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Remembering Marvin Rich

by Dave Dennis

Marvin Rich, a longtime leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) who was instrumental in organizing the Freedom Rides as well as later campaigns, died on December 29, 2018.

Marvin Rich and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, date unknown, courtesy of the CORE NYC archive

As a student at Washington University in St. Louis in 1946, Rich helped found a chapter of CORE and integrate the university. By 1961 he was working in CORE’s national office, in New York City. He later organized voting drives in the South with CORE and other organizations, and in 1973 helped found the National Coaltion Against Censorship

There’s precious little about Rich online, and as of yet no New York Times or Washington Post obituary. Below is a remembrance that Dave Dennis wrote in an email to friends and colleagues. It appears here with his permission. Dennis helped found the New Orleans chapter of CORE in 1960, was a Freedom Rider in 1961, and later, as a CORE field organizer, worked directly with Rich on campaigns in Louisiana and Mississippi, including Freedom Summer.

Both Marvin and Evie [Evelyn Rich, his wife, who survives him] played important roles in the Civil Rights Movement and both are part of that special group of people who made many sacrifices in the struggle for justice and made personal contributions which led to made major changes in the country.  

I met Marvin and Evie on my first trip to New York City in the summer of 1961. I was a Freedom Rider from the New Orleans chapter of CORE, and Marvin was the public-relations director for the national office of CORE, in New York. It was not only my first trip to New York but my first trip anywhere in the the north. I quickly found myself on the receiving-end of many jokes as the less experienced young man from the south. On my second trip to New York the following October, I wore a seersucker suit — it was 80 degrees in Louisiana but barely in the 30s in New York. That error is forever etched in my memory.

Marvin took the time to teach me the “ropes” and guide me through the maze that was this new environment. He teamed me with Jerome Smith [another Freedom Rider from New Orleans CORE] to work with such people as James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry to help raise funds to support the Freedom Rides and to recruit new Riders.

Evelyn and Marvin Rich in 2009, courtesy the Harlem CORE archive

Rich was always there when CORE field secretaries needed something from the national office — always there in time of need. He was our life line. He maintained contact with the national political leaders who were sympathetic to what we were doing. Although he was based in New York with the tremendous responsibility of raising funds to support CORE activities nationally and to manage all the important affairs of CORE, he made frequent visits to the South. On one of those trips to Mississippi in 1964, he was severely beaten as he observed a voter-registration demonstration in Holmes County.

After leaving CORE in 1965, I joined Marvin as part of his staff when he was the director of the Southern Education Defense Fund for Racial Equality (SEDFRE), which was initiating voter registration drives across the South. Marvin also made it possible for me to receive the necessary funds to return to college and complete my undergraduate and post-graduate work.  I will be forever grateful.

More important than his role in the movement was Marvin the family man. He and Evie were and are models of what love and family should be. Marvin was like a big brother to me. One of my most memorable moments with Marvin was when my wife and I visited Evie and Marvin a couple of years ago. Marvin was having some health problems and Evie informed us that Marvin might have problems remembering me. When we arrived at the door, Marvin gave me that great grin and hug and called my name. You never forget friendship and love. He has been and will always be my rock. Thanks, Evie, for sharing him with us

AP news story from June 5, 1961