Scholarship, Education and Defense Fund for Racial Equality Records, 1944-1983


The Congress of Racial Equality Scholarship, Education and Defense Fund (CORE SEDF) was formed in mid-1962 as a membership organization to raise funds for and to manage several of CORE's civil rights activities. The new organization was carefully planned to be eligible for tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code to encourage contributors and foundations to donate more generously to SEDF than they did to CORE, which did not qualify for tax-exempt status.

From its initiation, the aims of SEDF were clearly stated: to provide scholarships, fellowships, and other financial aid to minority students, to those handicapped by discrimination, including white civil rights activists who were expelled or who lost financial aid because of their civil rights work, and to those whose studies involved civil rights; to inform citizens about their voting rights: to organize black communities and train black leaders; and to provide legal and financial assistance for persons involved in civil rights work and for blacks lacking adequate legal representation. The first executive director of SEDF was Marvin Rich, who also continued as head of Community Relations for CORE until April 1, 1965. Rich retained the position of executive director until he was elected president of SEDFRE in 1969. He was succeeded by Ronnie Moore, former director of SEDFRE's leadership development program.

The first project undertaken by SEDF was the implementation of the scholarship program, named in honor of Eleanor Roosevelt, who had agreed to serve as president of SEDF before her death in 1962. The program was one of the most successful of those conducted by SEDF; hundreds of college and law students received aid from the fund, which grew to $105,000 by 1971.

A second SEDF project was provision of legal assistance by the legal department, headed by Carl Rachlin, general counsel of CORE. A substantial portion of SEDF's budget funded the legal programs and supported CORE's southern projects, a role which expanded greatly both in the South and in the North by 1965. As the number of CORE field personnel in the South increased during 1965, so did the staff of the legal department. Law students were hired to do research for important cases, and SEDF retained attorneys and law firms throughout the South to provide legal defense as necessary. Among these retained to work for SEDF were the firms of McKissick and Burt in North Carolina; Collins, Douglas, and Elie in New Orleans; and attorneys Murphy Bell in Baton Rouge and John Due in northern Florida. Carl Rachlin also handled cases for SEDF, particularly law suits in New York and New Jersey concerning discrimination, civil rights demonstrations, housing, welfare rights, and similar issues. However, by the mid-1960s, even as CORE's program expanded, many contributors became disenchanted with the increased urban violence and the use of direct-action tactics, and as a result, income dropped. Although CORE continued to support its southern projects, retrenchment was necessary. The financial problems exacerbated the growing ideological split between the more black nationalist-oriented CORE, and SEDF, which remained committed to interracialism. In mid-1966, CORE SEDF eliminated the “CORE” from its name, which was changed to the Scholarship, Education and Defense Fund for Racial Equality (SEDFRE). Although SEDFRE continued to pay for CORE's legal programs in the South, the split was finalized in November 1966 when Carl Rachlin resigned as CORE legal counsel and joined SEDFRE's legal department full-time. Rachlin remained as head of the legal department until 1969, when he returned to private practice and the department was discontinued.

A third, and major, project of SEDF/SEDFRE was the leadership development program, formed in 1965 under the direction of Ronnie Moore to instruct minority individuals about their rights as citizens. The program conducted its work through series of local workshops, conferences, and training sessions, designed to help local citizens develop leadership abilities and skills and enter into politics. Other projects included forming economic and housing cooperatives. By 1971 the leadership development program had grown to a size that required the formation of several subdivisions: leadership training, housing, economic development, and technical assistance, with a total project budget of over $500,000.

Throughout its history, the Scholarship, Education and Defense Fund for Racial Equality evolved from an organization run by predominantly white liberals concerned with securing funds for its civil rights work to an interracial group dedicated to social change through grass-roots organizing and leadership development. Much of SEDFRE's effectiveness stemmed from its tax-exempt status, which enabled it to raise the funds needed to make a significant contribution to the civil rights movement.