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Remembering Roy Innis

Remembering Roy Innis

Roy Innis speaking at the National Press club in Washington, D.C. in 2005. (Lauren Victoria Burke/AP) 

By Thursday, 19 January 2017 10:07 AM Current | Bio | Archive

He was a friend, a mentor, a hero and a courageous American. On Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017 he passed this mortal coil. I am referring to Roy Innis, national chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality since his election to that post in 1968.

Although born in the Virgin Islands, Mr. Innis was very much a New Yorker having attended Stuyvesant High School and City College. During his more than half century in public life, Roy confounded stereotypes and conventional wisdom. He detested racial hustlers and mountebanks, even though they gained ascendency in the black community.

On one occasion during an episode of "The Morton Downey" show the Rev. Al Sharpton and Roy engaged in a heated exchange. Roy didn’t debate the charges launched against him, he simply knocked Sharpton down flat. In the aftermath, Sharpton called Roy while I was in the CORE offices. He suggested they engage in a formal fight for charity.

Roy agreed noting that he would give his share of the funds to a hospital for children. He asked Sharpton where his money would be deposited. Sharpton said, the "Al Sharpton charity." The formal fight never took place.

Roy spent political capital pointing out the Tawana Brawley case as a hoax. The facts were incontrovertible, but media panjandrums didn’t care about facts; the case fit a racial scenario and afterall, Roy was a conservative.

In 1993 Roy challenged David Dinkins in the Democratic mayoral primary. Mayor Dinkins charged Roy with being a stalking horse for Rudy Giuliani. But Roy had ambitions of his own. He was a New Yorker adored by working men and women.

Walking down a Manhattan street with Roy was like being in the company of a rock star.

Adoration filled the air.

A year earlier Roy called me and said meet me downtown; we are going to Brooklyn to break the Flatbush boycott. The boycott was organized by Sonny Carson, a racial hustler who objected to the fact Korean grocers had opened stores in this ostensibly black neighborhood.

Carson and colleagues prevented truck deliveries and hoped to starve the owners into submission. Mayor Dinkins was inert. Roy brought television cameras with him but the reception wasn’t pleasant. Obscenities were hurled at us and we were spat upon.

Undeterred we went from store to store spending whatever cash we had on the items on threadbare shelves. It is hard to know if this foray broke the back of the boycott, but it did end soon there after. What was surely on display was Roy Innis’ courage.

He wasn’t afraid to adopt unpopular causes. Serving on the board of the National Rifle Association (NRA), Roy defended Second Amendment rights until his final breath. He believed that the government control of guns was a way to emasculate black citizens.

When I ran for governor of New York in 1990 I didn’t have to pick up the phone to ask for Roy’s support. He was at my side from the outset. In fact, he held the title of campaign director. Roy had no fear; he expressed his views unembroidered with niceties.

He understood how compromised the media had become.

He realized as well that he would not get a fair shake from the mainstream press, not even the tabloids. Yet that did not stem his enthusiasm. He persisted because he was usually right.

I loved this man. When at a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dinner at the Sheraton Hotel, he honored the families of Schwerner, Goodman, and Cheney — CORE workers who lost their lives in Mississippi. Roy and I shared tears. These were young heroes who fought for civil rights. They died with honor, the way Roy Innis lived.

Rest in peace my friend — you did so much for so many and now the torch is passed on.

Herbert London is the president of the London Center for Policy Research and author of the books "America's Secular Challenge" (Encounter Books) and "The Transformational Decade" (University Press of America). Read more reports from Herbert London — Click Here Now.

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Walking down a Manhattan street with Roy Innis was like being in the company of a rock star. Adoration filled the air. Rest in peace my friend, you did so much for so many. Now the torch is passed on.
innis, manhattan, new york, race
Thursday, 19 January 2017 10:07 AM
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