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Sit-in for Change

By Amy Lau

Posted on January 19, 2021

Bob Adelman, Civil rights demonstration against discrimination in schools, circa 1962, v1989.22.14; Bob Adelman photographs of Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) demonstrations, v1989.022, Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.

Yesterday we observed Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, a day which officially became a federal holiday when it was signed into law in 1983.

In honor of King, and the on-going work of dismantling racial discrimination and inequality, our photo of the week comes from the Brooklyn Congress on Racial Equality (CORE).

Our photo of the week depicts protestors demonstrating on the sidewalk against discrimination in schools and courts. The black-and-white slide was made from an original photographic print shot in the early 1960s during one of Brooklyn CORE’s demonstrations against segregated substandard schools. During the 1960s, Brooklyn CORE led a number of sit-ins at the Board of Education’s Brooklyn headquarters at 110 Livingston Street, and at the State’s Commission for Human Rights office building at 270 Broadway in Manhattan.

In 1963, Brooklyn CORE held a sit-in at 270 Broadway on behalf of Elizabeth Weeks and Leonard Morris. Brooklyn CORE was aided by the Harlem Educational Committee, the City College of New York and Manhattan CORE chapters, and the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee. Brooklyn CORE supported Morris’ claim that the education at John Jay High School was substandard and that Morris should be admitted to Erasmus Hall High School, a high school where white students in his school zone were often admitted. In Weeks’ case, Brooklyn CORE demanded that the Board of Education allow Weeks the right to enroll at a high school which offered Russian language courses since her assigned high school, John Jay High School, did not offer Russian language courses.

The sit-in resulted in a meeting between Brooklyn CORE representatives and George Fowler, the State Commission for Human Rights chairman. That meeting resulted in another meeting between Fowler, Brooklyn CORE representatives, and Dr. Calvin Gross, the superintendent of schools. After the meeting concluded, Gross announced that Weeks would be allowed to choose to enroll at either Abraham Lincoln High School or Eastern District High School, both of which offered Russian language courses. Weeks and Brooklyn CORE successfully  challenged and changed DOE administrative policy, which previously only gave students one option when seeking to transfer outside of their assigned school zone. In challenging and changing DOE policy, Weeks and Brooklyn CORE also pushed the Department of Education to recognize that the one option policy impeded integration in schools and created a segregated system where African American students were given one, often substandard, school option. Weeks ultimately decided to enroll at Abraham Lincoln High School.

Interested in seeing more photos from CBH’s collection or the Bob Adelman photographs of Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) demonstrations? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images, or the digital collections portal at Brooklyn Public Library. We look forward to inviting you to CBH in the future to research in our entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections. In the meantime, please visit our resources page, available here or access the resources of the former Brooklyn Collection here. Our reference staff are still available to help with your research! You can reach us at [email protected]

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