The Civil Rights Movement on the Lower East Side

January 15, 2021

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The actions of the Civil Rights movement are most often associated with the South, but the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and the fight for Black Americans’ safety, freedom, and prosperity stretches from the streets of Birmingham to the streets of the Lower East Side.

This building, 64-66 Delancey Street, stands one block from the Tenement Museum’s buildings on the Lower East Side. A four-story tan brick building, it served as the headquarters for the downtown branch of CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality, from 1963-1966.

From these offices of Downtown CORE, Black and white New Yorkers planned sit-ins, organized fundraisers for New York and the South, and wrote reports. Across Lower Manhattan, they staged demonstrations, carried signs in the streets, and made speeches calling for attention to racial justice and poverty. The members of CORE fought for themselves and for others, dedicating time and energy to rooting out racial injustice on the Lower East Side that echoed the injustices in communities of color across the country.

Seven members of CORE, three white, four black, sit inside the entrance of a building a protest signs. A white woman walks through the protesters to enter.
Photo: John Rooney, "photo of Harlem CORE's 1963 City Hall sit in (1)," in Harlem CORE.

In the summer of 1963, Downtown CORE chapter chairman William ‘Chris’ Sprowal organized a group of chapter members to travel to Washington, DC for the March for Jobs and Freedom. There, perhaps they were in the crowd of thousands hearing Dr. Martin Luther King’s words, charging Americans to confront the past, to make real the promise of democracy, and to recognize the fierce urgency of now.

We’re learning and sharing stories of Downtown CORE because we know that by understanding a fuller history of the Lower East Side, we can honestly face, and challenge, the foundation of white supremacy in our nation. We draw inspiration from stories like this, of ordinary people who dedicate themselves to imagining a more just future for generations to come.