East River CORE

East River CORE can be seen as a unique synthesis of the ideas and methods of Bayard Rustin and Malcolm X. Its emphasis on standing up for the poor and organizing politically in local communities can also be seen as a precursor to the Black Power movement.

The story of East River CORE (ER CORE) starts with the fall of 1963 election for New York CORE (which became known as Harlem CORE) chairman. Incumbent Gladys Harrington ran against challengers Marshall England and Blyden Jackson (27, Black). Jackson, a former marine, was also a former chairman of New Haven CORE.

His supporters saw New York CORE as middle class, even bourgeois. While also integrationists, they saw themselves as more militant and class conscious, with more of a desire to work with the lower and working class people of Harlem, referred to as ‘the brothers downstairs’.

While there is some truth in the critique of New York CORE, it may have not been exactly accurate. England, for example, was a social worker who dealt specifically with gangs. Also notable is Harrington’s role as mentor to Harlem CORE’s Joe Jackson, Leonard DeChamps and Tony Spencer.

Because of the contentious nature of the election, many of Jackson’s supporters seceded and formed their own chapter, intending to call it Harlem CORE. Members of New York CORE, which may have already been using the name informally, objected to the group encroaching on their territory by establishing themselves in East Harlem. A meeting at Jim Farmer’s house in January, 1964, allowed for the chapter to operate in East Harlem but not use the name ‘Harlem’ in the title.

The River Rats
This first group had approximately forty members which seceded. Many were college and high school students and from lower/working class backgrounds. Informally known as the 'River Rats', ER CORE quickly grew to over one hundred active members and at least sixty associates by spring. However, according to Blyden Jackson, in reality sometimes as few as twelve could be counted as active members and only about twenty could be counted on for street work.

Many of this original group were not only socialists but also 'Rustinites' (Penn Kemble, Tom Kahn, Rachelle Horowitz, the Feldmans) and had worked closely with him organizing for the March on Washington. Rustin served on the chapter's advisory board along with Michael Harrington, author of 'The Other America' and a leading officer in both the Socialist Party and the League for Industrial Democracy.

Blyden Jackson, also a socialist and worker for the March on Washington, was more so representative of other members who were not committed to the idea of non-violent direct action. Although they would work with the concept as a tactic, these members might very well have struck back if attacked.

One example of this took place at a birthday party thrown by East River CORE members Arthur and Emmanuel Wiiliams (Black) for member Jeffrey Glick (White, 21). White racists who came out of a nearby Irish bar, some armed with pipes, physically attacked a group of CORE members from the party. The Whites harassed the CORE people specifically because their group was integrated. The CORE group not only defended themselves, they got the best of their attackers, five of whom were stabbed. The Williams brothers and Arthur Groce (Black, 19) were arrested for assault, Glick and Tony Spencer for misdemeanors. All were eventually found not guilty.

Jackson himself had a reputation with street brawling just in his everyday life. Also notable is Omar Abu Ahmed, a bodyguard and lieutenant for Malcolm X before he joined CORE.

This difference in opinion did not detract from the respect that these members had for Rustin, his experience in the movement and his leadership in the March on Washington. The chapter was also closely allied with Norm and Velma Hill, Rustin’s other right-hand people, who were national officers in CORE by this time.

Unlike the other CORE chapters, this group elected to be led by a steering committee, the equivalent of the standard chapter executive committee. The role of chairman was included in the chapter’s charter but that was not decided until its October, 1964 election. The steering committee was made up of: Willie Blackmon (Black, 21), Joseph Louis (Black, 21,), Zungara Tina Lawrence (Black, 23,), Penn Kemble (White, 23), Paul Feldman (White, 30), Charlie Saunders (Black, 18,), Emmanuel Williams (Black, 27) and Wayne Kinsler (Black). Blyden Jackson was often noted in the press as being the principal spokesman for the chapter.

Meetings were held at Chambers Memorial Baptist Church at 219 east 123rd street where the chapter rented an office on the church’s second floor.

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