By Brian Purnell
Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History
Winner of the New York State Historical Association 2012 Dixon Ryan Fox Manuscript Prize
On April 9, 1947, the Congress for Racial Equality (CORE) began the Journey of Reconciliation to challenge segregation laws on interstate buses in the South. A few days later, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball. Despite these national civil rights achievements, CORE barely survived the 1950s and black Brooklynites continued to to live with racial discrimination. In 1960, the southern student sit-ins revived civil rights organizations like CORE. That summer, a chapter grew in Brooklyn and immediately became a leader in the fight against northern forms of Jim Crow racism.
In Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn, historian Brian Purnell explores the chapter's efforts to shape the northern civil rights debate around issues of economic justice and social equality. He documents their nonviolent protests, which helped establish CORE's reputation as one of the most dynamic civil rights organizations of the era. Their tactics evolved from pickets and sit-ins for the neighborhood integration to more dramatic protests, such as Operation Clean Sweep, in which the activists dumped garbage on the steps of Borough Hall.
Unfortunately, the Brooklyn chapter's lengthy record of activism led to only modest progress. Frustrated by how little could be achieved by "acceptable" means, the chapter eventually resorted to desperate measures, such as targeting the opening day of the 1964 World's Fair with a traffic-snarling "stall-in." Disillusioned with the shift in tactics and lack of clear goals, and disturbed by desegregation's negligible influence on systematic racial discrimination, many veteran members of Brooklyn CORE moved on to other forms of activism, effectively ending the chapter's phase of interracial, non-violent, direct-action protest. By 1966, the chapter was more aligned with the black power movement.
During the early 1960s, Brooklyn CORE's audacious and dynamic demonstrations and its masterful use of the media forced citizens and community leaders alike to recognize the racial discrimination that was hiding in plain sight. Drawing from archival sources and interviews with individuals directly involved in the protests, Purnell explores how people from diverse backgrounds joined together, fought for equality, solved internal problems, and earned one another's trust. Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings adds to our understanding of the broader civil rights movement by examining how it was implemented in the urban North.
-From the jacket.