An original founder of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Houser expanded his activism for racial justice internationally in 1953, when he established the American Committee on Africa (ACOA). Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a member of ACOA’s national committee, regularly corresponded with Houser, writing that he felt an “abiding concern” for Houser and his work opposing colonialism and South African apartheid (King, 21 March 1963).
Born to Methodist missionary parents, Houser grew up in the Philippines and various parts of the United States. As a student at the University of Denver and then at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, he worked for racial and economic justice. A committed pacifist, Houser, along with seven other seminarians, protested mandatory registration for the newly instituted draft in 1940. The “Union Eight,” as they came to be known, were sentenced to a year in federal prison.
When he emerged from prison, Houser completed his studies at Chicago Theological Seminary and joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) in 1941. In 1942, together with FOR colleagues Bayard Rustin and James Farmer, Houser founded CORE in order to pursue nonviolent direct action against segregation. Houser led sit-ins at segregated restaurants, movie theaters, and roller-skating rinks, and protested racial discrimination in housing. In 1947, Houser and Rustin organized the Journey of Reconciliation, which sent an integrated group of 16 men on a multi-state bus tour of the South to test the Supreme Court’s Morgan v. Virginia decision, which ruled that interstate travel could not be segregated. The campaign served as a model for the Freedom Rides of 1961.
In 1953, Houser created ACOA to support anti-colonial struggles throughout Africa and end apartheid. In December 1962, after preparing with Houser, King and other African American leaders met with President John F. Kennedy to discuss U.S. policy in Africa. In a speech at a Human Rights Day rally organized by Houser on 10 December 1965, King called U.S. economic support to South Africa “the shame of our nation” and urged all nations to boycott South Africa in a demonstration of the “international potential of nonviolence” (King, 10 December 1965).
In 1966, Houser founded The Africa Fund, which he directed alongside ACOA until 1981. The following year, he addressed the United Nations’ Special Committee against Apartheid on the 30th anniversary of the Campaign of Defiance against Unjust Laws in South Africa. Houser’s autobiography, No One Can Stop the Rain, was published in 1989, and he continued to speak and write on Africa. ACOA and The Africa Fund merged with the Africa Policy Information Center in 2001 under the name Africa Action.