Skip to main content Skip to main navigation

Rioghan Kirchner Civil Rights in Brooklyn Collection

Call Number



1960-2005, inclusive
; 1960-1969, bulk


Kirchner, Rioghan, -2013.


5.2 Linear Feet in 10 boxes

Language of Materials

English .


A collection of material related to the 1960s civil rights movement in the United States, particularly the Brooklyn chapter of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) and the Brooklyn group FOCUS (Freedom Organizations Coordinated for Unity in Shorefront), compiled by Rioghan Kirchner, a member of Brooklyn CORE and cofounder of FOCUS.

Historical Note

CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) was a national civil rights organization founded in Chicago in 1942. The Brooklyn chapter was founded in 1960 by Dr. Robert Palmer, Marjorie Leeds, and a group of other local community activists specifically to address living conditions in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant: poor quality housing, inadequate garbage collection, inferior schools, and high unemployment. From 1960-1964, members of Brooklyn CORE led local demonstrations to desegregate housing, integrate public schools, create jobs, and improve sanitation services in Bedford-Stuyvesant. The organization was one of the most dynamic civil rights groups in New York City at the time.

FOCUS (Freedom Organizations Coordinated for Unity in Shorefront) was another Brooklyn group that made significant contributions to the civil rights movement. Working out of the Sheepshead Bay-Shorefront area, the group was instrumental in suspending the licenses of several real estate brokers who discriminated in selling and renting houses and apartments. They also took direct action against violators of public accommodations such as the American Legion and Cabana Clubs. Their Operation Open City was active in obtaining housing for minority families who had been discriminated against.

Black News was a semi-monthly newsletter produced in Bedford-Stuyvesant from 1969 to 1984. The photocopied publication was created and distributed entirely by volunteers. According to its first issue, it was "a community publication" and "it was formed in order to encourage a new awareness and involvement among our people." With articles on police brutality, racist government policies, corrupt politicians, health and medicine, and the "P.O.W. Forum"—a series on Black people in prisons—as well as poetry and artwork, Black News worked to fulfill its mission to "agitate, educate, [and] organize."

Biographical Note

Rioghan Kirchner was born in Liverpool, England. After immigrating to Canada, she met and married an American man, Paul Kirchner, and the two of them moved to Brooklyn, New York in 1955. Her first job in the United States was as a clerk at the Kings Bay branch of Brooklyn Public Library. Soon after earning a degree from Brooklyn College, she started working in the Domestic Violence Unit of South Brooklyn Legal Services, where she worked for many years. When she retired in 1987, she was working as a legislative assistant to the City Council.

Inspired by the Southern Freedom Riders, she joined the Brooklyn chapter of CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) in 1961, and soon took on an active role in the organization. Kirchner worked as a "tester," masquerading as a potential renter to landlords suspected of housing discrimination in order to identify those who denied rental opportunities based on race. She went on to become Housing Chairman and then Vice-Chairman of Brooklyn CORE. Later, she helped start FOCUS (Freedom Organization Coordinated Unity in Shorefront) and organized their campaign against real estate brokers engaged in discriminatory housing practices.

Kirchner passed away in 2013.


The collection is arranged in four series by subject. The individual series arrangement is as follows: Series I is arranged by subject. Series II is also arranged by subject except for the newsletters, which are arranged chronologically. Series III is arranged by type of media and the subseries are arranged chronologically. Series IV is arranged chronologically.

Scope and Contents

This collection contains both primary source materials documenting the work of CORE, FOCUS and other Brooklyn groups during the 1960s as well as secondary source materials such as newspaper and magazine articles that refer to ongoing civil rights struggles on the national stage.

Series I covers Brooklyn CORE actions against employment discrimination, housing and school discrimination, as well as the organization's participation in the March on Washington in 1963. It also includes documents relating to legal cases and photographs of actions and individual activists.

Series II contains FOCUS newsletters and other materials relating to FOCUS and their work on housing discrimination.

Series III is a compilation of books, articles, typescripts and ephemera on various aspects of the civil rights movement.

Series IV consists of a run of facsimile copies of the newsletter Black News (124 issues from October 1969 to March 1984).

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers without restriction.

Conditions Governing Use

While many items at the Center for Brooklyn History are unrestricted, we do not own reproduction rights to all materials. Be aware of the several kinds of rights that might apply: copyright, licensing and trademarks. The researcher assumes all responsibility for copyright questions.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item/descriptive title, date (if known); Rioghan Kirchner Civil Rights in Brooklyn Collection, BCMS_0011; Brooklyn Public Library, Center for Brooklyn History.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Gift of Rioghan Kirchner, 2003-2005.

Related Materials

Center for Brooklyn History Civil Rights Research Guide

Arnie Goldwag Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) collection (ARC 002)

Bob Adelman photographs of Brooklyn Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) demonstrations (V1989.022)

Brian Purnell Civil Rights in Brooklyn Oral History Collection (BCMS.0012)

Brian Purnell research papers (2015.034)

Richetta Randolph Wallace papers, 1906-1971 (1978.137)

August Meier and Elliott Rudwick. CORE: a study in the civil rights movement, 1942-1968. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975.

Brian Purnell. A movement grows in Brooklyn: the Brooklyn chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the northern civil rights movement during the early 1960's. Ann Arbor, MI: UMI 2006.

Brian Purnell. Fighting Jim Crow in the County of Kings: the Congress of Racial Equality in Brooklyn. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2013.

Clarence Taylor. The Black churches of Brooklyn. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 1994.

Craig Steven Wilder. A covenant with color: race and social power in Brooklyn. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2000.

Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard, eds. Groundwork: local black freedom movements in America. New York, NY: New York University, 2005.

Collection processed by

Brooklyn Collection staff with assistance from Rioghan Kirchner and reprocessed by Diana Bowers-Smith

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 11:20:48 +0000.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Description is written in: English, Latin script.

Processing Information

Records indicate that the donor assisted in the original processing of this collection. This finding aid was revised to incorporate the complete Table of Contents for all issues of Black News (Series IV), among other revisions such as expanding the Historical and Biographical Notes. Please note that some of the article titles in Black News use oppressive language. This language is used in context as verbatim titles from the publication and as such has not been altered in this finding aid.

The collection was reprocessed in early 2021. Materials were rehoused from deteriorated boxes and folders, duplicate photocopies were discarded, preservation photocopies of news clippings were created, and materials were given a clearer arrangement.

Revisions to this Guide

February 2021: This finding aid was revised to incorporate the complete Table of Contents for all issues of Black News (Series IV), among other revisions. Please note that some of the article titles in Black News use oppressive language. This language is used in context as verbatim titles from the publication and as such has not been altered in this finding aid. Revised by Diana Bowers-Smith, Archivist


Brooklyn Collection
Center for Brooklyn History
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201