Congress of Racial Equality Holds Its Journey of Reconciliation Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Journey of Reconciliation, sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality, helped establish nonviolent direct action as the civil rights organization’s identifying mark and served as a model for the Freedom Rides of the early 1960’s.

Summary of Event

Three factors converged to bring about the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, which was sponsored jointly by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). The first and most basic was CORE’s desire to launch a direct-action campaign that would attract national attention and thus strengthen the organization at a time when its resources were meager and its activities limited. Since its founding in 1942 by a biracial group in Chicago, CORE had been committed to nonviolent direct action on the model of Mahatma Gandhi in India and had sponsored sit-ins and other forms of nonviolent protest. Congress of Racial Equality Fellowship of Reconciliation Journey of Reconciliation (1947) Civil Rights movement;demonstrations and protests Civil disobedience Segregation;public accommodations [kw]Congress of Racial Equality Holds Its Journey of Reconciliation (Apr. 9-23, 1947) [kw]Racial Equality Holds Its Journey of Reconciliation, Congress of (Apr. 9-23, 1947) [kw]Equality Holds Its Journey of Reconciliation, Congress of Racial (Apr. 9-23, 1947) [kw]Journey of Reconciliation, Congress of Racial Equality Holds Its (Apr. 9-23, 1947) [kw]Reconciliation, Congress of Racial Equality Holds Its Journey of (Apr. 9-23, 1947) Congress of Racial Equality Fellowship of Reconciliation Journey of Reconciliation (1947) Civil Rights movement;demonstrations and protests Civil disobedience Segregation;public accommodations [g]North America;Apr. 9-23, 1947: Congress of Racial Equality Holds Its Journey of Reconciliation[02020] [g]United States;Apr. 9-23, 1947: Congress of Racial Equality Holds Its Journey of Reconciliation[02020] [c]Civil rights and liberties;Apr. 9-23, 1947: Congress of Racial Equality Holds Its Journey of Reconciliation[02020] [c]Social issues and reform;Apr. 9-23, 1947: Congress of Racial Equality Holds Its Journey of Reconciliation[02020] [c]Organizations and institutions;Apr. 9-23, 1947: Congress of Racial Equality Holds Its Journey of Reconciliation[02020] Rustin, Bayard Peck, James Houser, George M.

CORE’s budget was barely $100 per month in 1945-1946, however, and its public visibility was low. When George M. Houser became the group’s executive secretary in 1945, a successful national campaign was one of his chief goals. A white activist in FOR when he was chosen for the new position, Houser had been involved with James L. Farmer, Jr., and others in founding CORE and was concerned that its first three years of efforts had fallen short of his dream of making CORE a major force for nonviolent reform in the United States.

The second major cause of the journey was the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Morgan v. Virginia Morgan v. Virginia (1946) Supreme Court, U.S.;segregation (June, 1946), which declared Virginia’s policy of racial segregation on interstate motor carriers unconstitutional. When several bus companies refused to comply with the decision, Houser saw their resistance as the opportunity he had looked for. Nonviolent direct action, he believed, might help the cause of desegregated transportation while strengthening CORE’s impact.

Bayard Rustin, a longtime activist who had served causes such as Gandhi’s liberation efforts in India and several antiwar campaigns, agreed. A founder of CORE’s New York branch, Rustin was quite familiar with the organization’s goals and needs. At CORE’s fall, 1946, executive committee meeting, he and Houser argued that the recent Morgan v. Virginia decision provided a promising setting for demonstrating the potential of nonviolent direct action. Both men at the time were secretaries in FOR’s Racial Industrial Department and had the support of Abraham J. Muste, a widely known pacifist and FOR executive.

Throughout the fall and winter of 1946-1947, Rustin and Houser gained other supporters both within and outside their organizations. By January, 1947, they were ready to take a preliminary trip along the proposed route both to gain additional partners and to finalize the details. Their original plan to extend the trip into the Deep South all the way to New Orleans was abandoned because of the possibility of violent resistance. The Journey of Reconciliation, as they called it after discussions with FOR staffers, would be confined to the upper southern states from Virginia to North and South Carolina.

The third contributing factor to the journey was interorganizational cooperation among civil rights groups, augmented by local individuals and churches. During their planning trip in January, 1947, Houser and Rustin enlisted a significant number of college students and black church members to provide housing and food for the journey participants. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People National Association for the Advancement of Colored People;civil rights protests (NAACP) had serious misgivings about the journey and refrained from active support, but it did offer its local contacts in several communities along the route. The NAACP’s reluctance was caused by its fear of violent backlash if the travelers went into the Deep South or possibly even the border states. CORE’s decision to confine the trip to the Virginia and Carolina areas helped ameliorate this concern, but not sufficiently to convince the NAACP executive secretary, Walter White, to provide funds or active assistance.

In late March and early April, 1947, the sixteen participants in the journey engaged in intense training in Washington, D.C. Anticipating the training techniques of the 1960’s, such as role-playing, lectures and discussions, and learning ways to protect oneself in case of violent resistance, they prepared.

On April 9, the group of eight whites and eight blacks left the nation’s capital and headed southward through northern Virginia. Ideologically, the biracial group shared much. Four of the black participants in the Journey of Reconciliation were pacifists Pacifism , among them Bayard Rustin, whose activist career included support for Gandhi’s liberation efforts in India. Rustin was particularly controversial because of his earlier affiliation with communism, an unusual association among black leaders, but he had abandoned communism by the early 1940’s. In addition to Rustin and Homer Jack of the Chicago Council Against Racial and Religious Discrimination, the black participants were freelance lecturer Wallace Nelson, New York attorney Conrad Lynn, student Andrew Johnson Johnson, Andrew from Cincinnati, Chicago musician Dennis Banks, William Worthy of the New York Council for a Permanent FEPC (Fair Employment Practices Commission), and Eugene Stanley of A. and T. College in North Carolina.

All the white members were pacifists as well—James Peck of the Peck and Peck clothing business family, Houser, Jack, New York horticulturalist Igal Roodenko Roodenko, Igal , and four others of varied professional backgrounds. Two of them, Joseph Felmet of Asheville, North Carolina, and Peck, were socialists affiliated with the Workers Defense League. Peck was editor of the league’s news bulletin. The other three white participants were North Carolina Methodist pastors Ernest Bromley and Louis Adams, and Worth Randle, a Cincinnati biologist.

From Washington, the group traveled to Richmond, Virginia, where the first overnight stop was scheduled. Half the group traveled on a Greyhound bus, the other half on the Trailways line. Each ticket listed every planned stopover in cities where the riders would address meetings in churches, but the planners had determined that the ultimate destination on each ticket required crossing a state line, since their specific goal was to implement the Morgan decision of 1946. The plan was to travel across Virginia, into North Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and then back across Virginia. The entire journey would take two weeks.

Meetings were arranged chiefly by the NAACP in cooperation with local churches. Peck reported that it was exciting to begin the journey after months of anticipation and to be actually “on stage,” trying to challenge resistance to the recent court decision. The underlying hope of the participants was not only to enforce a law but also to change attitudes. If idealistic, this goal was basic to those who set out on the potentially dangerous trip, usually regarded as the first Freedom Ride Freedom Rides .

Although the journey elicited no major violent response, there were several arrests. The first was on a Trailways carrier as the group left Petersburg, Virginia. Peck was arrested in Durham, North Carolina, along with Rustin and Johnson, during a rally in a church. Durham was a small but prosperous city with better paving, housing, and other facilities in the white sections than in the black. Peck was bothered by this and spoke out against it. He and the others were detained only briefly and then taken by car to Chapel Hill, the nearby site of the University of North Carolina. Interestingly, the Chapel Hill area was the only stop on the journey that witnessed real violence.

In Cargill, a small town just outside Chapel Hill’s city limits, Peck was hit by a group of taxi drivers as he stood outside his bus. Inside the bus, four of the journey group were arrested when they tried to integrate the front seats. Released on bail, they were taken by a local white Presbyterian minister to his home for protection, but cabs full of hostile resisters wielded rocks and sticks and warned the minister that they would burn his home if he did not get the group out of town.

Other arrests occurred in Asheville, North Carolina, as the group traveled westward toward Tennessee after stopping in Greensboro. Again, Peck was arrested. The issue was the same in Asheville as in Chapel Hill, the effort to integrate the whites-only seats. Asheville happened to be the home of one of the white participants, Joe Felmet, and some of the group stayed overnight in his home. In the trial the next day, Peck and his codefendant, a black participant from Chicago named Dennis Banks Banks, Dennis , were found guilty and sentenced to thirty days on a road gang. The state’s attorney and the judge who presided did not know about the Morgan decision and borrowed a copy of the decision from Curtis Todd, a black attorney who represented the riders. As it turned out, Banks and Peck remained in jail only a few hours and were released, but during that time, the other prisoners vented their anger at Peck, a white man supporting blacks. Eventually, the state dropped the case when its officials learned more about the 1946 court decision.

From Asheville, the Journey of Reconciliation continued into Knoxville, Tennessee, then northward into Kentucky and back across Virginia before ending in Washington in late April. Of the five arrest cases during the two-week trip, all but one were dropped. The Chapel Hill case was pursued by prosecutors, and Rustin, Felmet, and Roodenko served thirty days at hard labor on a road gang. Nevertheless, there were no reporters waiting to interview the participants and nothing like the intense journalistic enthusiasm that would mark the Freedom Rides fourteen years later. The Journey of Reconciliation was a pioneering effort that at the time attracted a disappointingly slight response from the press and the public.

Significance

The significance of the Journey of Reconciliation lay, in the short run, in the heightened publicity it elicited and the inspiration it gave to advocates of social change by means of nonviolent direct action. Although no reporters were waiting to interview the participants when they returned, press coverage of the various incidents during the trip was fair and rather extensive. Both Houser and Rustin were pleased with the details of press accounts and considered them positive. For the participants themselves, newspaper articles were important for their later efforts to gain support and recruit new activists.

Indeed, many years later, CORE leaders used stories of the journey to teach nonviolent theory and encourage participation. Peck was particularly encouraged by the response of people in general to the effort and noted that drivers, other passengers, and observers were sympathetic toward desegregation but were ignorant of various laws. Seeing the journey activists demonstrate nonviolent techniques, he felt, contributed to greater understanding and support.

At a deeper level, the Journey of Reconciliation was a truly paradigmatic event. Strictly speaking, it was the first Freedom Ride. What is usually termed the first Freedom Ride in popular parlance was actually modeled after the 1947 precedent in key respects. Peck, who was active in both the 1947 journey and the 1961 Freedom Rides, saw the earlier event as supremely significant in the longer process of rides by desegregationist activists, describing it as “perhaps the most unique and outstanding undertaking CORE has ever made.” CORE trainers used both the concept of the journey and the methodology of nonviolent protest in preparing for the 1961 rides into the Deep South.

As a factor in the history of racial and ethnic rights, the Journey of Reconciliation is somewhat analogous to the 1962 desegregation efforts in Albany, Georgia. In both cases, the immediate goals were not achieved quickly. The specific objective of the journey was to intensify grassroots efforts to achieve a greater degree of desegregation in public transportation. That did not happen quickly, but the effort did increase public awareness of the problem and encourage many other efforts to desegregate interstate buses, trains, and other conveyances. In doing that, the 1947 journey into the upper South also demonstrated that nonviolence had much more potential than many people realized to augment legal efforts to bring about racial equality. Spiritually and intellectually, the leaders were encouraged to perpetuate the nonviolent method. Like Albany, the Journey of Reconciliation was a source of inspiration to challenge racial segregation and discrimination by concerted group action. That aspect of the journey’s impact continued to have influence throughout the 1950’s and into the following decade.

The judicial proceedings that occurred during and after the Journey of Reconciliation were also significant for CORE’s later development. The several cases that grew out of the trip were pursued by attorneys who supported CORE’s objectives and provided useful experience in using the details of local and state laws to show contradictions with Supreme Court decisions and thus to bring to bear on local problems the larger influence of federal law. This was a rather slowly developing process since bus companies often cited state law as their guide and delayed implementing federal mandates until the courts made it clear that they applied.

CORE’s finances and public visibility remained rather low even after the journey but it was the first of several undertakings that would gradually propel the organization to higher public recognition and larger membership. FOR assisted CORE in pursuing some of the cases, including the Chapel Hill litigation in months immediately following the journey. By the 1950’s, CORE was beginning to grow in several of its chapters and to equip itself for a larger role in racial desegregation litigation.

Above all, the trip was a favorite topic of conversation and training programs that led eventually to the 1960’s Freedom Rides that elicited widespread media coverage and support by youth across the nation. The Journey of Reconciliation was clearly a high point in CORE’s history, as well as a model for the potential efficacy of nonviolent direct action. Congress of Racial Equality Fellowship of Reconciliation Journey of Reconciliation (1947) Civil Rights movement;demonstrations and protests Civil disobedience Segregation;public accommodations

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bell, Inge Powell. CORE and the Strategy of Nonviolence. New York: Random House, 1968. This work traces and analyzes the development of CORE’s use of nonviolent direct action from its early days until the height of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960’s. Both conceptual and historical, it is useful for showing how direct action distinguished CORE from the older mainstream civil rights organizations. Contains notes, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Farmer, James. “On Cracking White City.” In My Soul Is Rested, edited by Howell Raines. New York: Putnam, 1977. In this introductory section of Raines’s valuable oral history of the Civil Rights movement, James Farmer provides perspective on the evolution of protest thought. One of the founders of CORE, Farmer had a distinctive vantage point for demonstrating the difficulties and successes of the early movement. He underscores the importance of the 1946 Supreme Court decision that declared segregated interstate bus seating unconstitutional and notes the importance of the journey as a precedent for the Freedom Rides.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Feldman, Glenn, ed. Before Brown: Civil Rights and White Backlash in the Modern South. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2004. Places the start of the Civil Rights movement long before Brown v. Board of Education (1954). Focuses on white southern resistance to the movement. Includes the chapter “You Don’t Have to Ride Jim Crow: CORE and the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation,” by Raymond Arsenault.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Houser, George, and Bayard Rustin. We Challenged Jim Crow! A Report on the Journey of Reconciliation, April 9-23, 1947. New York: Fellowship of Reconciliation, 1947. This brief but valuable report lists and describes all participants in the Journey of Reconciliation, outlines the highlights of the experiences in each city, and gives brief accounts of several arrests and trials. It also includes a statement on the purposes and nature of CORE and explanations of its nonviolent theory. No notes or index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Johnson, Ollie A., III, and Karin L. Stanford, eds. Black Political Organizations in the Post-Civil Rights Era. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2002. A collection that explores the role of black organizations since the “end” of the Civil Rights movement in the late 1960’s. Includes a chapter on CORE, “From Protest to Black Conservatism: The Demise of the Congress of Racial Equality,” by Charles E. Jones. Bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Levine, Daniel. Bayard Rustin and the Civil Rights Movement. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2000. A biography of Rustin that includes discussion of Rustin’s philosophy of nonviolent protest and nonviolent direct action and their use in the Civil Rights movement.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meier, August, and Elliott Rudwick. CORE: A Study in the Civil Rights Movement, 1942-1968. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. A detailed account of the origins, development, and campaigns of CORE from 1942 to the late 1960’s. Well documented with CORE primary materials, this book demonstrates the periodic resurgence of the organization and explains the basic reasons for its problems after 1966. List of references and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morris, Aldon D. The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change. New York: Free Press, 1984. This essential background study for most civil rights activities in the South includes extensive information on all the movement centers and organizations of the period. Its value on this topic is chiefly its analysis of CORE in its early days, particularly its establishment of a base in the South during the decade following the Journey of Reconciliation. Notes, bibliography, index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Peck, James. Freedom Ride. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1962. This compact account is particularly valuable because its author was a leading participant in both the Journey of Reconciliation and the later Freedom Rides. A white liberal, Peck was at times injured by opponents of integration yet persisted in his civil rights activism. One sees in his work the emotions, risks, and goals of the freedom riders. References, index.

Congress of Racial Equality Forms

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Supreme Court Ends Public School Segregation

Montgomery Bus Boycott

SCLC Forms to Link Civil Rights Groups

Eisenhower Sends Troops to Little Rock, Arkansas

Greensboro Sit-Ins

Civil Rights Protesters Attract International Attention

King Delivers His “I Have a Dream” Speech

Three Civil Rights Workers Are Murdered

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