Originally known as the Committee for Racial Equality, CORE started in 1942 in Chicago as a project within the pacifist organization the Fellowship of Reconciliation. It's goal was to end the Jim Crow system of segregation and 'get rid of the color line'. Influenced by the nonviolent philosophy of Gandhi, it pioneered the use of nonviolent direct action in the United States (U.S.) through sit-ins and demonstrations. Although dedicated to inter-racialism, the membership for its first twenty years was mostly White. It was also primarily based in the North. Its national office moved as its Executive Director George Houser moved. After he came to New York City (NYC) in 1948, CORE has been headquartered here ever since.
Along with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), National Urban League and the Southern Christian Leadership Committee (SCLC), CORE was one of the most important organizations of the civil rights movement. Its decentralized hierarchy oversaw autonomous chapters all across the country which focused on issues such as the right to vote, housing, employment and education.
Inspired by the 1960 student sit-in at the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, CORE began a national campaign of sit-ins and demonstrations against the Woolworth chain stores. Combined with the Freedom Rides of 1961, these two campaigns marked a renaissance for CORE as the protests brought them increased public standing and membership. Dubbed ‘the wild child of the civil rights movement’, CORE was seen as the cutting edge of the freedom struggle.
Each of the NYC chapters was relatively small, average size being fifty to a hundred people.
Each chapter would have its own variation, but the administrative hierarchy of the chapters was based off how labor unions were organized. This consisted of a chairman, vice chairman, treasurer and at least one person, an office manager, who was responsible for the majority of the administrative work in the office on a daily basis. The chair and office mangager would recieve a stipend of approximately fifteen dollars a week, if that. Each of these positions was also included in the Executive Committee made up of the most active members. Some chapters choose to be run by steering committees.
Elections took place annually between late October and
early November. General meetings were held at least once monthly, in some chapters, weekly. The closed
meeting of the executive committee would often be followed by the general meeting which
was open to the public. Because members came and went, only active members
could vote. Clear distinctions were made between active and part time
members. Requirements for membership varied by chapter but generally one had to put
in consistent work to be considered an active member.
That meant being part of a committee, taking part in demonstrations
and attending general meetings. Getting arrested was not a requirment but was often seen as a badge of honor.
The chapters themselves were organized on a city wide level with in the Metropolitan Area Coordinating Council (MACC). Representatives from each chapter met once a month in order to make sure chapters did not butt heads, to improve communication between local chapters, share ideas and information, and become more effective. On the national level, chapters were organized by region. The office for the Northeast region by 1964 was in Harlem.
The first members of CORE were mostly pacifists. Many were divinity students, usually Christian. Some such as Jim Peck, James Robinson and Houser were conscientious objectors who went so far as to chose prison rather than fight in World War II and possibly be forced to kill.
Most of the members who came in during the 1950's and 1960's like Norm and Velma Hill or Marv and Evie Rich, were not. To them, nonviolent direct action was a tactic, a technique to be used in protests, the only one that would work under such circumstances being in America.
CORE being specifically an interracial group was seen as significant due to the power of the image of both Black and White members working together. Houser saw it as the counter argument to those who would claim: Blacks were the ones causing problems by protesting; Blacks and Whites could not live much less work together.