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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Igal Roodenko, April 11, 1974. Interview B-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

CORE strategies for raising awareness about civil disobedience

Rodenko describes the early work of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) as grassroots in nature. Although he is unable to explain explicitly why people did not seem ready for overt change in the mid-1940s, he does suggest that the concept of civil disobedience was still relatively novel at the time. In order to spread the word about their goals, CORE toured the South in the late 1940s, speaking primarily at black schools and colleges.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Igal Roodenko, April 11, 1974. Interview B-0010. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JERRY WINGATE:
Igal, the early CORE experiences and demonstrations were a little ahead of their time in the civil rights movement, It didn't bloom until the middle fifties. The time was just not right. Why was the time not right then?
IGAL RODENKO:
I don't know, I suppose one can become scriptural about and say there is a season for everything and God in his own good time. I don't know. I think that what a lot of people said to us as we started out on this journey and after it, is that you kids are a bunch of beautiful idealists, but you don't have any idea about what the reality is about. I remember one man saying, absolutely sympathetic and sensitive to the problem, do you think that in two weeks of traveling, you can undo three centuries of body and economic slavery? If it was put to us that way, we would have said, no we are not going to undo it, but we could start the process toward the undoing, and the essence of what we had to say in the dozen or so meetings we had and all the stops we had through these four states was to say, here we have the first step, the first tread on the ladder: the Irene Morgan decision. Here are all you students. You go to school in Virginia and live in Georgia and you go home on holidays, and do it. Start spreading this pattern of not putting up with it. With a minimum, you might spend a day or two in jail. It takes courage, and means setting up a whole legal structure of lawyers who can be contacted and support and so on.
JACQUELYN HALL:
What kind of groups did you speak to?
IGAL RODENKO:
Black colleges, black churches. We did stop at Black Mountain College, which was the one white institution we went to.
JOE FELMET:
And we spoke at a high school in Asheville. The thing I remember about that, I had never heard James Weldon Johnson's Negro National Anthem sung as beautifully as it was sung that day by a high school audience which was impressed by our presentation so much that the audience was virtually inspired.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you speak to any interracial groups, or have any support from the YWCA's or the Southern Regional Council, or any southern based, interracial . . .
IGAL RODENKO:
No.
JACQUELYN HALL:
Did you try and get support in that way, and were unable to do it?
IGAL RODENKO:
I don't know what the office was doing. It was mainly Bayard Rustin and George Houser who or|ganized it, and what contacts they tried to make, I can not say. But I must say that at that time, the concept of civil disobedience was absolutely foreign to the American radical liberal experience. Absolutely foreign. I can go so far as to say that even in 1967, after we had so much civil disobedience when we were organizing a big anti-war march in New York City and a group of college students wanted to burn their draft cards and make that a part of the demonstration, SANE, and the whole big anti-war structure did not want this civil disobedience associated with it. They didn't absolutely forbid this, but they pushed the kids off to a corner of Central Park. This fear of civil disobedience was still so strong in '67 so you can imagine what it was like in '47. I don't want to minimize anyway the value of the more traditional ways of dealing with racial problems in the South, but it was just too much of a thing for them to accept. Now, whether actual, contact was made with them, (other organizations) I don't know. Our approach was a very grassroots thing. We weren't going to, our sense was that we weren't going to deal with these big things on the top, we were going to go out and to the young male blacks particularly and say, this is the way it is to be done.