York should concentrate on problems within the ghetto’. City wide and national campaigns such as those against Sealtest, Schaeffer’s and Trailways buses ‘were designed to end patterns of discrimination in private corporations’. ‘Columbia CORE believes we should begin to organize the unskilled, uneducated poor now to demand useful employment through the federal, state, and local government.’

To illustrate, the chapter got involved in a dispute between food management at Columbia and cafeteria workers. A group of workers, more Puerto Ricans than Blacks, from Columbia University’s John Jay cafeteria came to Columbia CORE for help. They wanted to unionize but were not being allowed to. Columbia CORE created a campaign to deal with the problem calling for higher wages and pointing out the discriminatory practices of Columbia’s management.

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