Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn

By Frost, Jennifer | The Journal of Southern History, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn


Frost, Jennifer, The Journal of Southern History


Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: The Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn. By Brian Purnell. Civil Rights and the Struggle for Black Equality in the Twentieth Century. (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky 2013. Pp. [x], 353. $40.00, ISBN 978-0-8131-4182-4.)

Brian Purnell has written an important book about an important subject: the Brooklyn, New York, chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) during the first half of the 1960s. In these years, Brooklyn CORE sought to realize the national organization's commitments to building an interracial movement and using nonviolent direct action to achieve the goal of racial equality. Through its consistent, confrontational activism centered on racial discrimination and inequities in housing, employment, education, and city services, the Brooklyn chapter became one of the most well known and influential CORE chapters in the United States. By focusing on community-based activism in the urban North, Purnell advances the new, revisionist historiography on the civil rights movement. In offering one of the first examinations of a local chapter, he also substantially aids our historical understanding of the significance and impact of CORE, a relatively understudied national civil rights organization. This book succeeds in combining a fine-grained local study with attention to national context and events.

Drawing on a wealth of primary sources, including nearly forty oral interviews, Purnell explores the personalities, conflicts, negotiations, successes, and failures of the Brooklyn chapter in rich detail. His thorough research yields an invaluable depiction of the everyday, nitty-gritty issues and experiences of organizing for social and political change. The membership of Brooklyn CORE was demographically and politically diverse. In addition to a mix of black, white, Jewish, Protestant, male, female, middle-aged, and younger participants, the chapter had members affiliated with the Old Left, mainstream liberalism, the emerging New Left, and what would come to be called Black Power. …

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