Roy Innis, longtime leader of the Congress of Racial Equality, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 82.
The New York Times reports that the cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease.
Innis, once known as a fiery Black Power nationalist shifted in his later years to a conservative Republican, who supported Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court.
The Times reports that Innis came to “prominence “after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins, Whitney Young and James Farmer had taken command of the civil rights movement and did not share their commitment to nonviolent civil disobedience. Nor did he embrace CORE’s pioneering roles in desegregation — school boycotts, sit-ins, Freedom Rides through the South and voter registration drives.”
Innis reportedly said integration robbed black people of their heritage and dignity, and purged whites from CORE’s staff and allowed the organization’s white membership to wither. He espoused segregated schools to encourage black achievement, black self-help groups, black business enterprises and community control of the police, fire, hospital, sanitation and other services in poor black neighborhoods.
Innis supported Richard M. Nixon for president in 1968 and 1972, and Ronald Reagan’s presidency in the 1980s. Innis urged both presidents to reach out to blacks directly and urged blacks to join the Republican Party.
Innis was also a staunch defender of the right to bear arms. The Times reports that Innis acknowledged that his loss of two sons to gun violence in New York — Roy Jr., 13, in 1968, and Alexander, 26, in 1982 — influenced his decision to oppose gun control and champion the Second Amendment. He became a life member and a director of the National Rifle Association.
In the 1980s, Innis firmly moved to the conservative side by supporting Robert Bork’s and Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nominations. The Senate rejected Judge Bork but approved Judge Thomas, who replaced African-American jurist Thurgood Marshall on the high court.
The Times reports that Innis twice engaged in televised scuffles in 1988. On The Morton Downey Jr. Show, he shoved the Rev. Al Sharpton to the floor. On Geraldo, he choked John Metzger of the White Aryan Resistance, who had called him an “Uncle Tom,” and the host, Geraldo Rivera, suffered a broken nose in the ensuing brawl.
In 1993, Innis challenged David Dinkins, New York’s first black mayor, in the Democratic mayoral primary. The Times reports that Dinkins trounced him and narrowly lost the general election to Rudolph Giuliani, who ran on both the Republican and Liberal lines, and whom Innis supported.
Roy Emile Alfredo Innis was born on June 6, 1934, in St. Croix, the United States Virgin Islands, to Alexander and Georgianna Thomas Innis. His father, a police officer, died when Roy was 6. He moved to New York with his mother in 1946.
Innis lived in Harlem and was married several times, and had 10 children — Cedric, Winston, Kwame, Niger, Kimathi, Mugabe, Arenza, Lydia, Patricia and Corinne — and “a host of grandchildren.”
Innis joined the Harlem chapter of CORE in 1963. He was named chapter chairman in 1965 and three years later, succeeded Floyd McKissick as CORE’s national director. He held that title until becoming national chairman in 1982.
SOURCE: The New York Times