When Roy Ennis, a native of the Virgin Islands, first emerged on the political scene as a member of Congress of Racial Equality, he was a steadfast opponent of racism and discrimination and a loyalist in the ranks of civil rights activists. But that unflagging role as a CORE organizer soon morphed into a form of Black Nationalism that expressed a conservative bent. Innis, 82, died Jan. 7. According to reports he had been ailing from Parkinson’s disease.
Many Americans rediscovered Innis in 1988 after an appearance on the Morton Downey television show where he shoved the Rev. Al Sharpton from his chair and off the stage. That ruckus marked a sharp demarcation between elements of the civil rights movement, with Innis more and more in step with right-wing tendencies.
By the late 1960s when he assumed the helm of CORE from James Farmer, Innis aligned with Richard Nixon with the hope of one day being the president’s “man in the ghetto.”
This was merely a first step in Innis’ more decisive move to the right that one day made him an adversary of the Black militancy that was slowly arising in the political arena; he was soon viewed as a sellout and Uncle Tom, particularly after he openly campaigned for Ronald Reagan.
Innis was also a board member of the National Rifle Association, a position he explained after his sons were killed. “After the murders of my sons I did not want other parents to go through what I went through,” he told the press in 1993. “My sons were not killed by the KKK or David Duke. They were murdered by young, black thugs. I use the murder of my sons by black hoodlums to shift the problems from excuses like the KKK to the dope pushers on the streets.”
It was this kind of attitude and outlook that would later find him in agreement with Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the promotion of stop and frisk policing.
Over the last several years, Innis was not seen or heard in public, but his son Niger was a representative for CORE, which was mainly involved in supporting major organizations, including the NRA.
An answering service at CORE promised to provide details of funeral services for their chairman when they became available.