Roy Innis

Roy Innis is an American civil rights activist best known as the former national chairman of Congress of Racial Equality.


Civil rights activist Roy Innis was born on June 6, 1934, in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. In 1946, he immigrated to Harlem in New York City. Innis actively participated in the Congress of Racial Equality, becoming its National Chairman in 1968. He supported black separatism, economic competition with Whites and community school boards. Innis unsuccessfully ran twice for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1980s. During this time he also made controversial appearances on Geraldo Rivera and Morton Downey Jr. talk shows which led to on-air scuffles. In 1993, Innis made a failed mayoral run in New York. He continued to champion civil rights for African Americans until his death in 2017.

Early Life

Civil rights activist Roy Emile Alfredo Innis was born on June 6, 1934, in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. Emigrating to Harlem, New York, in 1946, he dropped out of high school to join the U.S. Army, and worked for a New York City research laboratory from 1963 to '67.


Roy Innis joined the Congress of Racial Equality in 1963, advocating for black separatism and community school boards. He became CORE's national president in 1968. Promoting community development corporations, he founded several black business groups and served as co-editor of the Manhattan Tribune.


Never fully accepted by established African-American civil rights leaders due to his unpredictable positions and personality, Innis was accused of being too dictatorial by his associates. The office of the New York attorney general investigated him for allegedly misusing contributions and, as a result, he was forced to pay CORE $35,000 in 1981.

In the 1980s, Innis twice ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. In 1988, he made controversial appearances on Geraldo Rivera's and Morton Downey Jr.'s television series that led to on-camera scuffles.

In 1993, Innis ran in the New York City Democratic mayoral primary, but lost to incumbent David Dinkins.


Roy Innis died from complications of Parkinson’s disease on January 8, 2017 in New York City. He was 82 years old.

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