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Congress of Racial Equality Archives, Chicago Chapter

Identifier: harsh-2007-02

Scope and Contents

The Chicago Chapter of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) Archives contain the papers of Chicago CORE, its Southside subchapter, Metropolitan CORE and the National CORE. The Chicago CORE chapter records include constitutions and by-laws, committee minutes, manuscripts, programs and clippings. Of interest are the constitution and by-laws for the Southside chapter, and a letter sent by Faith Rich detailing CORE’s activities in the Chicago school campaign in 1963. Also included are clippings that detail the organization’s activities from 1961 to 1965, such as Freedom Rides and the anti-slum campaign. The Metropolitan CORE papers consist of constitutions and by-laws, membership committee records, manuscripts, correspondence, programs and serials. Following the Metropolitan CORE records are papers of the National CORE. These papers consist of its 1961 constitution, parliamentary procedures and a manuscript entitled, “Tenant Organizing Techniques.”

The Chicago Chapter of CORE Archives also include subject files on the American Friends Service Committee and the Young Peoples Socialist League; audio and written interviews of CORE members, such as Don Watanabe, Milton Davis and Francine Cleo Wilson; and 24 photographs of CORE and its members. These photographs include images of the Freedom Riders Press Conference in 1961 and Chicago Board of Education demonstrations in 1963.


  • Creation: 1947 - 1990

Conditions Governing Access

Materials are open without restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Please consult staff to determine ability to reuse materials from collection.

Biographical / Historical

The Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) was founded in Chicago in 1942 as the Committee of Racial Equality (the organization underwent a name change in 1944) by African American and white student activists who were staunch believers in pacifism and committed to the abolition of racial discrimination. Under the leadership of James Farmer and George Houser, both of whom were students at the University of Chicago, CORE pioneered the use of nonviolent tactics, such as sit-ins, jail-ins, picket lines, freedom rides and other forms of civil disobedience, to assault segregation in public accommodations, housing, education and employment. By the 1960s, CORE emerged as one of the leading civil rights organizations in the nation.

During its early years, CORE was primarily “a loose collection of chapters dependent on volunteers rather than a true national organization.” It organized sit-ins and picket lines to protest segregation in public accommodations and had success in integrating public facilities throughout the North. Yet despite these successes, the organization began to decline during the late 1940s and early 1950s. It struggled to obtain “the funds necessary to employ a staff and create a permanent administration,” suffered from internal disagreements over leadership and strategies, and consequently witnessed the closing of several of its chapters.

One of the chapters that became inactive during this period was the Chicago chapter – CORE’s founding chapter and once one of the organization’s most active and militant chapters. During the 1940s and 1950s, the Chicago chapter succeeded in desegregating several Chicago restaurants and businesses such as the White City Roller Rink in 1946. It reorganized in the early 1960s and mounted hard-hitting campaigns against "de facto" segregation in schools, housing and employment. For example, in 1963, the chapter sat in at the Board of Education to protest the construction of mobile classrooms for overcrowded Black schools. It also fought for the elimination of slum housing and led open housing campaigns. On Sept. 4, 1966 Chicago CORE chairman Robert Lucas led over 250 marchers through Cicero to demand desegregation of housing. The efforts of the Chicago chapter typified CORE activities in the North during the 1960s.

On the national level, CORE was revived in the mid-1950s because of the continued dedication of its remaining members as well as a renewed sense of purpose gained from the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. CORE decided to channel the majority of its energies on the South. In 1955 the organization provided the Montgomery bus boycott with its philosophical commitment to nonviolence and dispatched LeRoy Carter, an African American field secretary, to provide support. When the Greensboro sit-ins began in February 1960, CORE members rushed to North Carolina to provide guidance for action and organized demonstrations to support the protesters. In the summer of 1961 CORE organized the Freedom Rides, a series of confrontational bus rides throughout the South by African American and white CORE members to end segregated interstate buses and terminals. CORE also co-sponsored the March on Washington, participated in President John F. Kennedy’s Voter Education Project, and contributed leadership and resources to the Mississippi Freedom Summer project.

In 1966 James Farmer – who became the organization’s first national chairman and national director in February 1961 – retired from CORE. He was succeeded by Floyd B. McKissick. McKissick’s election marked a drastic shift in the organization’s philosophy and tactics, from nonviolence and interracialism to Black Power and nationalism. Two years later, in 1968, CORE underwent another shift when McKissick was replaced by Roy Innis. With Innis at the helm, CORE became politically conservative on issues ranging from civil rights legislation and foreign policy to gun control and welfare. Consequently, many lifetime CORE members, including Farmer, severed all ties with the organization.

Sources: Anderson, Alan B. and George W. Pickering. Confronting the Color Line: The Broken Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago . Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1987.

Bell, Inge Powell. CORE and the Strategy of Nonviolence . New York: Random House, 1968.

Clarkin, Thomas. “Congress of Racial Equality.” In The Encyclopedia of Civil Rights in America , vol. 1, ed. David Bradley and Shelley Fisher Fishkin. Armonk, New York: Sharpe Reference, 1998.

Farmer, James. Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement . New York: Arbor House, 1985.

George, Carol V. R. “Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).” In Encyclopedia of African-American Culture and History , vol. 2, ed. Colin A. Palmer. Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2006.

Meier, August and Elliot Rudwick. CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 1942-1968 . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975.

Robinson, Jo Ann O. “Congress of Racial Equality.” In Encyclopedia of African-American Civil Rights: From Emancipation to Present , ed. Charles D. Lowry and John F. Marszalek. New York: Greenword Press, 1992.

Smith, Preston H., II. “Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).” In Encyclopedia of Chicago , ed. James R. Grossman. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.


2 Linear Feet (in 2 boxes, 6 cassette tapes and 24 photographs)

Language of Materials



CORE, a national civil rights organization, began in Chicago in 1942, with protests to force desegregation of restaurants and other public accommodations. These archives cover the period of the early and mid-1960s, when Chicago CORE’s membership was at its height. Records include meeting minutes, correspondence, flyers, programs, news clippings and photographs.


This collection has been arranged into two series:

Series 1: Manuscripts, 1947-1990 This series is organized by CORE chapters, beginning with Chicago CORE and followed by the Metropolitan CORE and the National CORE. The materials are then organized by type of material.

Series 2: Audiovisual matierials, 1961-1990 This series is arranged by type (audio cassette tapes and photographs), and then chronologically.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Collection donated by John Stuckey via Don Watanabe in 2007.

Guide to the Congress of Racial Equality Archives, Chicago Chapter
Originally processed by Mapping the Stacks Staff: Melissa Barton, Doron Galili, Moira Hinderer, Celeste Day Moore, Traci Parker, Christina Petersen, Marcia Walker. Revised by Elizabeth Loch, 2020.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English

Repository Details

Part of the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection Repository

Woodson Regional Library
Chicago Public Library
9525 S. Halsted Street
Chicago IL 60628 United States
(312) 745-2080