New York University CORE

The New York University (NYU) chapter of CORE, NYU CORE was the shot heard ‘round the world in terms of the NYC rent strike movement during the mid to late 1960’s.

NYU is located in downtown Manhattan in Greenwich Village. NYU CORE formed September 1961. Like Columbia CORE, it pointed a light at segregated policies in NYU straight out the gate by focusing on discrimination in NYU’s fraternities.

NYU CORE claimed frats and sororities at the university discriminated when it came to race, religion and nationality. The organization responsible for supervising fraternities denied the charges. NYU CORE did find and present evidence directly from the constitution of Delta Phi Epsilon which limited membership based on race and religion.

Early Demonstrations
NYU CORE also participated in demonstrations against the New York Athletic Club (NYAC) at Madison Square Garden for its discrimination against Blacks and Jews. NYU had its own athletes participating in track meets there. Years later, other activists such as Omar Abu Ahmed of East River CORE in 1968 were still demonstrating against NYAC for its continuing its discriminatory practices.

Like other NYC college chapters at the time, NYU CORE worked hard in the beginning mostly supporting larger CORE campaigns such as the Route 40 freedom rides. The campaign took members to Baltimore where they participated in a series of demonstrations. NYU CORE received special notice in November for picketing the Maryland governor’s mansion in Annapolis around the clock for three days.

The demonstartion was successful in getting an ordinance passed which eliminated segregation in public accommodations in that city. NYU CORE members Bonnie Kilstein and Sue Rothberg were singled out in the press for their contributions. Both had been arrested and jailed for one week during which Kilstein went on a 5 day hunger strike. Kilstein had been the head of NYU’s NAACP chapter before joining NYU CORE. She resigned from NYU CORE soon after her hunger strike because of rumors of communist infiltration and continued working with SNCC instead.

Other students such as Jeff Kalb, Joel Freedman and Morton Sweet continued participating in the Route 40 rides up until April of 1962.

The chapter like other NYU student groups had its office in the Loeb Student Center. By February, 1962, NYU CORE reported 37 active members and 14 associates. Its first head was Howard Green, who was replaced by Robert M. Fiore as chairman. Other officers included: Luke H. Jones, Barbarra Sbarria, Sandra Henderson, Joel Freedman, Steve Kosloff, Diane Zelnick and David Moscowitz.

NYU CORE appears to have been pretty adept at fund raising. A series of concerts over four days in February, 1962 had jazz giants Dizzy Gillespie and Oscar Brown, jr. scheduled to perform as a benefit for the chapter at the Village Gate.

NYU CORE and The NYC Rent Strikes
NYU CORE was best known, however, for its unique contribution to the rent strike movement that took place in the mid 1960’s.

NYU CORE in February, 1963 began inspection of a number of buildings in the heart of the Lower East Side (LES). This was a section of downtown Manhattan considered a ghetto especially in contrast to NYU’s west side location. Following the CORE Rules of Action, NYU CORE's investigation of conditions found rats, roaches, holes in walls, broken windows, inadequate heat and trash pick up. The tenants were mostly Black and Puerto Rican.

According to the chapter’s research, approximately ‘25 slumlords control and hold over 80% of’ the buildings on the LES. One group of buildings - 203, 205, 207, 209, 211 and 215 on Eldridge street - were all owned by one man, Hyman Kaplowitz. NYU CORE’s investigation discovered that even though he had previously been convicted of violating housing laws forty seven times, he had never been jailed.

NYU CORE attempted to negotiate by notifying the city’s fire, health and buildings departments, but no action was taken by the landlord or the city. NYU CORE’s next step was to engage in direct action.

In May, NYU CORE, with help from Downtown CORE and the East Side Tenants Council, picketed Kaplowitz’ office for a week. Demands called for: slumlords to be prosecuted by the Department of Buildings, the Rent Control office, the Health and Fire departments; enforced rent control laws; action by the city to protect minority groups from exploitation and discrimination of slumlords; and for the courts to enforce the laws.

Within days, building inspectors were sent to the Eldridge street tenements. Kaplowitz agreed to repair them but ultimately nothing was done. NYU CORE’s pressure did succeed in getting rent reductions, from 33 1/3% to 50%, for tenants in each of the buildings.

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