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In observance of February as Black History Month, the Source will be highlighting a number of individuals from the territory who have made major contributions in areas including civil rights, science and literature. Today we focus on Roy Innis, national chair and chief executive officer of the Congress of Racial Equality.
Feb. 8, 2004 — Born on June 6, 1934, on St. Croix, Roy Emile Alfredo Innis was the son of Alexander and Georgianna Thomas Innis. He was 6 years old when his father, a police officer, died. However, it was not until 1947 that Innis moved to the U.S. mainland, following his mother, who was sending for her children as money became available. The shock of moving from the racially tolerant and predominantly black Virgin Islands to Harlem in New York City was tremendous. At that time, discrimination against blacks was commonplace, and the continually reinforced message of white supremacy led some blacks to question the intellect and competence of their own race.
Innis attended Stuyvesant High School in New York City. In 1950, at age 16, he lied about his age and joined the U.S. Army. After two years, his superiors discovered his real age, and he was honorably discharged. He returned to New York, where he earned his high school diploma and later majored in chemistry at City College of New York. He then worked as a researcher for Vicks Chemical Co.
According to his son, Kimathi, Innis has had three marriages and several unions from which 10 children were produced: Roy(deceased), Alexander (deceased), Lydia, Cedric, Patricia, Corinne, Kwame, Niger, Kimathi and Mugabe. Influenced by his third wife Doris Funnye, a civil rights activist, Innis joined the Congress of Racial Equality, a black civil rights group. He soon realized he could make a difference in the organization. His black nationalist viewpoint converged with conservative ideas and received wide play in conservative magazines such as The National Review and U.S. News & World Report. Innis explained black nationalism in Life magazine as "the philosophy of self-determination, the philosophy of an oppressed people." He further elaborated: "One solution to such oppression is assimilation — in essence, the loss of one's self… That won't work for us. We have to devise a philosophy applicable to our own dilemma. We must rehabilitate blacks as people. We must control the institutions in our areas."
"Integration should not be an end in itself," Innis stated in U.S. News & World Report. "It should be a means to an end — toward true equality and justice. But if it's obvious that integration is not achieving those ends, then you seek other means."
An advocate of community power, Innis told the magazine after the 1968 presidential election: "[President] Nixon should support the concept of community control of schools, welfare, sanitation, fire, police, health and hospitals and all other vital institutions operating in the so-called ghettos."
Innis's view of school desegregation coincided with both his desire for community control and the philosophy of segregationists. "I say let us create two districts — one predominantly white and one predominantly black — where you now have one district," he was quoted as saying in U.S. News & World Report. "Each district will create its own board to manage the school system. Each will hire a superintendent. Each will be autonomous and truly equal."
Innis remained in the public eye throughout the early 1990s. In a 1991 Wall Street Journal commentary, "Gun Control Sprouts From Racist Soil," he argued that banning handguns would keep weapons out of the hands of black families in high-crime areas who needed protection. He stated in an interview with Robert Santiago for Emerge magazine that "CORE is the only group with the courage to admit the obvious — that black folks, minority folks, folks in high-crime areas need to arm themselves legally."
Innis continues to be an important voice on the U.S. civil rights scene. He was among a group of prominent African-American leaders called to the White House as consultants after the Los Angeles riots of 1992. He commented in an interview with Emerge magazine that CORE's agenda for the future involves battling the sources and effects of crime within the black community: "CORE and Roy Innis were the first to jump on the question of black crime… Our No. 1 problem today is black crime. If the white man goes away tonight, we still have black crime."
Today Innis serves as CORE's national chair and chief executive officer.

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