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80 Charles E. Jones 80 The tribute in honor of the late James Farmer held in Washington, D.C., on September 10, 1999, underscored the Congress of Racial Equality’s (CORE) historic role in the struggle for African American equality.1 CORE, cofounded by Farmer in 1942, was a forerunner to the nonviolent, direct-action Civil Rights Movement that successfully dismantled de jure segregation in the 1960s. A decade before the 1955 Martin Luther King Jr.–led Montgomery bus boycott, CORE activists systematically employed an array of protest tactics challenging racial discrimination in the nation’s northern cities. In May 1961 CORE launched the legendary Freedom Rides, which confronted Jim Crowism in the cradle of the old Confederacy. Indeed, the vicious beatings of CORE activists and the fire bombing of their bus by a mob of White racists in Anniston, Alabama , remains one of the more horrific images of the modern Civil Rights Movement. Similarly, the disappearance and brutal murder of three CORE members—James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner—finally awakened the nation to southern White terrorism. As a prominent member of the civil rights coalition, CORE helped to secure the passage of significant Civil Rights legislation. In short, as August Meier and Elliot Rudwick have concluded , “CORE’s contribution to the Black protest movement and to racial advancement had, in fact, been enormous.”2 During the mid–1960s CORE underwent a dramatic ideological transformation . It evolved from a biracial, pacifist, integrationist organization into one with an allegiance to Black nationalism. During the Black nationalism period (1966– 1979) CORE activists refocused their early efforts on grassroots community Five Charles E. Jones From Protest to Black Conservatism The Demise of the Congress of Racial Equality From Protest to Black Conservatism 81 organizing, particularly in the urban northern setting. Instead of interracialism, CORE now advocated Black self-determination, economic development, racial pride, and the eradication of police brutality. In the final years of its Black nationalist stage, a host of maladies afflicted CORE. Fund-raising scandals, questionable policy ventures, and the personal aggrandizement of leadership left the organization in disarray. Beginning in 1980, CORE drifted to the ideological Right. By 1983 Manning Marable observed that “CORE has retreated from the vanguard of progressive struggle into the open arms of reaganism, racism and economic reaction from ‘Black Power’ of the 1960s. CORE and its leader Roy Innis have abandoned their militant history for acceptance into the posh corridors of the ruling military industrial complex.”3 CORE’s current conservative orientation is an important yet neglected post– Civil Rights era development. This chapter seeks to explain CORE’s conservative metamorphosis, which has resulted in the ignoble demise of the once illustrious Civil Rights organization. Informed by the client-relation construct, a salient dynamic of African American politics, CORE’s organizational permutations are examined by highlighting the leadership, goals, tactics, and major activities of the three respective phases. The analysis asserts that CORE shifted to the political right in order to resurrect the organization. It further posits that CORE’s waning status led to the adoption of political objectives that paralleled the interest of powerful conservative elites in order to reinvigorate the impotent organization. A discussion of the theoretical lens initiates the following analysis of CORE’s ideological transformation. In order to demarcate CORE’s evolution into a Black conservative interest group, a brief historical synopsis of the organization’s integrationist phase (1942–1965) is given. Afterwards , the chapter moves to an examination of the organization’s Black nationalist period (1966–1979). CORE’s conservative organizational dynamics (1980–1999) are analyzed in the subsequent section, and the chapter concludes with an assessment of the role of CORE in contemporary African American politics. Client Relation Politics: A Theoretical Explanation How does one account for CORE’s vast ideological fluctuations, which transformed the once militant protest group into a Black conservative political organization? Students of social movements offer a host of theoretical explanations for the transformation and demise of social movement organizations. Scholars stress the importance of broader external forces as evident in the political process model formulated by Doug McAdam. Conversely, other theorists emphasize the role of internal factors such as the psychological makeup of the membership (collective behavior model), organization capacity (resource 82 Charles E. Jones mobilization theory), and charismatic leadership (theory of charismatic movements ).4 While each of these theoretical perspectives contributes to our understanding of the organization’s evolution into a Black conservative interest group, this essay demonstrates that CORE’s...


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