Congress of Racial Equality: A Family Connection

Marlene Wilson (Bullock), Congress of Racial Equality: A Family Connection (Picture from the Columbus Evening Dispatch, March 15, 1965 Page 21)
Marlene Wilson (Bullock), Congress of Racial Equality: A Family Connection (Picture from the Columbus Evening Dispatch, March 15, 1965 Page 21).
This picture was part of a display at the Ohio Historical Connect in August of 2013. Marlene Wilson (Bullock) is in the center of the picture.
This picture was part of a display at the Ohio Historical Connect in August of 2013. Marlene Wilson (Bullock) is in the center of the picture.

Interview with Marlene Wilson (Bullock), my aunt and god mother.

Tell me about your involvement with Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

In the early 1960s, I got involved with CORE at the local level. Jerry Zeller was instrumental in getting me involved. I was just a member when we started the Edwards Street campaign. They had a chicken factory in the middle of the city. All of the waste from the factory was going through the neighborhood. We organized and boycotted and got the company out of the area.

Shortly after that, I took a leadership role in the local chapter. At that time, Rollerland Skating Rink only had two nights for blacks. I organized a boycott of Rollerland Skating Rink. At that time, the land where Rollerland Skating Rink was located (at Mound and 18th Street) was owned by the Pontifical College Josephinum. It was important because the leadership of the Pontifical College Josephinum were preaching integration and how liberal they were. The Josephimum ended up selling the land.

I got a bigger leadership role because we had that kind of public projects. We boycotted the Greyhound Bus Station. Blacks could not go in and just get on the buses at that time.

I was called in by Trent Sickles (represented the white people of power like Lazarus) and told to name my price (what I wanted from the city). That inspired me to become more active.

From there, I went to the chair role of the local chapter. From there, I was selected as a regional representative, to the national secretary of CORE. At that time, CORE was headquartered in New York. I kept all the records (and I still have them).  I was in the back-room meetings with Alvin Poussaint, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, etc.

I did not go South, but I did all the paperwork for those who did. I was part of the transfer of the Congress of Racial Equality from an integration movement to black nationalist movement and black power movement. Beyond that, African centered movement. That was when folks started wearing their hair natural. We wore big afros with pride. Before that, natural hair was a no no. It tickles me that people are wearing their hair natural now. Natural was not unkept nappy hair. Back then, the saying was “if you are white, you are all right, if you are brown, stick around, if you are black, get way back.” We reversed that. The darker you were, the more acceptable you were. I wore African clothes pridefully. We wanted to be who we are. We wanted acceptance and recognition for who we are. We didn’t have to go to integrated schools. Bump that crap. We wanted money so we can have our own schools.

Marlene Wilson (Bullock), Congress of Racial Equality
Marlene Wilson (Bullock), Congress of Racial Equality

Tell me about the history of CORE and the civil rights movement:

The organizations of the civil rights movement:

On the extreme left was Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), whose main leader was Stokely Carmichael. They were radical.

To the right of SNCC was CORE. The main leaders were James Farmer, Floyd McKissick, and George Wiley.

In the middle, was the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. was promoted in this group.

In the middle and to the right, was the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Roy Wilkens was the main leader.

On the extreme right was the Urban League (founded, coordinated and still controlled by white folks). They follow the rules so to speak.

CORE was in the business to break the rules in order to address the real issues.

It is fascinating that all the people who were involved in CORE. Bernie Sanders was a member of CORE.

The radical civil rights movement was founded and organized by white folks (the Quakers). The book “CORE the philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement”, by Elliot Rudwick traces how he got involved. He followed the white folks (Quakers). There has always been a black movement outside of that. The first black in CORE was James Farmer.

I also attended the White House Conference called “To Fulfill These Rights” in June of 1996. I got my invitation from President Johnson. They paid my way there. I picketed the conference that I attended. I had a fancy hotel room and room service.

Why were you picketing?

Because it was a farce. The conference was called “To Fulfill These Rights”. It was organized as an answer to the riots. We had been lobbying for the poverty program for a long time. We were told nothing would happen. As a result of the riots, Watts blew and they come up with millions of dollars the next day. The conference was to put on a show.

We tried to cooperate, but we weren’t stupid. We played the game, but we couldn’t be bought off. We always kept the issues in the front.

I also attended the first “Black Power” conference in Newark in 1967. That was a historical event coordinated by Adam Clayton Powell. I traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to test the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I then got involved in the whole community organizational phase.  I founded, organized, and directed the People’s Poverty Board. I assisted in the writing of the proposal for Columbus Metropolitan Community Action Organization (CMCAO). I was the first executive director and evaluator of CMCAO. We set up 7 different neighborhood service centers to facilitate discussions on how we wanted to direct the spending of the money.

I went through the whole phase from civil rights, to black power, to black nationalism, to community organization.

Sidebar: I thought CMCAO primarily was related to child care or something like that.

Sidebar:  Between my junior and senior years at The Ohio State University (OSU) I told my aunt Marlene that I wanted to stay on campus, but I didn’t want to take out a loan. She called Representative Ray Miller (later elected to the Ohio Senate) and said something like, “I am trying to figure out why my niece who has over a 3 point grade point average in Computer Science at OSU and doesn’t have a scholarship to stay on campus.”  She later called me and told me to report to the financial aid office. Long story short, I graduated from The Ohio State University not owing a dime.

Marilyn Dawkins, Congress of Racial Equality: A Family Connection
Marilyn Dawkins, Congress of Racial Equality: A Family Connection

Marilyn Dawkins (my mother) was a member of CORE

Tell me about your involvement with CORE.

I just graduated from high school (1961). CORE set me up as a test case. At that time, Chemical Abstracts didn’t have any blacks working there. There was a white guy in CORE named Jerry Zeller. I went first to be interviewed for the proofreader position. I had a high school diploma. His interview was after mine. He said he did not have a high school diploma. Chemical Abstracts didn’t hire me because they said I was over- qualified. As a result of CORE going to the Civil Rights Commission, we won the case. That opened up the opportunity for blacks to be hired at Chemical Abstracts.

I also was on the picket line against Roller Land. We were trying to get other blacks to not go in to skate. We would chant, “Don’t skate integrate.” We won that case and we got more nights to skate.

Sidebar: You might be thinking who cares about skating, why is this so important? My parents later met at Rollerland. Enough said. Also Jerry Zeller was part of my parents’ bridal party. At the time of this article, my parents have been married for 55 years.

Kay Cole (aunt)

What is the story behind your house and land purchase?

In 1961, we got out of the service and moved back to Delaware County. We wanted to build a house, so we got our money together. We found the lot on 1 Section Line Road just north of Route 36 (It is now 902 Section Line Road). When we went to make an offer on the land, they said openly we cannot sell you this land because you are black. They also said before they would consider selling to us, we would have to ask all the neighbors if it was all right with them. The land was in the country. There weren’t any neighbors for miles around. That was a ludicrous excuse.

We had already purchased prebuilt lumber from Tony Haberman to construct the house. We went back to Tony Haberman to get our money back from the lumber. We told him what we encountered. He looked at us and asked, “Do you trust me?”  We had no reason not to trust him or a reason to trust him. He said, “Because I will buy the land for you and sell it back to you, but there can’t be any paper trail. You just have to give me your money.” Something just made us trust him. We took our little bit of money, it wasn’t even $1,000, and gave it to him.  We trusted that he would do the right thing. He bought the land and faithfully signed it over to us.

We started building. Your Uncle Herbie (Marvel “Herb” Cole (1935-2008)) worked for Tommy Mitchel who owned a construction firm. Herb was a brick mason. It was not unusual to see him in the area laying brick, concrete or blocks. Some white people who lived up the street came when Herb was pouring the basement. They asked, “who are you building this house for?”  He kept working and said, “Some man named Cole”. They went on about their business.

Racism and discrimination were real. We just had to find ways around it.

It was interesting to me that a Jewish person helped us. His parents were survivors of the Holocaust.

Sidebar: I looked the house up on Delaware County Auditor’s website (

My take on the Congress of Racial Equality: A Family Connection:

Talking to my family members about their experiences in the 1960s was very informative. I thought family members were exaggerating my family’s involvement with civil rights. To be transparent, I had no idea that white people were in leadership roles in the civil rights movement. It is remarkable to me that in my academic pursuits, this material was not taught.  As a youth, I made attempts to learn about black history. At Mifflin Middle School, Ohio History was a required class. At Mifflin High School, I chose to take Ethnic Studies. I took two black studies classes at The Ohio State University; so, maybe I just didn’t select the right class. No further comment. I have appreciation for those who sacrificed to change the policies so that I can attend the school of my choice, work for the employer of my choice, live in the neighborhood of my choice, etc.