Activist Roy Innis, Leader of Congress of Racial Equality, Dead at 82

Roy Innis
New York Times screenshot

Roy Innis, the national leader of the Congress of Racial Equality, died Sunday in New York City at the age of 82, according to the New York Times. A statement from CORE said that the cause of death was complications of Parkinson’s disease.

As the Times notes, Innis had been a national leader of CORE since 1968. He also had right-wing views on affirmative action, law enforcement, desegregation and other issues that put him at odds with many black Americans and civil rights leaders.


Innis came to prominence after Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young and James Farmer had taken command of the civil rights movement, and as noted by the Times, he did not share their commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience.

Innis was born in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, on June 6, 1934, according to CORE. He moved to New York City with his mother in 1946 and joined the U.S. Army at the age of 16, receiving an honorable discharge at the age of 18. He followed his service in the Army with a four-year program in chemistry at the City College of New York.


He joined CORE’s Harlem chapter in 1963 and was elected chairman of the chapter’s education committee in 1964. He became what CORE describes as a “forceful advocate” of community-controlled education and black empowerment and led CORE’s fight for an independent police review board to address reports of police brutality. In 1965, after he was elected chairman of Harlem CORE, he mounted a vigorous campaign for the establishment of an independent board of education for Harlem.

In 1968 Innis was elected national director of CORE. That year he drafted the Community Self-Determination Bill of 1968, which received bipartisan support from one-third of the Senate and more than 50 House members, according to CORE. It was the first time that a bill drafted by a black group was introduced into Congress.


Innis remained national director of CORE until 1982, when he became national chairman.

As noted by the Times, Innis did not embrace CORE’s desegregation efforts, and in fact championed segregated schools to encourage black achievement, black self-help groups, black business enterprises and community control of police, fire, hospital, sanitation and other services in poor black neighborhoods.


“In America today,” Innis told a national CORE convention, “there are two kinds of black people: the field-hand blacks and the house niggers. We of CORE—the nationalists—are the field-hand blacks. The integrationists of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People are house niggers.”

As the Times notes, the reaction was explosive, and it set the tone for decades of strife.


Read more at the New York Times and CORE.

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