Origins of the civil rights sit in–U.S. Capitol: 1934

26 Feb
Howard students take direct action at the Capitol: 1934

Howard University students protest Jim Crow at the Capitol-1934.

By Craig Simpson


In the first organized, sustained sit-in demonstration against Jim Crow in the Washington, D.C. area and perhaps in the nation, a series of interracial groups took seats and demanded service at the public U.S. Capitol restaurants in 1934. They were buttressed by a group of 30 African American Howard University students who were barred, and their leaders were later arrested when they sought to enter the public House and Senate restaurants.


 

The impetus to the campaign began January 23, 1934 when Morris Lewis, secretary to the only African American U.S. Representative Oscar DePriest (R-Il.), was denied service along with his son at the House of Representatives public restaurant at the U.S. Capitol.

Background

At that time there were five restaurants within the Capitol complex. The House of Representatives operated a public restaurant (sometimes called the café or the grill) where Lewis was denied service. Across the hall was the House restaurant set up for members and their guests. A third restaurant was a small room adjacent to the kitchen in the basement where African American workers on Capitol Hill ate.

The restaurants were under the direct supervision of the Accounts Committee chaired by Rep. Lindsay Warren (D-N.C.).

The Senate also operated two restaurants—one for members and guests located within the Capitol building and another public restaurant or café located in the Senate Office Building.

Last African American congressman from Reconstruction era: 1901

After Rep. George White left office in 1901, there is not another African American in Congress until Oscar DePriest in 1929.

After the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and the Supreme Court’s Plessy v. Ferguson decision legalizing “separate but equal” in 1896, Jim Crow laws and practices began sweeping the country, and Washington, D.C. was no exception.

In a 1934 interview with the Afro American, John H. Paynter of 51st Street NE recalled the times before Jim Crow was introduced into the Capitol,

In the late 1880s and early 90s an era which takes its place as the Golden Age of least restrictive privilege for the colored citizen of the District; it was not unusual for our ladies and gentlemen to lunch at the House restaurant with no evidence of discourtesy.

The last African American representative of the post-Civil War era was George Henry White (R-N.C.), who left office in 1901. No other African American would be elected to Congress until DePriest, who took office in 1929.

Call for Jim Crow

Sulloway outrages white supremacists: 1902

Rep. Cyrus Sulloway regularly dined with an African American in 1902.

The calls for Jim Crow in the Capitol restaurants began quickly after White’s departure.

The Louisiana newspaper The Rice Belt Journal in 1902 lamented that

Congressman [Cyrus] Sulloway [R-N.H.], the giant of the house, who hails from New Hampshire, almost daily has as his guest in the house restaurant his negro messenger, and the two, sitting at one table, break bread together and discuss the questions of the day. 

In 1903 the Indiana paper, the Daily Ardomreite, decried President Theodore Roosevelt’s Republican policies regarding African Americans.

They [African Americans] are making more conspicuous appearances than ever at public places usually given over to the whites. At the capitol, in both the senate and the house…restaurants, negroes have been served along with the whites, though not at the same table.

Rep. J. O’H. Patterson: Wanted Jim Crow House restaurant: 1907

Rep. James Patterson is astonished in 1907 at mixed dining in the Capitol.

Rep. James O’Hanlon Patterson (D-S.C.) challenged the admission of African Americans to the House restaurant in 1907 when he spied a black clergyman from Boston dining with white women.

The Washington Post reports:

Mr. Patterson entered the restaurant at the lunch hour, when the place was crowded. Seated at one of the tables was a very dark-skinned colored man and a couple of white women of apparent refinement and respectability.

The latter were chatting with the colored brother in the most friendly fashion, and apparently treating him as an equal. Mr. Patterson states that he was amazed at the sight. 

The Post quotes Patterson himself:

My first impulse was to go over and interview that Boston clergyman, as it was a practical demonstration of the social equality of the races that grated on me and I was mad clear through.

However I refrained, by an effort, from making an unseemly exhibition of myself and sought the manager of the restaurant for an explanation.

To my astonishment, he told me that the portion of the restaurant set aside for the general public was free to anybody who wished to be served, regardless of color and that he was powerless to prevent such an exhibition of social equality as that which so enraged me.

Patterson failed in his attempt to impose Jim Crow at that time.

William Vernon: Object of Jim Crow attempt at U.S. Capitol: 1909

Register of the Treasury William Vernon.

The next widely publicized move against admitting African Americans to the House public restaurant occurred May 13, 1909 when the African American Register of the Treasury William Tecumseh Vernon and a companion entered and sat at a table near future Vice President and current Rep. John Nance Garner (D.-Tx.) and Rep. Martin Dies Sr. (D.-Tx.).

According to the New York Daily Tribune,

Mr. Garner and his companion had given their order for food, when Mr. Vernon and his friend entered. At another table the three other Southern members were preparing to eat. The entrance of the register was greeted with protests, and when he had seated himself Mr. Garner announced that his order would have to be cancelled if negroes were allowed in the restaurant.

He was followed by his colleagues, and they immediately went to the proprietor, to whom they expressed themselves in unmeasured terms. He declared that he was powerless to interfere and advised that the Speaker be consulted.

Mr. Garner heard from L. White Busbey, the Speaker’s secretary, that the restaurant was a public one, and that if Mr. Garner and his friends desired privacy they should go to the dining room set apart for member of Congress.

This information served to cool the anger of the Southerners, although there are still mutterings about a boycott on the restaurant.

Garner wants Jim Crow U.S. Capitol restaurant: 1909

Rep. John Garner protests Vernon’s presence in the dining room-1909

However, Democrat Woodrow Wilson was elected president in 1912 and quickly set the standard for Jim Crow in Washington, D.C. when he segregated the federal government with separate dining areas, bathrooms, workspaces and directed other forms of discrimination.

By the first session of the new Congress in April 1913, Democrats held a comfortable majority in the House and a slim majority in the Senate. Southern Democrats of the “Solid South” played a disproportionately large role and, among other issues, turned their attention to the administration of the Capitol building.

W. Tyler reported on a Democratic caucus meeting in September 1913 for the Chicago Defender:

…it was voted to dismiss all the Negro employees at the Capitol, and give their places to white men. This is to include the barbers and waiters, who are employed at the Capitol building and in the Senate and House Office Building, as well as the messengers and laborers.

The white supremacists did not carry through on all their plans, but the stage was set for Jim Crow within the law-making building of the nation’s capital.

Segregation comes to the Capitol restaurants

Jim Crow was formally extended to the Senate lunchroom in the Capitol building in 1917. Archibald Grimke, a founder of the NAACP and the Washington, D.C. branch president, protested, but he was told it was the new policy of the superintendent appointed by Wilson.

Rep. Aswell establishes Jim Crow in House restaurant: 1921

Rep. James Aswell’s letter triggers Jim Crow in House restaurant-1921

In December 1921, Rep. James B. Aswell (D-La.) wrote a letter to the chairman of the Accounts Committee, Clifford Ireland (R-Il.), that had recently been given oversight of the House restaurant, protesting the seating of African Americans.

The New York Times reported that Aswell observed “four negroes eating in the restaurant the last few days” and demanded to know under whose authority they were admitted. The letter said in part:

Is this to be the practice of your committee under the present administration? Gentlemen of the House should have this information now so they may know whether to keep their families, friends and themselves away.

The Afro-American wrote,

Colored people here paid little attention to Aswell’s letter.

Any attempt on the part of the Republican administration to prevent their entering a government institution supported out of their taxes will, it is said, only forge another weapon to be used against the party in the next election.

Aswell was given assurances that henceforth “the restaurant would be restricted to whites-only,” according to the Times.

Despite the Afro’s bluster, Jim Crow had come to the U.S. Capitol

Oscar DePriest

DePriest attempts to end Jim Crow at House restaurant: 1934

Rep. Oscar DePriest circa 1930.

DePriest was born in Alabama to former slaves who were freed during the Civil War. In the period after federal troops were withdrawn from Alabama in 1874, DePriest’s parents stayed in Alabama as white supremacists consolidated their rule. However, continuing violence against African Americans, including on the DePriests’ doorstep, caused them to flee in 1878.

DePriest went to Salina Normal School in Kansas where he studied bookkeeping and teaching. Moving to Chicago, he made a fortune in construction, real estate and the stock market.

He was elected in 1914 as Chicago’s first black alderman and built an African American political machine under the patronage of Republican Mayor William Thompson.

DePriest was an advocate of opening trade unions to African Americans and assisted an ultimately unsuccessful effort in the early 1920s to recruit African Americans working in Chicago’s meatpacking plants into the local union.

Thompson selected him to fill a vacancy on the ballot for Congress in 1928 and he was elected the first African American U.S. representative outside the South and the first in the 20th Century.

DePriest was a conservative Republican but survived Roosevelt’s landslide election in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression that elected a heavily Democratic Congress. DePriest’s political machine was able to overcome a Democratic edge in party registration within his district and retain black Republican votes that were shifting to the Democratic column elsewhere.

He is credited with speaking out forcefully against Jim Crow during speeches in the South, but was not a believer in the direct action that was then being put into practice by communists and other radicals and being adopted locally by the liberal New Negro Alliance.

He earned the ire of Chicago communists and other progressive forces in the African American community over his refusal to introduce a resolution in Congress regarding the “Scottsboro Boys,” evicting unemployed workers from his real estate holdings, voting against the World War I veterans bonus bill, opposing higher taxes on the wealthy, and for a speech saying he was “not interested in social equality.”

The communists disrupted his speaking events and in turn he opposed them at every opportunity.

During his tenure in Congress he introduced civil rights bills, but had little to show for it except the requirement that the Civilian Conservation Corps ban discrimination based on “race, color, or creed.” However the CCC was initially set-up as Jim Crow in the South and by 1935 this was extended across the nation.

During his five years on the Hill, up until the point where his aide was refused service, he had made no moves to end Jim Crow within the Capitol.

At the time of that incident he was weighing his options in an intra-party Republican fight in Chicago between supporting incumbent committeeman William E. King and ambitious second ward alderman William L. Dawson. A second fight was brewing with both King and Roscoe Simmons challenging incumbent state senator Adelbert Roberts.

DePriest needed to calculate his political moves carefully to maximize his ability to turn out Republican votes against an expected strong Democratic challenge in the fall.

New restaurant management

In the ensuing years after Jim Crow was introduced into the Capitol restaurants, it was enforced sporadically until Warren hired Patrick Henry Johnson to manage the House of Representatives’ restaurants in 1933.

Johnson was a former state senator from Patego, N.C.—Warren’s home state—and had no previous restaurant experience when he was brought in.

While under the tutelage of the former manager Frank Verdi, he reportedly said “n_____s steal and I am going to watch them,” according to the Afro American.

When Johnson took over, he removed African Americans from cashier and other key positions and put them back to work as waiters or busboys, placing white men in their positions.

Johnson next issued his order to bar all African Americans from the public café and the restaurant, effective Tuesday, January 23, 1934.

Lewis reacts

Aide Morris Lewis and Rep. Oscar DePriest: 1929

Morris Lewis (left) with DePriest in 1929.

Lewis gave a statement to a congressional hearing later where he said:

On Tuesday, January 23, 1934, about noon, as I frequently have done for the past four or five years, accompanied by my son, I went to the Coffee Shop of the public restaurant of the House of Representatives.

We took seats as usual. Almost immediately the cashier approached me and touched me on the shoulder, with the announcement that, “This restaurant is reserved for white people and colored people will not be served.”

Lewis summoned the manager and demanded an explanation. Johnson told reporters afterward:

They demanded to know who was responsible for the order not to serve them. I told them the House Accounts Committee. Then they said they were American citizens and refused to be insulted like that.

Lewis said he sought Warren in his office but was told he was on the floor of the House. Lewis then sent a note calling for Warren but was told he wasn’t on the floor. He returned to Warren’s office and after 30 minutes was led into an anteroom where Warren’s secretary told him the congressman could not be seen.

Lewis then returned to DePriest’s office. Before Lewis could tell DePriest about the events, a reporter for the Afro American arrived and asked DePriest if he knew about the new order barring African Americans.

DePriest enraged

The Afro American described DePriest’s reaction:

DePriest became enraged immediately. Bouncing to his feet from behind his large desk, the Congressman turned to his secretary Morris Lewis to see if he had received such notice.

The Afro reported the conversation between the two as follows:

Lewis: Why I went in there to eat this morning and the cashier tapped me on the back and said that the coffee shop was reserved for white.

DePriest: You mean to tell me that they wouldn’t let you eat in there?

Lewis: They certainly wouldn’t.

Wilkinson part of sit-in at House restaurant: 1934

Frederick Wilkinson-1934.

DePriest turned to Frederick Wilkinson, the Howard University registrar who was seated in the office, and said, “Come on Fred, you and Mr. Weaver [Afro American reporter Frederick Weaver], we’ll eat in there, or find out why.”

Through the hallways from his office, on the Capitol subway and through the halls of Congress on his way to the coffee shop, DePriest stopped everyone he could and told them about the discrimination.

Upon arriving at the coffee shop, the group found it closed for the day. However the restaurant for members was open and the three went in, took seats and placed an order for bean soup. They were served without incident—testing whether the ban extended to the members’ restaurant and perhaps unwittingly launching the first sit-in of many over the next two months protesting racial discrimination in the Capitol building.

After inquiring of the waiter as to who the manager of the coffee shop was, DePriest called Johnson over. According to the Afro, the conversation went as follows:

DePriest: Who gave you orders to keep colored people from eating across the hall in the public coffee shop? I know you didn’t make any such rules.

Johnson: Those were Mr. Warren’s orders.

DePriest: That’s all I want to know. That’s all, you may go back.

When the group finished their soup, they headed for Warren’s office, but according to the secretary he wasn’t there.

DePriest, parting ways with Wilkinson, headed for the office of Speaker of the House Thomas Rainey (D-Il.). According to the Afro Rainey feigned ignorance saying, “Why I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“I’ll draft a resolution tonight and introduce it in the morning,” DePriest responded, according to the Afro.

DePriest headed back to his office, again telling everyone he saw about the affront.

The Associated Press reported DePriest’s words as he talked to someone in the hall:

I didn’t know anything about it until a few minutes ago. If the Democrats are going to act that way toward the Negroes, we might as well have a showdown now.

It seems funny to me that a man with money to pay for is food whether he be Jew, Gentile or Negro should be refused food in a public restaurant.

That is a public restaurant and everybody ought to have a right to eat there. I am going to insist on a square deal for Jews, Gentiles and Negroes.

I am going to see to it that Negroes are going to eat there, or we can close it. I’m going to put it to a vote on that resolution, which I am having drafted right now.

Warren holds firm to Jim Crow

Rep. Warren, chief architect of Jim Crow at House restaurant: 1934

Rep. Lindsay Warren (left)–1934.

With reporters swirling around the Capitol, Warren was bombarded for comment and issued a statement on the event.

In refusing to serve two Negroes today in the House restaurant, Manager P. H. Johnson of the restaurant was acting on my orders and instructions. The restaurant has been operated by the Committee of Accounts since 1921.

It has never served Negro employees or visitors, nor will it so long as I have anything to do with it.

Warren said that as a member of Congress, De Priest had a right to eat there, but as for others…

…if we let one Negro employee eat in the restaurant, we’ll have to let all of them. It always has been the rule to feed only white people in the restaurant.

The New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Associated Press and the African American press, among others, spread the story across the nation.

DePriest’s resolution

Atlanta paper highlights DePriest Jim Crow resolution: 1934

Atlanta World calls it a ‘showdown for rights.”

The Afro American reported that DePriest offered a resolution the following day that read:

Resolved, that the committee on accounts of the House of Representatives be and it is hereby instructed to rescind any and all rules, instructions or orders of said committee whereby any citizen is discriminated against on account of race, color or creed in the public restaurant, grill room or other public facilities under the supervision of the House of Representatives.

The Afro trumpeted that the resolution might be the “Waterloo” for Jim Crow and a headline blazed “Action may lead to far-reaching fight.”

However, the Afro had reported the resolution prematurely. That was only a draft of what DePriest intended to introduce before he was told the Speaker of the House wanted to talk to him.

Rainey stalls Jim Crow House restaurant vote: 1934

Speaker of the House Thomas Rainey.

After a telephone call with Speaker Rainey, DePriest agreed to hold off open debate and was given the privilege of inserting his remarks in the Congressional Record for the day at a later date, according to the Afro.

The Associated Press reported Rainey had a brief conversation where he told DePriest, “Don’t you do anything about that matter until I see you.”

After their undisclosed conversation at the meeting between the two of them, DePriest offered a different resolution.

Instead of the planned bar on discrimination resolution, DePriest offered one alleging that the Accounts Committee received jurisdiction over the House restaurants in a special resolution adopted during the 67th Congress in 1921, and that as such that authority had expired at the end of that session without any renewing resolution.

DePriest’s resolution asked that an investigation be undertaken by a committee of five appointed by the Speaker of the House to determine whether the Accounts Committee exceeded its authority when it ordered discrimination against African Americans.

After hearing about DePriest’s resolution Warren responded by telling the Associated Press:

There has been a place in the basement of the Capitol building where colored people have been served since the restaurant was first established. That’s where they will continue to eat.

DePriest explained to an Afro reporter why he backpedaled on his promise to hold a floor debate on banning Jim Crow:

It is going to be a party fight and I think I owe Mr. [Bertrand] Snell, the [minority] leader, the courtesy of awaiting his return before starting the row on the floor. I have nothing against Mr. Rainey or any other leaders but this fellow Warren.

You might think it is a simple matter to get the highest legislative body in the land to take a stand against discrimination against any class of citizens. But that is not true. These men know that they have not got a legal leg to stand on, yet many of them secretly are in favor of discrimination and so are their constituencies. They don’t want to be put on the spot…All except the dyed-in-the-wool race haters, realize that morally and legally their attitude on such an issue is slimy.

DePriest had fallen into a trap, but wouldn’t find out until later.

Rainey, seeking to contain a national debate over Jim Crow when so many of his party supported it, sent the resolution to the Rules Committee, where he intended it would simply die without debate or action.

DePriest again challenged the seating policy on January 25th when he and Lewis went this time to the House public restaurant Lewis had been barred from two days earlier.

The New York Amsterdam News, an African American newspaper, reported that the appearance caused a “mild sensation” but the two were served uneventfully.

DePriest criticized

DePriest got criticized from all sides.

The Cleveland Gazette questioned why DePriest ignored the situation earlier, blasting him because he “waits until there is a Southern Democratic Congress to make a stir about it, something that should have been done long ago—when both Houses of the Congress were Republican.”

DePriest also came under fire from some African Americans for not pressing for a ban on discrimination and refraining from an open debate. Feeling the pressure, he released a statement on January 27th:

I understand the impression has gone out that I am not going to insist upon bringing my resolution to the floor for debate and vote. The rules of the House on an unprivileged resolution require that it go to the Committee on Rules for hearings.

That committee can give it a hearing and report it out favorably or unfavorably, or it can pigeon-hole the resolution.

If the committee refuses to act on my resolution I shall draft a petition to take it from the committee and bring it to the floor for action. This cannot be done until after the resolution has been in the hands of the committee without action for thirty days.

I have no intention of letting up in this fight without securing either approval or disapproval of the attitude of the Committee on Accounts on tis matter of race discrimination in the public restaurants and other appurtenances of the House of Representatives.

A sample House of Representatives restaurant menu: 1933

A 1933 menu from the House restaurant.

Lewis told the Associated Negro Press (ANP) that he and DePriest had not dined at the House public restaurant:

It is reported in the white press that I ate at the House restaurant last Thursday. I have not dined at the House restaurant since I was refused last Tuesday, January 23 1934 and I do not intend to again eat there until the bar against my racial group is removed.

But in the same article the ANP carried an account of the incident that said,

The two sat along the wall near the center of the room and necks were craned from all sides as they took their seats.

The Associated Press had also reported on the second dining with a slightly different take. It is unlikely that black and white reporters could have both had a case of mistaken identity on high profile, easily recognizable figures like DePriest and Lewis.

Instead, it can be inferred that DePriest had abandoned direct action and deferred to Speaker Rainey on how to handle the issue and was doing damage control. He was plainly worried that the direct action would offend his congressional colleagues and cost him support for his resolution.

In its January 28th edition, the Afro American ran a headline “Rep. Rainey hopes to end Jim Crow,” a further indication of the trust that was being placed in the Congressional leadership and the process. But both the Afro and DePriest would ultimately have to face the reality of the American legislative process.

DePriest continued to react defensively to criticism. He told the ANP:

Of course, I have no intention of turning back. Counter attacks will be set up against me Already the daily press has been filled with nasty little reports designed to throw the people off the track and to cause my motives to be questioned.

I have received word from my own district that I plotted for my secretary to be insulted so that I might have a good issue to use back home. How silly! Up until last Tuesday Mr. Lewis had been taking his meals regularly in the Capitol Coffee Shop. It was not until Tuesday that the Jim Crow rule was invoked against him. The issue was brought to me.

Congressional Support for DePriest

Rep. Cochran says Jim Crow okay: 1934

Rep. John Cochran: “I don’t care about colored people eating in the public coffee shop.”

The situation was relatively quiet in February while DePriest waited out the 30 days the Rules Committee had to consider his resolution before he could petition members of Congress to bring it to the floor in the event the committee chose not to act on it.

Republicans generally pledged support for DePriest and some liberal Democrats did the same.

Rep. John J. Cochran (D-Mo.), a member of the Accounts Committee, said Warren never brought the matter to the committee.

I don’t care about colored people eating in the public coffee shop. We have a private place in which to eat and take our personal friends and I don’t want to be involved in the matter. That is Warren’s responsibility and he will have to wiggle out of it the best he can.

Acting Minority Leader Rep. Joseph W. Martin (R-Ma.) believed many representatives would support DePriest:

Undoubtedly a majority of the Republicans will support him when the resolution comes up. The Republicans don’t believe in discrimination. They will support him in the Rules Committee.

Rep. James M Beck (R.-Pa.) said he was prepared to take to the House floor to defend DePriest and “the rights of colored people.”

Fuel to the fire

Byrd expulsion from Senate restaurant sparks sit-ins: 1934

Mabel Byrd circa 1928.

A firestorm broke out again on February 21st when it was reported that a party of three women and one man, including African American Mabel Byrd, had been barred from the Senate restaurant.

The group from Chicago included Cook County commissioner Amelia Seers, Sarah Paul Paige and Trevor Bowen, along with Byrd. The group had been attending hearings on the Costigan-Wagner anti-lynching bill.

When the party entered, a waitress told them, “If that woman is colored, she can’t eat in here.”

Seers told the Associated Press that after a “dignified” argument with the “individual” in charge, they were refused permission to eat and were evicted by Senate Office Building police officers.

According to Seers, a police officer grabbed Byrd’s elbow so forcefully it caused her to pass out as he expelled her from the restaurant.

The Atlanta Daily World reported that Byrd was dragged unconscious through the corridors and down the stairs to the police headquarters within the Capitol before being placed under a doctor’s care.

Copeland denies Senate restaurant is Jim Crow: 1934

Senator Royal Copeland in 1936.

Senator Royal S. Copeland (D.-N.Y.), chair of the Senate Rules Committee that oversaw the restaurant, stated that the Byrd party was not barred because of race but because the restaurant was full and there were no tables available, according to the Afro.

Byrd adamantly denied Copeland’s version saying, “There were plenty of tables available,” according to the Afro.

Copeland further denied that the restaurant barred African Americans. However, Copeland then ordered the restaurant to reserve a table for African Americans—setting up another version of Jim Crow, according to the New York Amsterdam News and other African American news outlets.

It was the first of the changing official stories.

The Washington Tribune reported Chester Jurney, sergeant-at-arms at the Capitol, contradicted Copeland and said,

If Miss Byrd had investigated the matter quietly and in a ladylike manner, she would have found that the particular waitress who had refused to serve her was in the wrong. Instead of doing that, she immediately flew into a tantrum and disrupted the lunch hour quiet of the restaurant with screams and cursings.

Sears hotly denied Jurney’s account, “absolutely untrue!”

Sears went on to explain that a plainclothes officer supported the waitress’s order to bar Byrd. The Atlanta Daily World quotes Sears:

In the meantime, uniformed men came and seized Miss Byrd. She did not curse, but rightfully told them not to touch her inasmuch as she had committed no crime and created no disturbance, any more than anyone else in the party of four.

Byrd after her removal from Senate restaurant: 1934

Mabel Byrd: 1934

Byrd was the first African American admitted to the University of Oregon, later transferring to the University of Washington. There she was not permitted to board on campus with other students because of her race and had to stay off-campus with a professor. She earned a degree in liberal arts.

She became involved with the civil rights movement of the time, working with the YWCA and NAACP, which included working with W.E.B. DuBois. After working at Fisk University on segregation issues, she was hired to insure equal conditions and employment opportunities for African Americans under the National Recovery Administration. She had been recently appointed to President Franklin Roosevelt’s Consumer Advisory Board.

Her standing in the African American community and with liberals made little difference.

Two days after Byrd was expelled and Copeland made his initial remarks that there was no ban on African Americans, a reporter for the Afro American went into the Senate public restaurant and was served without a problem—the first of many people other than DePriest and Lewis to knowingly challenge Capitol segregation.

Another unidentified group of three people—one white woman, who was reportedly a writer for a communist newspaper, and two African Americans—entered the Senate restaurant and were served without incident, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Later Copeland would admit the waitress had in fact barred the Byrd party and rescinded his order for a separate table. He continued to deny, however, that the Senate public restaurant barred African Americans and reminded an Afro reporter that someone from his newspaper had been served subsequent to the Byrd incident.

For those seeking to bar African Americans on the Senate side, the problem was a little more complicated—there was no separate restaurant to serve African Americans like on the House side.

However, as events unfolded over the next few weeks, it became clear that orders were given to the restaurant to discourage, delay and make excuses as to why African Americans couldn’t be seated, instead of outright barring and giving race as the reason.

Sit-ins begin in earnest

Dorothy Detzer, executive secretary of Women’s Int. League: 1939

Dorothy Deter testifying before Congress in 1939.

Dorothy Detzer and Dorothy Cook, secretary and assistant secretary of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, began coordinating a series of small interracial groups of people to demand service at the Capitol restaurants.

The plan was to bring one African American each day into the restaurants in the company of a group of white people and force the end of Jim Crow or gain publicity that would aid in its demise.

Most were familiar to each other, having worked together on anti-lynching legislation and other liberal causes or attended meetings of the NAACP Interracial Committee in the city.

A group led by Cook attempted to meet with Sen. Copeland on Friday, March 9th over the Dorothy Byrd expulsion, but Copeland was unavailable.

The interracial group proceeded to the House Restaurant, where they seated themselves and ate a light lunch without interference from the management.

“It was about four o’clock in the afternoon and there were a very few dining there at the time,” said Cook. According to the Afro, red roses were given to the women of the party.

The following week, on March 13th another group returned to the Capitol and went to the House Restaurant and they were served without incident.

Theresa Russell among peace delegates at the White House: 1932

Theresa Hirshl Russell (second from left)–1932.

The group included Charles Edward Russell, of the local NAACP Interracial Committee; Theresa Hirshl Russell, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and Charles Russell’s wife; Harland Glazier, secretary of the socialist party in D.C.; and Ralph Bunche, professor of political science at Howard University.

Part of the group, along with others who joined them (Margaret Jones, member of the Interracial Council; Dorothy Alden former World Peaceways, Dorothy Cook, Harlan Glazier; Dr. Howand Beale, former professor of Bowdoin College and the Rev. R. W. Brooks of the Lincoln Temple Congregational Church) met Copeland in his office.

Copeland “expressed himself as strongly opposed to any form of segregation or discrimination in the Capitol cafes. He reiterated his previous statement that the Mable Byrd incident was unfortunate, and that the head waitress was absolutely wrong in her refusal to serve her,” according to the Afro.

But these small, quick victories were only temporary.

The next day the House restaurant refused service to a mixed group that included John F. Whitfield, pastor of the Christian Colored Church, and Leonard. C. Farrar, secretary of the National Forum Association, and three white persons: Charles Edward Russell, Harlan E. Glazier and Robert Shestick of the Citizens Party, according to the United Press International.

‘Yes, we don’t serve colored’

Dr. Wesley joins direct action aimed at Jim Crow: 1934

Dr. Charles Wesley circa 1941.

On March 15th Dr. Charles H. Wesley, an African American professor of history at Howard University, was refused service in yet another interracial group.

Wesley was told, “We don’t serve colored people here,” according to the Afro.

Wesley went to restaurant at noon Thursday with three white friends: Dr. Howard K. Beale, historian on the staff of the University of Chicago and research historian at the Library of Congress; Rev. Russell J. Clinchy, pastor of the Fourteenth Street Congregational Church in the city; and Katharine Wilfrey, a social worker.

Wesley told the Afro that the party took a table and then the following occurred:

When the waiter came to my table he told me the manager wanted to know my nationality and that he had told him to ask me. The waiter offered to serve me at his table, but I declined, because I feared he might lose his job.

Wesley said the manager then came over to the table:

Johnson: What nationality are you?

Wesley: I am an American citizen.

Johnson: But I mean what race?

Wesley: According to your definition, I am colored.

Johnson: Well then, you can’t be served here.

Wesley: You are excluding me then on the basis of race, because I am colored?

Johnson: Yes, we don’t serve colored.

Beale: Dr. Wesley is our guest. He did not come here of his own accord. We invited him. Do you mean to say our guests cannot be served here? Dr. Wesley is a master of arts of Yale, and a doctor of philosophy of Harvard. We were at Harvard together, and he is now my guest. I want him to be served.

Johnson: We’ll serve you three (indicating the three whites), but not him (pointing at Wesley).

Beale: Why?

Johnson: It is against the rules.

Wesley: Who made the rules?

Johnson: The committee, of which Congressman Warren of North Carolina is chairman.

The party stayed at the table for an hour and drafted a resolution signed by three white members of the party protesting the group’s treatment and the policy. They attempted to deliver it to Warren, who was having dinner in the private House members’ restaurant, but they were barred. Instead, they left their protest at Warren’s office.

“For Members Only”

‘Race problems roots in capital’ – 1942

D.C. a blueprint for Jim Crow across the country?

Sometime during the day of March 16th, Johnson put up a cardboard sign outside the public restaurant at the House that read, “For Members Only.”

The Post reported it was the first time ever that the public had been formally barred from the restaurant. Even to the Washington Post reporter this was thinly disguised discrimination.

Johnson told an African American man in the presence of a Post reporter that he would not be admitted to the restaurant. When the man asked why? Johnson responded, “Because you are a Negro.”

Weaver, a reporter for the Afro, questioned Johnson about his admitting obvious members of the public to the restaurant who were white:

Johnson replied, “Any white person who wants to can eat in there and we don’t intend to let no n______s eat in there if that’s what you want to know.”

The Afro reported:

Johnson stood by the door and told white people passing by who looked at the sign, “That’s all right, you may walk right in.”

Some would respond, “But the sign says….”

“Yes, but that doesn’t apply to you,” Johnson would reply.

When asked by the Afro reporter why he would post signs and then allow persons other than members to enter, Johnson responded:

“That rule is enforced at our discretion, but we don’t intend to let no n_______s eat in there if that’s what you want to know, and I hope, God damn it, you don’t like it; it would suit me fine.”

A waiter, hearing the commotion, asked what was going on and when told said:

“Come on in here. I will serve you and I wish he would fire me for doing it.”

‘Because I’m not a n________r”

After his order was taken and the reporter served a bowl of soup by waiter Harold Covington, Johnson came in with police and, according to the Afro said,

Waiter fired for serving African American at Capitol: 1934

Harold Covington, the waiter who served Weaver. 

Johnson: Didn’t you see that sign on the outside?

Weaver: Yes, but didn’t you tell me that it was public for everyone except n______s?

Johnson: I certainly did, and why did you come in here?

Weaver: Because I am not a n_______r.

Police officer: All right, let’s go. You’re just looking for trouble. This man is manager of this place and if he don’t want you in here you can’t come in, that’s all. Let’s go.

Outside Weaver met Rev. P. D. Perryman, an African American, and related the incident.

Johnson turned Perryman away as several police officers strode up explaining that African Americans were barred.

As Perryman walked away, Johnson called him back for a “clarification,” further explaining that if his Senator or Congressman accompanied him, he would be admitted.

Second Group tries to eat

Ryan takes oath as education director at BIA: 1930

Dr. W. Carson Ryan (center)–1930.

On Friday, March 16th a second group tried to eat in both the House restaurant and the Senate restaurant.

Dorothy Alden, recently of World Peaceways, and Dr. W. Carson Ryan, Director of Education at the United States Indian Service, were to meet James Herring, an African American professor of art at Howard University, but Herring didn’t show up.

Afro American reporter Florence Collins volunteered to take Herring’s place and the group headed for the House café. There they ignored the “For Members Only” sign, entering the restaurant “amid frowns, curious stares and a tense excitement,” according to Collins.

Collins reported that Johnson angrily approached and began an exchange:

Johnson: Is that woman colored?

Ryan: She is a United States citizen.

Johnson: But, is she colored?

Ryan: The lady is a friend of ours, who is within her rights. We just left the anti-lynching hearing and came here to get some lunch.

Johnson: I said, “Is that person colored?”

Alden: Well, what if she is?

Johnson: Now, you people know that I cannot serve colored persons here I think you are acting pretty rotten putting me in this position. I have been courteous to you folks all the way, and I think it is a shame the way you are acting.

Alden: Well, what are we doing wrong? We are entirely within our rights as American citizens. What authority have you to refuse to serve us?

Johnson: I take my order from Congressman Warren. That is all that I can do. I have strict orders not to serve colored people. Now you people know what is going on.

Alden: Know what?

Johnson: You know the publicity that this place has been getting. Haven’t you seen it in the daily papers? You have been coming here all this week embarrassing me with these actions. You know our policy.

Johnson walked away, but reporters had gathered outside the restaurant entrance and they began quizzing the party. After the interviews, the group tried to find Warren but he was not in his office. He was paged on the floor but the House page said he could not be located.

The group, minus Ryan but picking up Dorothy Detzer and Dorothy Cook of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, headed for the Senate side.

The party waited to be seated, but when seats opened up the manager beckoned an all-white group.

Detzer then led Collins to two vacant seats at a long table that was partially occupied by white diners.

A waiter told the two they could not be served and Detzer asked for the manager.

Peace activist Dorothy Detzer takes on Jim Crow: 1934

Dorothy Setzer in 1934.

E. Meaney, the manager of the Senate restaurant, told her if she sat at a separate table with the reporter she would be served. The exchange continued:

Meaney: You have no right to do this. You should have some respect and consideration for other white people in here. You have no business sitting here with these people, with your er, er, friend.

Detzer: I have been coming here for nine years and I have never been refused before.

Meaney: I cannot refuse to serve you.

Detzer: Then serve me.

Meaney: You mean serve you —alone?

Detzer: Bring me my order, bring it here to me now.

Meaney stared for a few seconds.

Meaney: Ah, come now, you know you wouldn’t have me do that.

Detzer: Are you refusing to serve me?

Meaney: Oh, you know that isn’t right. Don’t have me do that. Take another table with the rest of your party and you will all get served.”

Meaney walked away shortly afterward and Detzer told Collins, “Sit tight, they can’t harm you. We’ll sit it out.”

After more time, a table for four opened up and the group was seated together. All were served.

The Senate policy toward African Americans had been clarified—no outright refusal, but no service, if at all possible, either.

The Washington Post reported a separate incident where two unidentified women, one black and one white, were also refused service within the Capitol on March 16th .

Waiter fired

Noted psychologists Kenneth Clark and Mamie Phipps Clark: 1945 ca.

Kenneth and Mamie Phipps Clark circa 1945.

Harold Covington, a junior at Howard, was fired from his waiter’s job March 16th for serving the Afro American reporter Frederick Weaver—who was also a student at Howard University—during the incident over Johnson’s use of the n-word.

Word spread quickly to the Howard University campus and Kenneth Clark, a junior at the time and editor of the campus newspaper The Hilltop, wrote an editorial blasting segregation at the Capitol and inspiring students to stage a protest.

Clark and his wife Mamie would go on to do pioneering work as psychologists among African American children. Their research showed the debilitating effects of Jim Crow on African American children and provided the scientific evidence for ending the so-called “separate but equal” education with the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954.

Clark was only a young student in 1934 and his editorial marked the beginning of his long career as a civil rights researcher, practitioner and activist.

Howard students confront Jim Crow

Gilbert Banfield—student who protested U.S. Capitol Jim Crow: 1934

Gilbert Banfield, a Howard student who protested Jim Crow at the Capitol.

Clark, Weaver, Covington and several other students rallied other underclassmen to participate. They made signs and arranged for cabs to take the group to the Capitol the next day.

The all-male group of students dressed in their best clothes and headed for what must have been very unfamiliar territory to them.

They arrived at the Capitol about 1:00 p.m. and marched through the halls to the public House restaurant.

A dozen Capitol police officers formed a line in front of the doorway to the café and refused to let any of the group enter, giving no reason for the blockade

“We want to eat!” shouted the students. Restaurant manager Johnson shouted back, “Well you cannot eat, so get out!”

When the students began congregating in the hall, the police ordered them to move and when they didn’t move fast enough, began shoving them toward the street entrance. “We didn’t do anything, all we want to do is eat,” said one of the students.

William E. Blake—student who protested U.S. Capitol Jim Crow: 1934

William E. Blake, Howard student who protested Jim Crow at the Capitol.

The first few students who went through the revolving door jammed it shut so the remaining students couldn’t be expelled. However, police quickly cleared the door and the rest of the students were forced out.

After talking among themselves, they engaged the police in a conversation and asked to be permitted to enter the building.

Police agreed on the condition that no disturbance was raised and no corridors blocked.

After marching to the Senate cafeteria and finding it closed—determined later to be on the orders of the sergeant-at-arms–the group decided to send a delegation composed of Clark, Weaver, Covington and O. Phillips Snowden to confront Johnson, the white manager of the House restaurant.

Police blocked the group from approaching the House restaurant and particularly singled out Covington.

At this point Harry Parker, a long-time African American doorman for the Ways and Means Committee, grabbed for Covington’s arm and said to him, “Why don’t you boys go along about business and not clutter up the hallways?”

Covington took a swing at him and Parker retaliated, with the two exchanging blows.

Afro journalist Fred Weaver, center, at Capitol protest: 1934

L-R, William E. Jones, Frederick Weaver and Henry Allen Boyd Jr. leave the Capitol after the demonstration.

Police quickly separated them and arrested Covington on charges of disorderly conduct and assault.

After the arrest, the group went to the First Precinct police station and were told Covington wasn’t there. After going to police headquarters, they were referred back to the First Precinct.

While they were waiting on the outside of the First Precinct for a bondsman to arrive, a plainclothes officer arrested Dudley Clark, Kenneth Clark, Weaver and Snowden and charged them with blocking the sidewalk.

However when Captain W. E. Holmes was informed of the charges, he dropped them and had the records of the arrests destroyed.

Kenneth Clark: student who protested U.S. Capitol Jim Crow: 1934

Kenneth Clark in 1934.

Reflecting back years later, Clark remembered that when Holmes learned that the group had been protesting racial discrimination he shockingly said, “Let these young men go. Take their names off the books. They should be praised, not arrested.”

The students then returned to campus.

The mainstream press played up the disturbance, with UPI writing,

A group of students was pushed bodily along the corridor and outside the Capitol by the police. Several demonstrators struck at the police. A series of wrestling matches followed but gradually the entire group was dispersed.

The New York Times headline read, “Students Rush Congress Restaurant in Vain Effort to test Rule Barring Race.”

The Washington Star headline was “SUSPENSION ASKED IN DEMONSTRATION, Suggested for 30 Howard Students for House Restaurant Disorder.”

The Baltimore Sun’s banner read “30 Negro Students Routed from House Demonstration; Howard University Group Hustled Out by Police After “Members Only” Sign is Ignored—One Arrested for Punching Capitol Employe.”

Reaction to demonstrations

DePriest refused to aid any of the direct action demonstrators saying that protest “would do no good and only cause trouble,” according to the Washington Post.

In another statement to the Atlanta Daily World, DePriest said,

There is no use getting excited about this situation. I am proceeding in an orderly way and I am confident that the House will back me in my efforts to stop this wholly un-American conduct on the part of Mr. Warren and restaurant attachés.

Ulysses Lee—student who protested U.S. Capitol Jim Crow: 1934

Ulysses Lee, one of the so-called Howard “radicals.”

DePriest would apologize to his colleagues on the floor of the House of Representatives during a March 28th speech later in the month:

I am very sorry that those boys came down here from that university the other day as they did. If they had consulted me I would have told them to stay away from here…they are just like the uncontrolled youth of any college or school. There are very few colleges which do not have some radicals in them.

But the Afro published an editorial March 24th with the headline “Keep Up the Agitation Against Capitol J.C. [Jim Crow].

The newspaper praised Theresa Russell when Warren’s secretary told her that the policy was not to serve black people “and that’s the end of it.” Ms. Russell replied, “It is not the end, it is only the beginning.”

O. Phillip Snowden—student who protested U.S. Capitol Jim Crow: 1934

O. Phillip Snowden, another of the so-called Howard “radicals.”

The Afro did not call out DePriest by name for calling the students “radicals” but ran an editorial March 31st called “Thirty radicals.” It read in part:

If radicals is the worst name that can be found for these students, Howard University should consider that a compliment.

The radicals have always been the beacon lights of history. They came from the high, they came from the low. Look at the Declaration of Independence, and you will see an illustrious roll of radicals on that immortal scroll.

I apprehend that if there is anything at all in Darwinian theory of the origin of the species, then the first monkey who slid down the trunk of a tree was the first radical; and why? Because he upset the established and ordained order of things.

The conservative monkeys looked at him and shrieked at him from the tree tops. The tail hold that was good enough for their fathers was good enough for them, and the conservative monkeys called him a radical, a communist, an anarchist and a fool, but the radical monkey lifted up his face in hope to heaven, stood erect and walked, and in the lapse of the ages the radical became a man and the conservative has remained a monkey.

Should be kicked out of Howard

Rep. Thomas L Blanton (D-Tx.) said the students should be kicked out of Howard University along with President Mordecai Johnson.

We saw a bunch of them [communists] right here in this Capitol last Saturday, when 20 or 25 colored students from Howard University marched on this Capitol in a body insisting on violating the rules and regulations, attacked our good friend Harry, who though a colored man, has the respect, high esteem and warm friendship of every man who has been in Congress for the past 20 years and exemplified the teachings of Mordecai Johnson, the president of Howard University, who has preached communism on several occasions.

Rep. Warren said the demonstration by Howard University students was the “supreme outrage,” and that he was particularly shocked by the “obscene language used by the students,” according to the Washington Star. Warren went on to say that the restaurant was making a profit over the past year, but had lost money in the 10 days since demonstrations began.

Kenneth Romney, sergeant at arms of the House called for suspension of the 30 students saying they had “disgraced” the institution and should be punished.

Charges against students

No fee for attorney who takes student protest case: 1934

Atty. Perry Howard charged no free.

Covington was scheduled for trial on his assault and disorderly charges on March 19th, but Assistant U.S. Attorney David Hart requested additional time to study the case.

There were nearly 20 witnesses, including students, Capitol police, the restaurant manager and Parker.

On March 29th, the day before the trial was scheduled , Hart dismissed the case against Covington, citing a lack of evidence.

Covington’s attorney Perry W. Howard refused payment for his services saying:

You young students were fighting against something that many old people are afraid to speak against. I feel you were right and as long as young people of my race are chastised for doing the right, I am always ready to fight for them; I am glad to have been of service to you.

Howard said he was prepared to prove that Covington did not actually strike Parker, but struck at him when Parker advanced upon him.

The students’ version of events was vindicated over the exaggerated stories printed in the mainstream press.

Howard wasn’t the only one in Washington, D.C. to offer the students services for free.

Four African American taxi associations volunteered their services to transport the students back and forth to Capitol Hill and bail bondsman J. Walter Stewart bailed out Covington on a $400 bond without charge.

Expel the students?

DePriest, Scott and Johnson meet: 1930 ca.

President of Howard Mordecai Johnson, Rep. DePriest and Howard treasurer Emmet Scott circa 1930.

However, Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University, considered expelling the students. He feared a call by southern congressmen to cut the school’s substantial federal appropriations.

The matter was sent to the school disciplinary committee composed of a number of professors at the school.

Johnson addressed the committee and made it clear that the leaders should not get their diplomas and that all should receive some type of suspension. Each student testified and then was dismissed from the room.

The more conservative elements wanted to take action against the students. Part-time Afro reporter Frederick Weaver was particularly singled out and charged with duping the other students into staging the protest. Clark was also singled out for his editorial.

Bunche--Give protesting students a medal of honor: 1934

Ralph Bunche circa 1946.

But the chair of the committee, Ralph Bunche, said that a medal of honor should be given rather than punishment. Bunche, an influential political science professor who would get a Nobel Prize 25 years later, threatened to resign if the students were punished.

A second factor they considered was the issue of the University’s professors who took part in the protests organized by Cook. Bunche, the chair of the disciplinary committee, had participated in a March 13th “dine-in,” at the Capitol, albeit without incident. If the students were punished, what should happen to the professors?

In a battle as old as the debate between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois over the “Atlanta compromise,” the progressive elements within the faculty committee won out and in the end the university took no action.

Protests dampened

Charles Russell, NAACP founder and muckraking journalist: 1935 ca.

NAACP founder Charles Edward Russell circa 1935.

DePriest’s condemnation of the protests and Howard’s threat against the students effectively ended the series of direct action sit-ins, but protest on other levels continued.

Following the students’ confrontation at the Capitol, the Civic National Forum sponsored a meeting at the Twelfth Street Christian Church on March 18th where Russell, an NAACP founder, told the crowd:

You are not barred from the restaurant because you are colored or your skin is dark. You are suffering because of the sins of my ancestors in holding you as slaves.

Russell was making the point that under House restaurant manager Johnson’s rules, diplomats from African countries, tourists from Japan or China, and the darkest skin people visiting from the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Greece, Italy or Turkey would all be served, but not African Americans.

Russell continued:

I do solemnly urge that you do not drop this fight against this great evil. Our great trouble is that we start things and then drop them.

NAACP boycott of D.C. Safeway stores: 1941

Rev. R. W. Brooks (2nd from right) at a D.C. Safeway boycott in 1941.

Glazier, the local Socialist Party leader, said

If Congress puts its stamp of approval on segregation under the dome of the Capitol, it will become a national policy and you will see the results of it everywhere.

Never has any situation within my lifetime been as dreadful as segregation sponsored by the national government.

Other speakers included Rev. Brooks, Alden, Theresa Russell, Detzer, Farrar and pastor of the church Rev. J. F. Whitefield.

DePriest petitions for resolution

After 30 days had elapsed without the House Rules Committee taking action on his resolution for an investigation into Jim Crow at the House Restaurant, DePriest filed a petition to discharge the resolution for consideration on the House floor.

DePriest needed 145 signatures to accomplish this. He took the House floor on March 21st with a 45-minute speech that borrowed time from other representatives.

Some excerpts:

If we allow this challenge to go without correcting it, it will set an example where people will say Congress itself approves of segregation. Congress itself approves of denying one-tenth of our population equal rights and opportunity: why should not the rest of the American people do likewise.

No ‘social equality’ for Rep. Terrell: 1934

Rep. Terrell ‘Neither eats nor sleeps” with African Americans.

DePriest read into the record a letter he received from Rep. George R. Terrell (D-Tx.), which read in part,

I note the contents of the resolution and desire to state that I was raised among Negroes in the south and they have always been my personal friends. I work with them on my farm and pay them the same price that I pay white men for the same work. I treat them well and enjoy their confidence….but I’m not in favor of social equality between the races.

I neither eat nor sleep with the Negroes and no law can make me do so.

I think this explains my position clearly.

In his remarks, DePriest responded:

Nobody asked the gentleman to sleep with him. That was not in my mind at all. I do not know why he thought of it. I am very careful about who I sleep with.

I am also careful about whom I eat with; and I want to say to you gentlemen that the restaurant down here is a place where one pays for what one gets. If I go in there, sit down to a table, I pay for what I get, and I am not courting social equality with you…Social equality is something that goes about by an exchange of visits from home to home and not appearing in the same public dining room.

I dropped into Knoxville one night, and the Chattanooga paper in southern Tennessee published a statement that I was coming to talk about social equality.

I said, “When the Negroes came to this country originally they were all black; they are not now, because somebody has had a good deal of social equality; social equality not sought by colored women; social equality forced upon them because of the adverse economic situation down there.”

In his closing remarks, DePriest implored his fellow representatives to sign the petition:

Again. I ask every member of this House who believes in a square deal, Democrats and Republicans alike, to sign this petition. I do not care where you live, you ought to be willing to give me and people I represent the same rights and privileges under the dome of the Capitol that you ask for yourselves and your constituents.

Rep. Warren: ‘mob of toughs and hoodlums from Howard University’--1934

Rep. Warren calls Howard protesters “hoodlums and toughs.”

Rep. Lindsay Warren took to the House floor March 23rd to defend his actions in regard to the implementing of Jim Crow at the House public restaurant.

He claimed that he was only carrying on the practices of his predecessor as chair of the House Accounts committee and that African Americans were being treated equally because they had a restaurant in the basement where service was a little faster and prices a little cheaper since it was located next to the kitchen.

Then he talked about the demonstrations:

One day last week a lot of Communists came down to see us. Another day they described themselves as Socialists; another day a demonstration was made by those claiming to be representatives of the International Labor Defense.

Last Saturday, the supreme outrage occurred when a mob of toughs and hoodlums from Howard University came right down and almost precipitated a riot.

Filth, vulgarity and profanity rang out through the corridors down there. The police told me that never in their lives had they ever taken such insults.

Three splendid ladies pushed their way out of the restaurant into that mob, came to my office and told me that they would never put their foot in there again on account of the vile and horrible language that had been used in their presence.

However, at the end of Warren’s 20-minute speech the remaining 10 representatives necessary to bring the issue to the House floor affixed their signatures to DePriest’s petition, insuring a vote on his resolution by the House scheduled for April 9th.

Forty-eight northern Democrats and five members of the Farmer-Labor Party were among the 145 signing DePriest’s petition.

Communists join the fray

The communists had composed one of the interracial groups testing the Senate restaurant and they and their allies had done some lobbying on the Capitol restaurant issue while attending to other issues, but had played a marginal role in the Capitol restaurant Jim Crow fight.

The local Communist Party focus during those weeks was on the third Bonus March in the city, the campaign to free the “Scottsboro Boys,” the anti-lynching bill being taken up on Capitol Hill, and the activities of the local Unemployed Council.

However, they were now ready to jump into the fray with both feet.

The communists organized a meeting April 5th that drew together sponsors including Gertrude Thorpe, the League of Struggle for Negro Rights; Maurice Gates, National Student League; Antoinette Lyles; Rev. R. C. Collins; Lorita Boston; Peter Warner, Young Communist League; L. Williams, International Labor Defense; and Harold Spencer, Communist Party.

Supporting the meeting were Cook of the WILPF, Rev. Whitefield, and Farrar.

The meeting formed the United Conference to Fight Discrimination (UCFD) and proposed to hold demonstrations and confront those upholding Jim Crow at the Capitol.

Delay on resolution vote

DePriest was forced to ask for a delay of the vote on his resolution because it came at the same time as the Illinois primary elections that he was heavily involved in.

Days before the primary, DePriest backed upstart alderman William Dawson against incumbent Committeeman William King. King was also running against incumbent state senator Adelbert Roberts. DePriest backed a third candidate, Robert Simmons, for that post.

Despite DePriest taking time away from Congress to mobilize his machine and campaign for his endorsed candidates, both Dawson and Simmons lost—making DePriest the enemy of the victors King and Roberts. DePriest’s odds in the fall general election had taken a turn for the worse.

In the interim period before the vote was re-scheduled, the Rules Committee reported out the resolution favorably. That simply meant that the report of the Rules Committee would be taken up before DePriest’s petition on the same resolution.

It appeared that DePriest’s resolution would finally come to a vote sometime around May 2nd.

‘It was Barzini all along’

Speaker Rainey avoids lets clock run out: 1934

Speaker Rainey-Restaurants serve the same food, so no discrimination.

From the beginning, DePriest had placed his faith in Speaker Rainey and thought that Rep. Warren was the culprit.

However, like The Godfather book and movie, Warren wouldn’t have been able to withstand the onslaught unless he had backing.

Russell had written Rainey a letter on behalf of the Interracial Committee of the NAACP in March protesting the Jim Crow restaurants within the Capitol and asking for Rainey to end the practice.

Rainey wrote back on April 10th:

I am in receipt of your circular letter, written as chairman of the Inter-Racial Committee, protesting against “unjust and unconstitutional discrimination” against colored Americans in the public restaurant controlled by Congress.

On the House side of the Capitol Building, we have a restaurant in which colored citizens are served and a much larger restaurant in which white citizens are served, the reason for the difference in size being that there are more whites to be served than there are colored people.

Both restaurants are under the dome of the Capitol. In both restaurants the same food is served coming from the same kitchen.

In the colored restaurant, the prices are a little cheaper for the reason that the restaurant is nearer the kitchen.

Both restaurants have tiled walls, tiled floors and tiled hallways on the outside.

Is it the position of you and your organization that the restaurant where white people are now served should be turned over to the colored people and colored people served there, and white people to be served in the restaurant where colored people are now served?

This would be quite impossible on account of size. Or is it your position that both races be permitted to mingle in the same restaurant?

At the present time, whites are not admitted to the colored restaurant and colored people are not admitted to the white restaurant.

It does not appear to me that there are any racial distinctions. They all have the same service and are well served.

Is it your position that prices should be raised in the colored restaurant and that they be required to pay the same prices as the white people pay?

Very truly yours, Henry T. Rainey

Three months earlier Rainey had “never heard of such a thing.” It seems now he knew a great deal.

It was becoming clearer to all, except perhaps DePriest, that the “investigation” to be voted on would be a sham. Even with a favorable vote on the resolution, Rainey would appoint the majority of the investigating committee. It was Rainey who likely offered the “investigation” resolution to DePriest during their meeting in January as a substitute for DePriest’s straightforward draft resolution prohibiting discrimination, thereby avoiding a vote on the underlying issue.

‘No respectable Negro will take part’

The Communist Party and allied groups called a demonstration at the Capitol April 27th, which DePriest immediately denounced.

The Baltimore Sun reported DePriest saying:

I know nothing whatsoever about this demonstration, but obviously it is being fostered by communists and red agitators. I trust that no respectable Negro will take part, and I denounce the idea as a deliberate move by communists to make capital out of the restaurant situation.

No friend of mine will take part, and I want no law-abiding citizen to be misled into believing that he will help me by joining the movement.

The cause I am interested in will be further advanced by the course I am following rather than by the brute force the Reds are trying to provoke.

The flyer for the protest was mildly worded and called for no confrontation, instead urging people to

Come and picket in front of the Capitol—Stop Jim-Crowism in Government restaurants.

DePriest’s declared opposition undoubtedly affected turnout and fewer than a dozen people arrived for the picket line, which quickly dispersed after finding that Rainey was not in the Capitol, according to the Star.

DePriest’s resolution voted on

Rainey called forth DePriest’s resolution for a vote May 2nd. Under the rules adopted, there would be no debate.

The Speaker called for a voice vote in which the “nays” sounded louder than the “yeas.” A division of the house was then called for and 237 stood for yes and 114 stood for no.

Rep. Louis T. McFadden (R-Pa.) then called for a roll call vote. As each senator’s name was called, the “No’s” would be called out loudly and answered equally as loudly by a “Yes.” Rainey had to use his gavel a number of times to restore order. The roll call vote ended with the same total as the division of the house.

Rep. Beck to defend African American rights: 1934

Rep. Beck opposes Jim Crow on House floor.

After the vote, James M Beck (R-Pa.) remarked:

It may be premature at this time to anticipate what that committee will report, but it will, I believe, find it difficult to justify the exclusion from a public restaurant, maintained by the government of the United States, of any class of citizen because of their color or race….to which nearly one-tenth of all the people of the United States belong, is unfair and invidious. 

As the House restaurant is now managed, a man or woman, whether a citizen or an alien, can freely enter. An alien from Japan, China, New Zealand, Patagonia, or an Eskimo from the frozen regions of the Arctic Circle can come into the restaurant and no one will say him nay.

Only the Negro citizen is excluded, and this notwithstanding the fact for this benefit and to prevent discrimination against him in the most important of all rights, that of suffrage, the 15th amendment to the constitution was ratified by states, which forbade any such discrimination either by the United States or by any state ‘on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Rep. Green says shut restaurant down: 1934

Rep. Robert Green proposed to close the restaurant and sell the assets.

But the opponents weren’t dead. Rep. John J. Cochran (D-Mo.), who had earlier said, “I don’t care” about African Americans eating in the restaurant, offered a resolution that “No Negro shall be permitted to eat in the house restaurant unless accompanied by a member of Congress.”

Rep. Robert A. Green (D-Fl.) had another solution and introduced a resolution that proposed the House shut down the restaurant and auction off its fixtures.

Cochran gave several reasons for voting against the DePriest resolution and then said:

Another reason that I opposed the resolution is that in my opinion it was introduced for political reasons, the author desiring to further his political interest in the recent primary in Chicago.

As a member of the Committee on Accounts I can say the restaurant has been conducted under the same rules as it was conducted when the Republican Party was in power…

DePriest’s resolution had passed but now even he was somewhat circumspect and told the Afro:

So far it has been an overwhelming victory, but the fight has just begun. I will not be satisfied until my constituents are accorded the same rights and privileges as those of white representatives.

Rainey appointed the three Democrats and named John E. Miller (D-Ark.), Francis Walter (D-Pa.) and Compton I. White (D-Id.). Only White had favored DePriest’s resolution. Rainey permitted DePriest to recommend the two minority party members.

McFadden calls for end to Jim Crow at House restaurant: 1934

Rep. McFadden (l) was isolated with his anti-Semitic and pro-Hitler views.

It is unclear if DePriest chose P. H. Moynihan (R-Il.) and Louis T. McFadden (R-Pa.)—the two minority party members of the committee. But whether he or Rainey ended up making the call, the choices of Moynihan and McFadden certainly didn’t help DePriest’s cause.

Moynihan was a freshmen congressman with no influence among Democrats or Republicans.

McFadden had been ostracized by the Republican Party over his attempt to impeach President Herbert Hoover, rampant anti-Semitic comments and reported speeches supporting Adolph Hitler.

‘Ally of southern lynchers’

On May 5th a five-person delegation met with Speaker Rainey in his office where they called him “a chauvinist, a communist-hater and an ally of southern lynchers,” according to the Afro.

Capitol police were out in extra strength to guard against any disturbance or direct action by the radicals.

Members of the delegation were E. A Taylor, chair of the delegation from the UCFD; Gertrude Thorpe, leader of the UCFD; Harold Spenser, Thomas Brown and E. Matthews, all of the Washington Unemployed Council.

During the meeting when Rainey said “Colored people get all rights guaranteed them under the Constitution,” Thorpe asked him whether he was “just ignorant or a liar?”

Rainey dismissed the group saying,

You are just a bunch of communists. Colored persons are not permitted to eat in other restaurants throughout the country, why pick on this one?

One delegate responded,

Mr. Rainey, the excluding of colored persons from the House restaurant is a violation of the Constitution of this country. What action will you take against it?

“None,” said Rainey

Rainey was then told,

Colored and white workers are beginning to see through your hypocrisy and are organizing to force your administration to stop discrimination against colored people.

Committee Hearing

The select committee conducting the investigation held a hearing June 7th where DePriest’s secretary Morris Lewis described how he had eaten in the restaurant for five years before he was barred.

Lewis continued,

To stop this effort of colored people to gain service in the restaurant a sign was placed on the ‘Public restaurant’ reading ‘for members only.’ This turned out to be the grossest kind of subterfuge as all persons other than colored people, regardless of membership in the House, are freely admitted and served.

Lewis ended his testimony requesting that the order barring African Americans be rescinded.

Warren testified that the Accounts Committee passed resolutions vesting in him the power to run the restaurant without consulting them.

When questioned whether the race policy had been consistently applied, he reversed his earlier claims that African Americans had always been barred and said it was “more or less permissive” that the African American secretaries or other employees of representatives could eat in the House restaurant.

Underhill says, ‘colored people prefer segregation.’ – 1934

Former Rep. Underhill says, ‘colored people prefer segregation.’

He went on to describe the “colored” restaurant in the basement and when questioned again about whether colored are permitted in the white restaurant, Warren again admitted, “It has been permissive.”

Former chair of the Accounts Committee Charles Underhill (R-Ma.) testified on the history of the restaurant and the committee before offering his own views that “colored people prefer segregation.”

He testified that the issue of race had never come up in his tenure except when DePriest brought an interracial group into the restaurant and it was suggested to him that this was improper. He testified that it never happened again.

Committee sides with Jim Crow

White joins majority to uphold Jim Crow in the House: 1934

Rep. Compton White changes his vote–upholds Jim Crow.

The following day on June 8, 1934, the majority of the select committee found there was no discrimination against African Americans. White, who had voted for DePriest’s resolution, turned around and voted against ending Jim Crow.

The report was approved on a straight party-line vote with the three Democrats voting for it and the two Republicans voting against it.

Both majority and minority submitted their report to the House of Representatives.

The text of the majority report read:

The committee to whom was referred the subject matter of House Resolution 236, having held hearings and completed the investigation as therein directed, report as follows

The first inquiry direct to be made by the said resolution is. “By what authority the Committee on Accounts controls and manages the conduct of the House Restaurant.”

The authority was vested in the Committee on Accounts by a resolution unanimously adopted by the House of Representative son June 2, 1921, reading as follows:

Resolved, That there should be paid out of the contingent fund of the House such sums as may be necessary to make such alterations and improvements of the rooms occupied by the restaurant of the House of Representatives and to re-equip the restaurant with sanitary fixtures and utensils as may in the judgment of the committee on Accounts be deemed advisable and necessary, and until otherwise ordered by the House the management of the House restaurant and all other matters connected therewith shall be under the direction of the Committee on Accounts.

There have not been any additional orders or directions given by the House.

The second and only other inquiry made is. “By what authority said committee or any member thereof issued and enforced rules or instructions whereby any citizen of the United States is discriminated against on account of race, color, or creed in said House restaurant, grill room or other public appurtenances or facilities connected therewith under the supervision of the House of Representatives.”

Miller defends Jim Crow at the U.S. Capitol: 1934

Rep. John Miller sides with majority, says there is no discrimination.

Since the Committee on Accounts has had control of the restaurant under and by virtue of the resolution hereinbefore set forth, at the first session of each Congress the following resolution has been unanimously passed by the said committee:

“That the chairman by authorized to report out all death resolutions without a meeting of the committee and that the chairman be empowered to use his own discretion to dealing with members in regard to telegraph, telephone, and all other matters of accounts, including the management of the House restaurant and all rules and regulations pertaining to same.”

Under this resolution, the Committee on Accounts has delegated to its chairman the duty of making and enforcing rules for the management of the restaurant The restaurant was established for the use and convenience of Member of the House of Representatives.

It is not a public restaurant nor was it intended by the House that it should be operated as such It now operated as it has been since it was first established, for the use and convenience of the Members of the House and there has been no discrimination in serving the Members of the House or their guests.

Therefore we recommend that the authority to operate and control the restaurant remain vested in the Committee on Accounts and that the committee continue to operate the restaurant for the convenience and use of the Member of the House and their guests.

Moynihan votes to end Jim Crow at House restaurant: 1934

Rep. Patrick Moynihan (right) calls for an end to Jim Crow in the minority report.

The minority report read as follows:

The undersigned members of the Select Committee of the House of Representatives, appointed by the Speaker pursuant to House Resolution No. 236, report—

(1) That the Accounts Committee, by House resolution adopted June 2, 1921, has full control and management of the restaurant of the House of Representatives.”

(2) That in practice the chairman of said committee has been permitted to assume full personal control of the management of said restaurant.

(3) That an important adjunct to said restaurant is that section set apart for the public and designated ‘Public.’”

(4) That in issuing an order, rule, or regulation denying service in said public restaurant to any person on account of race or color said chairman exceeded his authority, in violation of the fourteenth amendment to the Constitution”

(5) It is recommended that said discriminatory order rule or regulation be forthwith rescinded.”

DePriests’s attempt to rely on a technical argument that the special resolution giving power to the Accounts Committee over the restaurant expired back in 1921, though correct, was simply ignored.

The majority dodged the issue of Jim Crow by defining all the restaurants as being operated by and for the members of Congress. DePriest and his guests would be served, but no discrimination against the public could occur since the restaurants were private.

Those pushing for opening the House restaurant to all hoped to substitute the minority report for the majority report when the issue came to the House floor. As a privileged motion it was placed on the calendar, but with no specific time that it would come up.

Throughout the six-month campaign, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt was silent on the matter.

He made overtures to African Americans such as having African American singers Etta Moton and Lillian Evanti perform at the White House in February and entertaining African American former Harvard University classmates at the White House, but never weighed in publicly on the issue of Jim Crow at the Capitol.

Roosevelt made the political calculation that he was heavily dependent on Rainey for his New Deal agenda. It wouldn’t be until 1941 that he took a major step toward implementing African American rights with his executive order for a Fair Employment Practices Commission.

As time ran out, Speaker Rainey played his last card and let the report die on the calendar as Congress adjourned at 11:05 p.m. June 18th. It was one of Rainey’s last acts (or inactions) for he died two months later before the next session of Congress met.

Aftermath

DePriest blamed the Democrats who appointed a majority of the select committee and African Americans who voted for Democrats during a speech reported on by the Atlanta Daily World in Youngstown, Ohio,

If a Negro votes to sustain a party who always had their foot on his neck. I cannot understand that Negro.

Rev. L. B. Bunn of Michigan hit DePriest at a Baptist youth conference in Washington, D.C. reported on by the Afro,

It would have been far better if Congressman DePriest had not offered this question as a political gesture. He should have left it to us a little longer. It has been put down that colored folks shall not eat in the cafes of the Houses of congress. We have given ourselves a lot of unfavorable publicity in this matter.

Channing Tobias, headed African American YMCA: 1940 ca.

Channing Tobias (left) says unity is key.

Dr. Channing Tobias, senior secretary of the African American branch of the YMCA said at a New York conference of the association,

…when Congressman Oscar DePriest was waging the fight against racial discrimination in the House of Representatives restaurant there was no time then for colored people to be quibbling whether every move made was correct; the struggle to put an end to Jim Crow under the roof of a federal building in the nation’s capital, was too important in its implications for differences; we should have all been behind Mr. DePriest.

Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, writing in the NAACP magazine The Crisis, said,

The Howard students and some of their teachers, staged a demonstration, which was a legitimate and justifiable method of letting the world know what discrimination we suffer. Yet it was futile and will undoubtedly be used to attack the Howard appropriation. It was worth the price.

Kenneth Clark was unrepentant when speaking to the National Student Federation, an association of student governments, conference at Columbia University,

I have no apologies to make for participating in the protest of such an ungodly crime, and if my participation places me in the category of a hoodlum, I am proud to be one. If seeking our rights as American citizens makes us communists, then I am also proud to be among the ranks of communists.

Jim Crow continues on Capitol Hill

Rep. Mitchell drops Jim Crow fight at U.S. Capitol: 1935

Rep. Arthur M. Mitchell

DePriest was defeated by Democrat Arthur M. Mitchell 53%-47% in November 1934. There were a number of reasons for his defeat, including DePriest’s opposition to Roosevelt’s New Deal relief programs, his backing the wrong horses in the Republican primary, who in turn worked against him in the general election, corruption allegations made shortly before the election, and his failure to get a vote on the Capitol restaurant issue.

When Mitchell took office in January 1933 he let it be known he had no interest in the House restaurant issue.

He told the Afro his predecessor tried to make an issue out of it,

…and when the smoke had cleared away, conditions were worse. Several colored persons lost their jobs as a result of the fight, and the colored public is still barred.

With DePriest gone, Johnson took down the “Members Only” sign outside the House public restaurant and it formally became public again.

Their shameless hypocrisy knew no bounds.

Even after DePriest’s efforts had failed back in June, some of the waiters had continued to serve African Americans who presented themselves.

With DePriest gone, Johnson had all the waiters and busboys re-apply for their jobs. and replaced five waiters who had served soup to African Americans the previous year with men from North Carolina.

He had been gradually slipping in waiters and bus boys from his home state one at a time in 1934, but when he carried out a mass firing at this juncture, it caused a small stir since some representatives’ favorite waiters had been among those canned.

When asked to comment, Warren said no one was fired “except for inefficiency,” according to the Afro.

In March 1935, several African American women who were part of a “peace mission” from Father Divine’s Los Angeles Temple joined several white women and were turned away at the House restaurant. Mitchell declined to get involved, saying the issue was too small, according to the Afro.

In June of the same year, a bill for 1936 legislative appropriations provided $15,000 for the operation of the Senate restaurant and kitchens. An amendment nicknamed the “DePriest amendment” was placed on the bill to bar the use of funds for the restaurant because of continued discriminatory practices.

However, without Mitchell’s support, the amendment was quickly stripped away by Senator Millard Tydings (D-Md.), chair of the subcommittee on Senate appropriations. The following year a similar appropriation was made in the House without objection.

CIO chief John L. Lewis cracks a rare smile: 1937

CIO chief John L. Lewis testified against Rep. Warren.

In 1938, the issue was raised in the news again when the NAACP and John L. Lewis, head of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, opposed the nomination of Lindsay Warren to be comptroller general of the United States based on his role in the Capitol restaurant segregation.

Part of DePriest’s speech was adapted during the debate over Warren and credited to him as “some white people being so particular about the people they ate with and not so particular about the people they slept with.”

However, Warren was confirmed despite the controversy.

In 1942, Mitchell’s own secretary Christine Ray Hughes took a seat in a new House restaurant open to the public and was served without incident.

Ray Hughes, confidential aide to black congressmen: 1948

Ray Hughes, Rep Mitchell’s confidential secretary, is barred from new House restaurant.

However, Rep. John Rankin (D-Miss.) led a delegation to the office of Speaker Sam Rayburn (D-Tex.) to protest an African American’s presence in the restaurant.

Thereafter Hughes did not return to the restaurant.

Mitchell was criticized in the Afro American for not speaking out, but their words made no difference.

The Chicago Defender ran an article in 1943 on the problems of African American workers in the federal and downtown areas getting meals and raised the issue of enforcing the 1871 and 1872 laws banning discrimination, but no one filed suit at that time.

The issue bubbled up again on March 8, 1947 when columnist Drew Pearson reported that Thomas S. Thornton, an African American World War II veteran recently hired in the Senate Post Office, was told he couldn’t eat in the Senate Office Building luncheonette.

Senator C. Wayland Brooks (R-Il.), chair of the Rules Committee, followed up by making an announcement that there was “no rule against such use.” While not much different from Copeland’s statement in 1934, this effectively ended Jim Crow in the Senate restaurants.

Jim Crow in the press galleries of the House and Senate ended the same year when Louis Lautier, a reporter for an African American news service was initially denied a press pass. Lautier took his case to the Senate Rules Committee where chairman Brooks, ordered the gallery to admit him. Lautier became the first black reporter in the press galleries since the 1870s.

Following Senate restaurant issue, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (D-N.Y.) introduced a resolution in the House to “clarify the matter once and for all” as to whether African Americans were able to eat in the House cafeterias and restaurants. However, the resolution died without much fanfare.

Juanita Terry, first black aide to white representative: 1949

Juanita Terry, aide to Rep. Helen Douglas.

Rep. Helen Gahagan Douglas (D-Ca.) took office in 1945 and brought on Juanita Terry in January 1948 as the first African American aide for a white representative. Douglas persuaded the operator of the House public restaurant to desegregate so that Terry could take her meals there sometime in 1950.

However, that success would be fleeting. Douglas lost a high-profile Senate campaign to Richard M. Nixon in November, 1950 after Nixon famously redbaited her as “the pink lady.”

Clarence Mitchell, the long-time NAACP lobbyist on Capitol Hill recalled that during the late 1940s there was “an on-again, off-again” policy on admitting African Americans to the House public restaurant.

He remembers specifically that African Americans were barred in 1950, but said the barrier dropped sometime before the 1953 decision in the Thompson Cafeteria case —during the period when picket lines were set up in front of chain stores and restaurants in the city that were barring African Americans.

Predecessors of the organized sit-in

Direct action campaign to halt Jim Crow streetcars: 1864

Sojourner Truth waged a one-woman campaign against Jim Crow on city streetcars.

The origins of the sit-in in the Washington, D.C. area can be traced back further than the Capitol protests, but they were single persons either taking direct action or seeking to use the subsequent arrest as a basis to file suit to challenge the discrimination.

The earliest in the post-Civil War period was the 1865-66 one-woman campaign on the city’s streetcars by Sojourner Truth (born Isabella Baumfree) who campaigned to enforce the city’s ban against Jim Crow on the trolleys by using direct action. She would board the cars and sit in the white sections and refuse to move and if a driver of the horse-drawn vehicles passed her up, she would report them to the company.

In 1868, Catharine Brown boarded the whites-only car in Alexandria, Va. bound for Washington, D.C. The rail service was provided by the Washington, Georgetown and Alexandria Railroad Company. She refused to move to the “colored” car and was forcibly ejected. She sued and her case ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court where she prevailed, since the railroad’s charter was in the District of Columbia, where Jim Crow cars were prohibited.

Later, African Americans would go into the city’s restaurants after passage of 1872 and 1873 laws banning discrimination in public accommodations, take seats and be denied service, be overcharged or be made to wait lengthy periods of time. The discriminatory actions by the restaurants resulted in lawsuits against the proprietors.

W. H. H. Hart – Refused Jim Crow on Maryland train: 1905

W. H. H. Hart defies Jim Crow rail car and is jailed 3 days.

In 1905, W. H. H. Hart, who would later be a founder of the NAACP, refused to give up his seat on a train bound for Washington, D.C. upon arrival in Maryland and move to a Jim Crow car. Hart was arrested and spent three days in jail. Hart sued that Maryland’s Jim Crow law could not apply to interstate travel. He won his case but was awarded only $1 in damages.

The sit-in refined and expanded

After the Capitol Restaurant campaign, Samuel Wilbert Tucker, a Howard University law graduate, organized a sit-in at the all-white Alexandria public library in 1939.

Tucker had a group of African American men to one-by-one enter the library and ask for a library card. Upon refusal, each man would take a seat at a table in the library—ultimately occupying nearly all the tables.

As expected, police arrived and arrested the group for disorderly conduct. Tucker didn’t intend this to be an ongoing tactic, but as a case to be used to file suit.

Alexandria, Virginia public library sit-in 1939

Arrested at the Alexandria, Va. library for a sit-in in 1939.

The library, fearing the outcome of a court suit, entered into prolonged negotiations over the issue. Tucker became ill and in his absence community leaders settled for construction of an “equal” library for African Americans.

Tucker was outraged and after the new library was built, refused an invitation to apply for a library card, writing back,

I refuse and will always refuse to accept a card to be used at the library to be constructed and operated at Alfred and Wythe Streets in lieu of [a] card to be used at the existing library on Queen Street for which I have made application.

In 1943 the Howard University chapter of the NAACP revived the tactic when they took on a nearby restaurant—and a year later—one downtown.

A student at the school, Ruth Powell, had been carrying on a one-person sit-in on her own at cafes that refused to serve African Americans. She would sit on a stool for hours staring at the waiter or waitress that refused to serve her.

At the same time a Howard Law School student, William Raines, was circulating the idea of occupying stools as a technique for desegregation. There was no law requiring segregation, so Raines reasoned that peacefully waiting for service was no crime and they could not be legally arrested. At the same time, white customers would not be served because the seats were occupied, putting economic pressure on the business.

NCNW Women of the year: 1946

Pauli Murray is one of the “Women of the Year” in 1946.

After a survey of the campus where students gave overwhelming support to the idea of a campaign to desegregate the city, Pauli Murray and three other female students walked to the Little Palace cafeteria on nearby U Street NW.

Murray had earlier staged a sit-in with another woman on an interstate bus in Virginia in 1940, refusing to sit in the “colored” section. The NAACP refused to take up her case, allegedly citing a lower court tossing out a key argument, but others believed it was because she wore trousers and would present a “bad image.”

Murray would go on to graduate first in her class at Howard, but was refused admittance to the law school because of her gender. She termed her experiences at Howard “Jane Crow.” She went on to earn a doctorate of law at Yale and pursued a civil rights career. In the 1970s she changed careers, becoming one of the first women priests in the Episcopal Church.

Murray and two others went inside the U Street restaurant and sat down while one student stayed outside as a lookout for any trouble.

Every five minutes or so another student would arrive, and soon the small restaurant was packed. Panicked, the manager closed the cafeteria instead of serving the group.

The students went outside and picketed the restaurant for two days until the management relented and agreed to serve African Americans.

The following year, students decided to directly challenge Jim Crow in the downtown area. Close to 70 students went to the Thompson’s Restaurant on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Fifty-five students went inside and sat down while a dozen or so others picketed outside.

After four hours, the restaurant management in Chicago gave the go-ahead to serve the students. The action was a resounding victory.

However, like their predecessors in the Capitol protests, they were quickly quashed by the Howard University administration, which was still fearful of losing federal grant money. Defeat had been snatched from the jaws of victory.

Mary Church Terrell 90th Birthday: 1953

Mary Church Terrell’s 90th birthday in 1953.

The tactic would be revived again in 1950 when Mary Church Terrell led the Coordinating Committee for the Enforcement of the D.C. Anti-Discrimination Laws.

Terrell and two other African Americans and one white person took a table at Thompson’s Restaurant on 14th Street NW. They were arrested and filed suit to enforce the so-called “lost civil rights laws” of 1872 and 1873.

The group didn’t stop there, but staged boycotts and pickets of chain stores and restaurants over the next three years, desegregating many before the U.S Supreme Court upheld the “lost laws” and outlawed segregation in public accommodations in the District of Columbia.

However, it wasn’t until 1960 that the tactic exploded nationwide, beginning with the Greensboro, N.C. sit-in and spread locally by Howard University students into the Washington, D.C. area at segregated facilities in Arlington, Virginia and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties in Maryland.


Author’s Notes

Activist and reporter Frederick C. Weaver: 1934

Afro American activist reporter Frederick C. Weaver at the Mar. 17, 1934 Jim Crow protest by Howard students.

Were the corruption allegations against DePriest before the election the product of Democratic Party skullduggery? That’s a topic for someone else’s research project.

We are fortunate that the reporters for the Afro American were also activist fighters against Jim Crow. They have given us a glimpse into the actual events and real words used and conversations that took place during this fight.

We are also fortunate that the campaign took place within the U.S. Capitol where there were an abundance of reporters from around the country always on the lookout for a story and so we have multiple sources for the events. Further, the speeches were often in the Congressional Record.

DePriest was somewhat deluded to believe that a Democratic Majority Leader dependent on southern segregationist representatives for his position would be either on his side or fair, so DePriest was wrong to reject direct action.

It is not possible to know whether continued direct action coupled with the legislative approach would have been successful, but it is much more likely that there would have been an up or down vote on the issue of segregation.

Direct action, however, probably could not have been sustained in this fight for much longer in any event.

Dorothy Cook, who was coordinating the interracial groups seeking service in the restaurants, expressed her frustration with finding African Americans willing to be denied service.

“They promise to go, but back out at the last moment. However one can scarcely blame them for it is a very humiliating thing to do.”

The reasons were probably not entirely humiliation. Most of her recruits were professionals who were in fact concerned about respectability and feared the social repercussions of having their names splashed across newspapers in a confrontation that may result in arrest.

But for working class African Americans in 1934 who cared little about social consequences, the U.S. Capitol was a distant and alien place that few black people entered on any regular basis, except those who worked there. As a target, it might as well have been on the North Pole.

Deprived of Howard’s students and professors, there would be few other places to turn for African Americans willing to be refused service.

Cook would also have found it difficult to sustain the protest with her white compatriots as well. The Socialist Party and its allies provided the base of support for the protest. They were not primarily activists, but were instead more focused on speakers, meetings, lobbying efforts and elections.

An alternative was the Communist Party that had ties to both black and white workers, but this was not their campaign and their focus was elsewhere.

Conflicted Howard president halts students’ sit-ins: 1934

Mordecai Johnson circa 1930.

Mordecai Johnson was a complicated figure who was more sympathetic to left-wing thought than might appear from this post.

In his defense, he was under attack for alleged communist sympathies and threatened with removal from his post by the trustees in 1931. In 1933 several congressional representatives again attacked him as a communist and threatened to cut Howard’s subsidy from the federal government.

Johnson placed Howard and its position as the preeminent African American University above the immediate concerns of fighting specific Jim Crow battles. He believed that producing the highest quality professionals trumped activism against Jim Crow—despite his own personal sympathies for the struggle.

NAACP founder and advocate of action W. E. B. Dubois: 1945

W. E. B. Du Bois circa 1945.

DuBois believed Johnson was wrong for this and felt that rising action on the part of African Americans against white supremacy was more important than any funding loss to the school.

Johnson’s actions in tamping down the nascent student activists of 1934 and 1943-44 may have deprived the larger civil rights movement of the impetus it would not receive until the mid 1950s and 1960s.

In the end, the fight against Jim Crow at the Capitol was a bridge too far.

However, the use of direct action won some temporary successes during the battle. The Senate public restaurant was at least nominally integrated and several interracial parties succeeded in getting served at the House public restaurant.

These tactical successes helped lay the seeds for the future sit-in movement of 1960. As such, it was an important step in a very long battle.


The author was an activist for 50 years in the Washington, D.C. area.  He is a graduate of the National Labor College, the former secretary-treasurer of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 and former executive director of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400. In addition, worked for the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO and Progressive Maryland. He is also a former bus operator for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and currently resides in North Carolina. He can be contacted at Washington_area_spark@yahoo.com


Sources include:

The Afro American, The Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Washington Tribune, The Chicago Defender, The New York Amsterdam News, United Press International, Associated Press, The Crisis, The Congressional Record, The Baltimore Sun, the Associated Negro Press, Children, Race, and Power: Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s Northside Center by Markowitz and Rosner; Ghetto: The Invention of a Place the History of an Idea by Mitchell Duneier; Jim Crow’s Children: The Broken Promise of the Brown Decision by Peter Irons; Journal of Negro Education, Winter 1966, Oscar De Priest and the Jim Crow Restaurant in the US House of Representatives by Elliott M. Rudwick; From Megaphones to Microphones: speeches of American women, 1920-60 by Sarkela, Ross and Lowe; Racism in the Nation’s Service: Government Workers and the Color Line in Woodrow Wilson’s America by Eric S. Yellen; Red Summer: The Summer of 1919 and the Awakening of Black America by Cameron McWhirter; The Black Past Remembered and Reclaimed, website: http://www.blackpast.org


Appendix A

 Honor Roll

 A partial list of participants in direct action

To end Jim Crow in the U.S. Capitol

 

Some of the African Americans participants

Rev. R. W. Brooks—pastor of the Lincoln Temple Congregational Church at 11th and R Streets NW and active in the “Scottsboro Boys” campaign, the campaign against police brutality and other civil rights causes in the city.

Dr. Charles Wesley—professor of history at Howard University. Wesley would go on to write 15 books on African American history and serve as president of Wilberfore University and Central State University, both in Ohio.

Ralph Bunche —professor of political science at Howard University went on to gain the first doctorate of political science at Howard later in 1934. He won a Nobel Prize as a negotiator for the United Nations in 1950, continued work for the UN and was named under-Secretary of the United Nations in 1968.

Oscar DePriest—The only African American U.S. representative 1929-35, the first African American elected to Congress in the 20th Century, first African American elected to Congress outside the South.

Morris Lewis—Aide to Rep. Oscar DePriest, the only African American aide working on Capitol Hill 1929-35.

Frederick Wilkinson–Howard University registrar.

John F. Whitfield–Pastor of the Christian Colored Church.

Rev. P. D. Perryman–Baptist minister from New York.

Leonard C. Farrar–Executive secretary of the National Forum Association.

Harold Covington—House restaurant waiter and student at Howard University.

Florence Collins—Reporter for the Afro American.

Frederick Weaver—Reporter for the Afro American and Howard University student.

A. Taylor– United Conference to Fight Discrimination.

Thomas Brown—Washington, D.C. Unemployed Council.

Matthews—Washington, D.C. Unemployed Council.

 

Some of the white participants:

Charles Edward Russell—a Pulitzer Prize winner; muckraking journalist as famous as contemporaries Upton Sinclair and Lincoln Steffens; one of three white founders of the NAACP, member of its national board and member of the local NAACP Interracial committee; and former Socialist Party member who split with the organization over its opposition to U.S. entry into World War I.

Dorothy Detzer—Executive Secretary of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (1924-46); and former relief officer for the American Friends Service Committee in Austria and Russia after World War I.

Dorothy Cook —Assistant executive secretary of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

Harlan E. Glazier—Head of the local chapter of the Socialist Party.

Theresa Hirshl Russell—Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, wife of Charles Russell.

Margaret Jones–Member of the Interracial Council.

Dorothy Alden–Former World Peaceways,

Robert Shestick–Citizens Party.

Dr. Howard K. Beale–Historian on the staff of the University of Chicago and research historian at the Library of Congress.

Rev. Russell J. Clinchy–Pastor of the Sixteenth Street Congregational Church in Washington, D.C.

Katharine Wilfrey–Social worker.

Dr. W. Carson Ryan, Director of education at the United States Office of Indian Affairs, a specialist in education surveys and a leader in educational reform efforts.

Harold Spencer—Washington, D.C. Unemployed Council and the Washington, D.C. Communist Party.

Gertrude Thorpe—United Conference to Fight Discrimination and the League of Struggle for Negro Rights.

 

African American Howard Students:

Kenneth Clark—A leader of the student demonstrations, Clark and his wife Mamie would go onto do pioneering work as psychologists among African American children. Their research showed the debilitating effects of Jim Crow on African American children and provided the scientific evidence for ending the so-called “separate but equal” education with the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision in 1954.

Frederick Weaver—Weaver, a great grandson of Frederick Douglas, was also the reporter for the Afro American where he both participated and covered much of the battle. Weaver was one of the targets of the Howard administration and they acted two years later to suspend him when he was a second year law student for writing a critical article for the Washington Tribune about one of the Deans at the school. He went onto become assistant Recorder of Deeds in the District of Columbia before moving to New York to form his own public relations firm, becoming a close ally of Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, but later becoming critical of the congressman.

Harold Covington—Covington was both a student and the waiter that was fired for serving Frederick Weaver in the House restaurant.

O. Phillip Snowden—This Capitol campaign would not be Snowden’s last civil rights fight. In 1943, he and two others sued a Howard Johnson’s in New Jersey when it refused to serve them.

Dudley Clark

H.Robinson

Fred Durrah

Henry Allen Boyd, Jr.

O. Thompson

E. Fernandis

William Ford

Irving Barnes

William. D. Jones

T. Jones

R. Elliot

L. Parker

William E. Blake

A . J. Cary

W. Shumate

William H. Bruce

L. Berry

Gilbert Banfield

C. Gittens

W. Campbell

O. Cowan

Ulysses Lee

And at least 10 other Howard students, perhaps a dozen or more persons who sought restaurant service and those who attended the communist’s picket line remain unknown.


Want to see or read more?

Addition images: Capitol Cafes

Want to read more about civil rights struggles during this period in time?

1939 the background of the struggle for a Marion Anderson concert.

1938-41 Campaign against police brutality

The 1930s campaign for the ‘Scottsboro Boys’ in the D.C. Area

Against the cold wind: The 1948 cafeteria workers strike

2 Jan

By Craig Simpson


1,400 members of a predominantly African American union in Jim Crow Washington, D.C. take on both a company intent on union busting and the Taft Hartley Act in a 78-day strike in the frigid winter of 1948 that included battles on the picket line, between the AFL and the CIO, and between President Harry Truman and Congress.


Cold winds blow on DC cafeteria workers: 1948

A mass picket outside the Federal Works Administration during the 1948 cafeteria strike.

Two cold winds swept into Washington, DC in the winter of 1947-48: a brutally cold season and the onset of the Cold War. For the cafeteria workers in government buildings in the District of Columbia neither development was welcome.

The contract between United Cafeteria and Restaurant Workers Local 471, the largest of one of the few predominantly African American unions, and Government Services, Inc. (GSI), the dominant private provider of cafeteria services to federal buildings, was set to expire at midnight on December 31, 1947.

The recently enacted anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act required all union officers to sign affidavits that they were not communists if their unions were to utilize provisions of the National Labor Relations Act.

GSI staked out a position that unless the Local 471 officers and those of the parent United Public Workers of America (UPWA), CIO, signed affidavits, they would not recognize the union, enter into negotiations or sign a contract.

Officers of both Local 471 and the UPWA refused to sign the affidavits, saying it was just an excuse for GSI to engage in union-busting and that the absence of such affidavits only returned labor relations to the pre-NLRB days and did not preclude negotiating a contract. Further, the umbrella organization for the local’s UPWA parent union, the CIO, was encouraging non-compliance as a tactic to blunt the Taft-Hartley law.

Taft-Hartley Act

Caravan to Oppose Taft-Hartley Act: 1947

A car caravan in Washington, DC in June 1947 urges a presidential veto of the Taft-Hartley Act.

Within the labor movement, there was still considerable debate over how to address the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act.

President Truman’s veto of the Act was overridden by Congress June 23, 1947. The necessary votes came from a Republican dominated Congress with the help of a large number of defecting Democrats. It was in response to 12 years of gains by labor unions culminating in the strike wave of 1945-46 that resulted in wage gains and increased membership for unions.

It also came after World War II as the United States began confronting the Soviet Union over influence in Europe and elsewhere.

To this end, Truman and others sought to cripple the still considerable influence of the Communist Party in all sections of U.S. society. While Truman vetoed the Act and was overridden by Congress, he had previously implemented a “loyalty” program in the federal government in March, 1947 that effectively barred government employment of communists and others with left-wing beliefs.

The new Taft-Hartley law placed sweeping restrictions on unions, including, but not limited to, the following:

  1. It outlawed secondary strikes, secondary boycotts and sympathy strikes designed to pressure employers. For example, it would be illegal for a union to organize a boycott of advertisers during a newspaper strike.
  2. It permitted employers to wage anti-union campaigns in their workplaces, including holding captive audience meetings. Since union organizers could generally be barred from workplace facilities, this tilted union organizing drives in favor of the companies.
  3. The Act permitted states to enact so-called “Right to Work” laws that allow workers covered by union contracts to opt out of union membership or service fees. This meant that unions had to represent workers who paid nothing into the union, and further meant that unions had to devote resources to recruiting members instead of representing members. Twenty-eight states as of this writing have right-to-work laws.
  4. The law also barred members of the U.S. Communist Party and other left-wing individuals from holding office in labor unions if those unions sought to utilize the National Labor Relations Board.
Pressman confers with CIO’s Phillip Murray: 1938

Lee Pressman (left) confers with CIO president Phillip Murray.

At the time, communists or communist allies led 16 international unions in the CIO—including the UPWA—and they covered over 1 million of the 3.6 million CIO members. Lee Pressman, a communist ally, was the general counsel of the CIO. The communists and their allies also held major and minor offices in many other unions and in state and local labor councils.

There were two umbrella labor federations at that time. The American Federation of Labor (AFL), founded in 1886 with its affiliate unions largely organized along craft lines and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) that began when a handful of unions formed a caucus within  the AFL in 1935 to organize industries across craft lines—all workers would be in a single union in a plant or factory. The AFL subsequently expelled the CIO unions , who went on to form their own labor federation. The two federations were bitter rivals.

There was extensive debate within the labor movement over whether to comply with the non-communist affidavits. At the time of the AFL and CIO conventions in 1947, approximately 80% of the total labor unions in the U.S. had not yet complied.

The 1947 AFL convention

Lewis visits Roosevelt at the White House: 1939

Mine workers chief John L. Lewis is shown outside the White House in 1939.

The issue was taken up by the AFL convention in October, 1947.

One issue facing the two  labor federations was whether the federation leaders had to sign affidavits in order for their affiliate unions to comply with the Act.

The NLRB, by coincidence, ruled on the second day of the convention that the officers of a labor federation did not have to sign the affidavits for their affiliate national unions to be compliant with the Act.

However, the AFL also faced the problem of its 1,390 local trade and federal labor unions that were directly chartered by the AFL in the same manner that any local union is chartered by its national union. This meant the AFL officers would have to sign affidavits if the directly chartered unions were to utilize the National Labor Relations Board.

Unlike the CIO, the AFL had few communists or other left-wing individuals holding major positions and no communist or ally led any national union.

John L. Lewis, the mine workers chief who had headed up the CIO industrial union organizing drives of the 1930s, had returned to the AFL and addressed their convention in August of 1947 and urged the group to refuse to sign the affidavits in order to render the Act meaningless.

“All we needed to do when we met in Chicago [at the AFL executive council meeting], was to do nothing and the act would have been discredited, there would have been no cases filed before the [National Labor Relations] Board, and its only functions would have been functions solely in the interests of the employer thus exposing its true nature as a weapon of class war, and effectively neutralizing it.”

“The signing of the affidavit isn’t the only thing that an organization has to do to conform to this act. This act is a trap, a pitfall for the organizations of labor and I am surprised that those who have been attempting to analyze it haven’t looked down the road just a few months or a year to find out some of the things that are inherent in this act.”

“This act was passed to oppress labor, to make difficult its current enterprises for collective bargaining, to make more difficult the securing of new members for this labor movement, without which our movement will become so possessed of inertia that there is no action and no growth, and in a labor movement where there is no growth there is no security for its existence because deterioration sets in and unions, like men, retrograde.”

Lewis was no left-winger, but understood that the Act restricted workers’ ability to fight the companies and opened up the unions to government intervention in their internal affairs.

George Meany, American Federation of Labor leader: 1940

AFL secretary-treasurer George Meany in 1940.

George Meany, the AFL’s secretary-treasurer, argued that officers of the federation must comply in order to “give federal labor unions the opportunity to qualify by signing the non-communist affidavit and meeting the other requirements of the law if they so desire.”

Meany proposed an AFL constitutional change that would make the executive council members instead “vice presidents” and “honorary” members of the executive council. This was a move that was apparently pre-approved by the NLRB and it would permit the heads of its affiliated national and international unions to make their own decisions. He argued:

The reason for this is that 13 members of the executive council are in a dual capacity in this American Federation of Labor. While they are members of the executive council they are also officers of international unions.

Meany also argued that it was a monetary issue. The AFL received more revenue from the quarter of a million members in the federal unions than was paid in by 75% of the international unions represented at the convention, and that revenue represented approximately half the total revenue of the AFL.

The 1947 AFL convention ignored Lewis’s plea and voted overwhelmingly to comply with the affidavit section. The only unions to vote against Meany’s plan were Lewis’s mineworkers and the typographical union.

President Green and secretary-treasurer George Meany were directed to sign the affidavits. Vice presidents of the federation—the representatives of individual unions—were re-classified as “honorary” and not officers. The decision as to whether individual unions would sign was left to those unions.

Union rushes to turn in anti-communist affidavit: 1947

The AFL’s Office Employees union president Paul S. Hutchings (left) became the first national union to turn in non-communist affidavits September 12, 1947.

Lewis left the AFL shortly afterward and never signed the affidavit. Most other major AFL union leaders quickly signed the affidavits as they sought a tool to drive out their internal opponents—communist or not—and to use in raiding other unions for their members such as the CIO unions that had not signed affidavits.

The AFL Office Employees International Union signed even before the AFL convention. Among the UPWA’s rival AFL unions that signed was the Hotel and Restaurant Union. Competition with the CIO unions had prevailed over opposition to Taft-Hartley.

The 1947 CIO convention

The CIO leadership initially supported a non-cooperation stance with the Taft-Hartley Act at their executive council meeting and refused to sign affidavits. Major unions, including the Steelworkers, International Longshore & Warehouse Union and the United Electrical Workers all refused to sign.

At the October, 1947 CIO convention in Boston, though, a long-simmering battle between the left-wing and the right-wing of the CIO was coming to a head. Murray continued to play the peacemaker and worked to steer the federation along a middle course.

But the dynamics of the CIO began to change in 1946 when anti-communist Walter Reuther narrowly defeated the communist-backed moderate incumbent R. J. Thomas for president of the UAW at their convention. Reuther won by 124 votes out of 8,764 cast.

George Marshall at the 1947 CIO Convention: 1947

George Marshall (center) shakes hands with Phillip Murray at the 1947 CIO convention.

A split also began to widen over the communist opposition to the U.S. Marshall Plan in Europe. Secretary of State George Marshall himself was invited to the CIO convention by Murray and gave a speech—a clear repudiation of the communist-allied unions.

The 1946 elections, where anti-labor Republicans had gained control of both houses of Congress, also frightened both the left and right wings of the CIO. But their solutions were different.

Truman seized the coal mines in 1945 and used a similar tactic against railroad workers to break their strike in 1946. Locally, he ordered the Capital Transit Co. seized by the government to halt a transit strike in 1945.

As a result of these and other anti-labor actions, the communist aligned unions began looking toward a third-party while the right-wing of the CIO began trying to make peace with Truman to blunt Republican control of Congress…and did so when he vetoed the Taft-Hartley Act.

Murray, never a supporter of the Communist Party, had valued the solidarity of the CIO over anti-communism and steered a centrist position. By early 1947, though, he was moving to the right.

At a closed session of the CIO’s executive council in the spring of 1947, Murray launched an attack on communists within the labor movement, saying:

“If Communism is an issue in any of your unions, throw it to hell out and throw its advocates out along with it. When a man accepts office to render service to workers, and then delivers service to outside interests, that man is nothing but a damned traitor.”

The formal resolution at the 1947 CIO convention on the Taft-Hartley Act characterized the law as “infamous…a triumph of repression…a legal monstrosity” and declared that the CIO “cannot and will not acquiesce in a law which makes it a crime to exercise rights of freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly”, and called for an “unceasing campaign” to secure its repeal.

In wording that became important for Local 471, the resolution went on to say that the CIO would not permit the law “to become an instrument for destroying existing contract conditions” and that a contract “is and must remain the workers’ bulwark against insecurity and exploitation.”

Missing from the resolution was any specific direction on whether to file or not file the affidavits—a compromise having been worked out ahead of time.

Instead CIO President Phillip Murray declared that he “had some personal convictions that ran very deep” and that he was “determined to neither file or sign.”

However, Murray also made it clear during his remarks that each CIO union was free to decide the issue for itself.

Petitions urge veto of Taft-Hartley anti-labor act 1947

CIO leaders pose with half a million signatures urging a veto of the Taft Hartley Act in 1947. Truman’s veto was overridden by Congress.

Thus, the October, 1947 CIO convention in Boston temporarily maintained the façade of a united organization, but opened the door for CIO union leaders to sign the affidavits.

Shortly afterward the CIO United Auto Workers directed their national officers to sign the affidavits at their 1947 convention. Walter and Victor Reuther used this resolution to force compliance among the locals and to drive communists out of leadership of some of their largest local unions.

The Communist Party and the left-wing unions

The Communist Party itself seemed unsure how to proceed in regards to the non-communist affidavits, and as a result there was not a unified response among the unions where it exerted influence.

While overall pursuing a policy of non-compliance, some Communist Party members who were union officials resigned their party membership while continuing to meet regularly with Communist Party officials, skirting the law.

Others communist union officials simply changed their Communist Party status from “open” or “closed” to “secret.”

As the effects of the law began to be felt, some left-wing unions mimicked the AFL and re-named the offices that communists or their allies held in an effort to put them outside the definition of “officers.”

Most communist-influenced unions, however,–like the UPWA, United Electrical Workers, Agricultural Workers, Mine, Mill and Smelter–refused to sign.

Jim Crow town

African American parents picket & boycott DC schools: 1947

African American parents stage a picket and boycott of a inferior segregated school in Washington, D.C. in Dec. 1947.

In the late 1940s, the District of Columbia was still a distinctly southern town. Jim Crow laws required segregation of parks and recreation facilities and public schools.

An 1872 law passed by the District that prohibited discrimination in entertainment establishments, restaurants, bars and hotels was ignored. Likewise an 1873 ordinance that required public facilities to be open for “any respectable, well-behaved person without regard to race, color or previous condition of servitude” was also ignored. These were the so-called “lost laws” that had been removed from the city code without being repealed.

Restrictive covenants in a number of areas of the city prohibited the sale of property to African Americans. Where such covenants did not exist, custom often enforced segregation as rigidly as the covenants.

Private sector employment was also largely segregated, with classified ads specifying whether the applicant should be black or white.

Within the U.S. government, in 1913 President Woodrow Wilson reversed the gains that African Americans had made after the Civil War when he re-segregated the federal workforce and introduced separate work areas, eating and bathroom facilities for blacks and whites into the government buildings and firing or demoting a significant number of African American federal employees.

Segregation in government began to break down during the New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt. For example, the Interior Department dismantled separate eating and bathroom facilities in the 1930s.

African American postal clerks union meeting: 1932

A meeting of the D.C. African American Local 148 of the National Federation of Post Office Clerks in 1932.

Much of the rest of the overt Jim Crow federal segregation only began to be dismantled on the eve of World War II when Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 in 1941. It barred discrimination in the federal government and in defense-related industries. Roosevelt backed his order with a Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) designed to enforce the order.

Unfortunately the District’s most contentious case involved the Capital Transit Company that refused to hire African American operators and conductors for its streetcars and buses while it cut service in the city for lack of white workers.

The FEPC issued an order for the transit company to desegregate, but never enforced the order. The FEPC expired with the end of World War II and supporters were unable to muster the votes in Congress over a southern filibuster to continue it.

The AFL unions in the city still largely barred African Americans or required separate black and white locals. There were long-standing predominantly black unions among sleeping car porters and within the Post Office. However, with the advent of the CIO in 1937, black workers began flocking into its desegregated unions.

D.C. Laundry workers vote union: 1937

D.C. Dry cleaning workers staged a 3 week strike and voted to unionize in 1937.

Predominantly black unions were formed among cafeteria workers and in the dry cleaning plants. Within the federal government, African Americans joined the UPWA at the Bureau of Engraving, Library of Congress and elsewhere.

Within the AFL, the predominantly African American redcaps formed a union in 1933. The longstanding laborers’ and cooks’ unions were strongholds of black progressives. The American Federation of Teachers chapter at Howard University likewise provided a pool of black progressives.

Many of these union leaders and members were active and an integral part the city’s civil rights movement.

The city, like most of the rights movement across the country, awoke to new tactics during the “Scottsboro Boys” campaigns of the 1930s, where communist advocates for African American rights began taking their campaigns out of the churches and into the streets.

From 1938-41, the left-wing National Negro Congress led a campaign against police brutality, marching in the streets and employing other new tactics while the New Negro Alliance led a boycott campaign against businesses in the black community that would not hire African Americans.

The NAACP’s embrace of Marian Anderson’s quest for a venue in Washington, D.C. in 1939 produced what was effectively the largest rally for civil rights in the country.

Protesting Capital Transit’s Jim Crow hiring policies: 1943

2,000 people march calling for hiring African American as D.C. streetcar and bus operators in 1943.

A campaign that united the disparate currents within the black community to desegregate the Capital Transit Company held a march and rally of 2,000 people in 1943.

World War II interrupted many of the campaigns, but after the war rights activists resumed their campaigns. The post-World-War-II world was a different one, however.

Local civil rights activists had worked well together in the late 1930s and early 1940s, despite rivalries at the national level. However, when there was a brutal lynching of four African Americans in Georgia in 1946, the National Negro Congress and the NAACP organized separate marches in Washington.

Likewise the campaigns to continue the FEPC and to eliminate the poll tax were largely organized by two separate wings of the civil rights movement—the left wing around the communists and the moderates around the NAACP.

The Truman administration initially continued Roosevelt’s policy of treating all wings of the movement equally. He personally met with a delegation headed by the left-wing Paul Robeson in the fall of 1946.

Truman at NAACP: 1947

In 1947 Harry Truman becomes the first President to address an NAACP convention.

In 1947 Harry S. Truman became the first president to attend an NAACP convention, held in Washington, D.C., where he announced his support for a law barring discrimination in employment in both the public and the private sector.

By this time Truman had already issued his order barring communists in the government. The U.S. Attorney General developed a list of organizations that were labeled communist, and it included the National Negro Congress.

Truman was also increasingly worried about a possible independent bid for president on a pro-labor, pro civil rights, peaceful co-existence with the Soviet Union platform by popular former vice president Henry Wallace and backed by communists and other left-wingers. Such a campaign, while unlikely to win, would draw votes away from him and aid his likely Republican opponent, Thomas Dewey.

His appearance before the NAACP convention was, in part, intended to further drive a wedge between that organization and the Civil Rights Congress and the National Negro Congress, two groups allied with the Communist Party—and signal which side was acceptable.

Cafeteria workers union

Local 471 had its origins in a predominantly black independent union organized by cafeteria worker Rosa Lewis early in 1937.

The independent Cafeteria Workers Union immediately took a progressive stance and attended the International Labor Defense meeting in June 1937. There it endorsed anti-lynching legislation, called for freedom for the “Scottsboro Boys” and denounced chain gangs.

The union’s 500 members joined with the newly formed CIO affiliated Cafeteria and Restaurant Union in August, 1937 during a meeting at Garnett-Patterson Junior High School.

Belford Vance Lawson: 1936 ca

Belford Lawson is elected the first president of Local 471 in 1937.

The CIO initially paid for three full-time workers: two organizers and a business agent and elected attorney Belford V. Lawson, Jr. as president of the new organization. Lawson was also a founder and one of the driving forces of the New Negro Alliance in the city.

The group then conducted an organizing drive within the federal cafeterias. Local activists Thomas and Marie Richardson, the children of Griffin Richardson who was one of the organizers of the Red Caps union a few years earlier,  assisted in the effort.

The company agreed to a preferential ballot supervised by the NLRB, contending at the time that they were a quasi-government agency and not subject to a formal NLRB election.

The company agreed to honor the results and the Cafeteria and Restaurant union won recognition on May 25-26, 1938 by a vote of 542-119 of Welfare and Recreation Association (later renamed GSI) employees.

At the time of its recognition by GSI, the workers had no sick pay or vacation and the workers earned far less than a living wage.

The local was based in the government cafeterias such as those at Labor, Commerce, New Interior, Old Interior, Justice, Supreme Court, War and Munitions and Farm Credit Buildings, but quickly took up organizing in the private sector and won elections at the Horn Café and the Norfolk Grill.

Cafeteria workers strike Government Printing Office: 1938

The rival AFL Hotel & Restaurant union stages a 17-day strike at the Government Printing Office in 1938.

An established rival, the predominantly white AFL affiliate, the Hotel and Restaurant Union, quickly became more militant with arrival of the CIO, staging a 17-day strike in 1938 at the Government Printing Office, winning increases in pay, holidays and vacation and limiting hours of work.

However, the CIO union came to dominate the unionized cafeterias across the city and by 1944 Oliver Palmer, one of the initial organizers of the union, was serving as business agent of Local 471. Palmer also served on the executive boards of the local National Negro Congress, local Congress of Industrial Organizations and the national board of the UPWA.

In 1946, Richard Bancroft, the African American former national president of the left-wing American Student Union and a graduate of Howard University, became president of the Local 471 after fighting in the Marine Corps in the Pacific during World War II.

Black workers strike for better conditions: 1941

Local 471 also organized private sector cafeterias like the S&W shown during this 1941 strike.

The two activist African American leaders were a powerful duo to head the union, both Palmer and Bancroft having backgrounds in leadership and organizing.

By 1946, the union had grown to 5,000 members covered by 15 different contracts, including cafeteria workers in 54 different government buildings—some of which had multiple cafeterias.

According to a 1946 Afro American newspaper article, Palmer estimated “that since the time the first union contract was signed in 1938 until present, wages of cafeteria employees in the District have risen over 100 per cent or from a $10 weekly average to $22.50 a week.”

1947 dispute with GSI

Strike begins at government cafeterias: 1947

President Richard Bancroft passes out picket signs at the onset of the 1947 cafeteria strike.

GSI took an aggressive posture in bargaining the 1947 contract agreement demanding an end to union dues check-off, offering small wage increases despite rising inflation and seeking to weaken the grievance arbitration clause, among other demands.

The union had priorities of its own such as wage gains, improved vacation, 15 days sick leave per year, a hospitalization plan and arbitration of all suspensions and discharges. The date of retroactivity of contract provisions was also an issue.

A tentative agreement was reached with the union negotiating committee in late December but was rejected by the union membership, primarily because of insufficient wage increases.

The union sought to continue negotiations while working under an extension of the 1946 contract. However, GSI refused to grant an extension.

Work stopped on January 7, 1947 at the 50 GSI facilities by an estimated 2,200 workers who ordinarily fed 128,000 federal government workers. The union termed the work stoppage a lockout while the company labeled it a strike.

GSI sought to open the cafeterias with supervisory staff, but many closed or severely curtailed hours and operations.

Two large government facilities were unaffected by the strike. National Food Corporation instead of GSI operated the Pentagon and Agriculture Department cafeterias.

In the instance of the Pentagon, negotiations were proceeding “satisfactorily” according to the union and the management. At Agriculture there was an agreement ready for signature providing for a 10 ½ cent hourly increase.

The union called a mass meeting at the Shiloh Baptist Church at 9th & P Streets NW, where picket assignments were given and arrangements were made for feeding strikers and providing other assistance.

Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Denounces Transit Hiring: 1942

Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, shown here speaking in D.C. in 1942, headed the 1947 strike support committee.

The union also set up a citizens’ committee meeting to support the strike where at least 12 organizations pledged cash, food and moral support. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D. -N.Y.) was named chairman of the Emergency Committee to Support Cafeteria Workers.

Represented organizations included the Washington chapter of the National Negro Congress, CIO Industrial Union Council, the Washington chapter of the UPWA, National Council of Negro Women, Episcopal Church League for Industrial Democracy, Columbia Typographical Union 101, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the AFL Pastry Cooks and Kitchen Employees Local 209, Washington chapter of the Substitute Printing Union, Southern Conference for Human Welfare, the American Veterans Committee chapters 11 and 341 and the local chapter of the AFL Hotel and Restaurant Workers Union.

Picketing was extended to nearly all government cafeterias while negotiations continued.

After eight days, an agreement to end the work stoppage was reached with the assistance of federal mediators.

The union and the company agreed to submit certain items to arbitration, including: the amount of wage increase, retroactivity of the contract, whether all discharges would be subject to arbitration, check-off for union dues, guaranteed work weeks for full-time employees, wage differentials for part-time workers, sick and annual leave and a hospitalization benefit.

When the arbitrator’s decision was rendered March 13th, the union won nearly all of its demands in the one-year agreement.

A ten-and-a-half cent per hour raise was granted in line with the contract negotiated at the Agriculture Department. Fifteen days of annual sick leave was implemented after five days absence, vacation was improved from 12 to 15 days annually after 18 months of service, arbitration of all discharges and suspensions was continued, continued deduction of union dues, the probationary period was reduced from three months to two months, retroactivity went to the January 14th date both parties had agreed was the maximum prior to agreeing to arbitration.

The only union demands that went the company’s way were a failure to gain a hospitalization plan and improvements in the definition of “full time worker” that would have given a part time differential to a larger group of employees. There were no concessions to the company in the agreement.

While the company made no statement, their initial attempt at weakening the union had failed and instead, the union was greatly strengthened.

Lull before the storm

Following the 1947 strike, the corporation came under the scrutiny of a Senate Civil Service subcommittee on various charges of maladministration, inefficiency, failure to pay the federal government money due, “haywire” purchasing and evasion of priority regulations during World War II.

At the same time, it was revealed that GSI was a member of the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM). This gave a number of senators pause since the organization was supposed to be non-profit and GSI’s board was composed entirely of government officials except for two who were former government officials. Pro-labor senators were also concerned because NAM was the leading business organization that advocated for the Taft-Hartley Act.

Phillip Fleming, key figure in 1948 cafeteria strike: 1936

Lt. Col. Phillip Fleming, head of the Federal Works Administration.

However, Federal Works Administrator Philip B. Fleming dismissed most of the charges, saying that abandoning GSI operation of federal cafeterias might return thousands of workers to the old days of “bringing cold food from home in paper bags” and buying box lunches from peddlers “up and down the streets.”

After Fleming’s testimony, Congress did not pursue the issue further.

More serious was the failure of 40 GSI cafeterias and food bars to qualify for District of Columbia licenses in May, 1947 due to unsanitary conditions. GSI requested additional funds for cafeteria repairs, but were turned down by the House Appropriations Committee, which held that such repairs should be made out of regular operating funds.

By August, about half of the food service facilities had passed inspection and were set to receive licenses while repairs continued on the others.

Then in October, 1947, it was revealed that GSI was operating its federal food service at a loss. GSI’s comptroller Samuel Goodacre warned that higher wage demands in the upcoming contract with Local 471 would put further stress on the operation and make an already weakened business unsustainable. He called upon the board to raise prices.

But the GSI board repudiated Goodacre and voted not to raise prices and agreed to partially cover the deficit with profits from park concessions. Goodacre resigned shortly afterward. In retrospect, it is clear the GSI board had decided to try to break the union at this point in order to lower labor costs.

A chill sets in

Government agencies had drastically shrunk in the post World War II period. And particularly large reductions were made in the year since the last Local 471 contract.

For the upcoming 1948 contract, there were 50 facilities covered that served about 80,000 meals per day. About 1,600 workers were in the bargaining unit.

Negotiations for a new contract between GSI and Local 471 opened November 28, 1947 and promptly halted. The agreement then in force was set to expire December 31, 1947.

GSI board chair General U. S. Grant III: 1928 ca.

Gen. U. S. Grant III, chair of the board of GSI.

GSI president Maj. Gen. U. S. Grant III demanded that officers of both Local 471 and its parent UPWA both file non-communist affidavits. Grant also demanded that the unions publish financial statements called for under the Taft-Hartley Act.

Grant was the grandson of the Civil War general and former President. He served in the Philippine-American War, World War I and World War II, but his politics were different from his grandfather.

In 1928-29, he served as Inauguration chair for President Herbert Hoover. W. E. B. Dubois believed Hoover saw African Americans as “sub men.” Walter White of the NAACP called Hoover, “the man in the lilly White House.”

In regards to his attitudes toward African Americans, in 1948 while Grant headed the National Capital Planning Commission he called the charges that local institutions were entrenching segregation “false and unjust” despite rampant Jim Crow under the purview of the commission.

Grant would still later resign his chairmanship of a Civil War Centennial commission after he declined to intervene when an African American commission board member was refused admittance to a Jim Crow hotel. Grant’s inaction prompted a NAACP boycott of the centennial events.

The union refused to discuss the demand to sign the non-communist affidavits and stated it would clarify its position on the affidavits later.

A statement released after the negotiating session and approved by Grant said GSI “did not want to be placed in a position where the only recourse open to the union was to call a strike in any controversy.”

This was a smokescreen because the contract between GSI and Local 471 contained a grievance procedure with binding arbitration and strikes were only permitted upon expiration of a contract.

Palmer responded on behalf of the union days later in a letter to Grant charging that it was a “clear violation of the law for an employer to seek to impose upon a bargaining agent conditions or qualifications as a precedent to collective bargaining.”

Palmer continued that the union would not consider filing the non-communist affidavits unless “it becomes necessary” and only after it is considered and approved at a membership meeting.

“Almost too astonishing to merit comment,” was Grant’s response.

Preparing for battle

Both sides began positioning themselves for the coming battle.

The union filed a 30-day strike notice against GSI with the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.

Meanwhile, the national AFL Hotel and Restaurant Union began canvassing GSI cafeterias with a leaflet that read in part,

“We have signed for the protection of our members the necessary affidavits that our leaders are not Communists.”

“For labor leaders to refuse to comply with the law, such refusal which might lead to a strike, is not leadership.” 

“The entire strength of the Washington Central Labor Union and the American Federation of Labor is yours if you want it.” 

Cafeteria Local 471 leader Oliver Palmer: 1958 ca.

Cafeteria workers union business agent Oliver Palmer.

Palmer charged that the AFL membership drive was “company inspired” and pointed out that fraternal “relationships between local AFL unions and our union has been very good over the course of the years.”

That move by GSI failed when the AFL withdrew its organizing attempts in mid-December.

The union leaders already had support for their position in refusing the affidavits since they had brought the issue to a union membership vote back in July. The members voted overwhelmingly to support their leaders. The position was re-affirmed in December when members again voted to support their leaders.

The next salvo by GSI came on December 19th when GSI moved to deny recognition to the union.

GSI filed a petition for a representation election with the National Labor Relations Board. They knew the NLRB would deny the petition under the Taft-Harley Act, since Local 471 had not filed the necessary affidavits. Grant said,

“Our decision to petition the NLRB came as a result of the claim of these same union officials that our employees on December 12 voted to support them in their refusal to sign non-Communist affidavits and file financial statements.” 

In regard to the financial disclosure issue, Palmer responded,

“Our union members know a lot more about the financial situation in their union than the government or anyone else has been able to learn about GSI’s books.”

Local 471 set up another broad support committee, the Citizens Committee in Support of the Cafeteria Workers, which Grant quickly labeled “misinformed” and “misled.”

The union announced it contacted the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service for assistance with negotiations.

Even before FMCS’s position was known, GSI quickly rejected its help, once again taking the position that the affidavits and financial statement provisions in the Taft-Hartley Act must be complied with before GSI would negotiate.

In response, the union released a letter from NLRB general counsel Robert N. Denham that stated that the Remington-Rand Corp. could enter into a contract with the CIO United Electrical Workers, even though the union had not filed non-communist affidavits.

Cafeteria workers union at the Pentagon (4): 1964

Pentagon cafeteria workers in 1964.

Meanwhile, A. C. Boehm, general manager of the Pentagon post restaurants in behalf of the National Food Corp. said contract negotiations with Local 471 were proceeding satisfactorily and that non-communist affidavits like those demanded by GSI are “not an issue.”

GSI’s position did not waver.

At a December 22nd union meeting at the Shiloh Baptist Church, members unanimously authorized their leaders to call a strike.

In a meeting with Grant on December 29th, The CIO’s Washington Industrial Union Council president Henry Beitscher told GSI that Local 471 had the full support of the CIO and that its three and a half million members were in the same category as local cafeteria workers, having refused to submit affidavits.

Grant told reporters that he would inform the board, but it “would not change the situation whatsoever.”

On December 31st, the union announced that a strike by its 1,600 members at GSI would begin officially at midnight. However, due to the four-day holiday weekend, picketing would not begin until Monday, January 5th.

Later Palmer said he would wait until a membership meeting on January 4th before formally calling a strike.

Meanwhile, the NLRB regional office dismissed GSI’s petition for an election as to whether Local 471 was a “certified” bargaining agent under the Taft-Harley law.

GSI immediately interpreted the NLRB decision as having “advised the corporation that the United Cafeteria and Restaurant Workers, Local 471, UPW-CIO is disqualified as a bargaining agent,” according to the Washington Post.

The text of the letter released by the NLRB said nothing about disqualifying the union.

Grant gave a statement to the press, “Since this union cannot legally represent our employees, there can be no legal strike.”

The eve of battle

Over the long weekend Local 471 members who worked at 18 Pentagon cafeterias and snack bars ratified a new contract with the National Food Company on January 2nd. The union bargaining committee at the Pentagon was the same as the one that GSI refused to negotiate with.

The Pentagon agreement contained a 6 ½-cent per hour raise and established sick leave of up to 12 days per year, among other improvements.

GSI promptly announced the same day that it would grant a 6 ½-cent raise to all employees who stayed on the job. Such a move was “phony as a three dollar bill,” the union responded.

Palmer released a statement that read in part:

“GSI employees are only too well aware of the company’s schemes to enslave them and will not swallow any of the lying propaganda designed to break their union and will not accept the phony offer which has no guarantees. The employees know that the company has never kept its word and they are determined to fight for their rights as free men.”

“We have reports from the cafeterias this morning that wherever GSI’s announcement was made, it was greeted with scorn by the employees who have learned exactly what to expect from this evil minded management. The employees knew weeks ago that GSI would make just such a fake offer on the eve of a strike.”

Grant released a statement that said GSI had informed employees “any work stoppage was being called by unauthorized union officials.”

NLRB's non-communist affidavit for unions: 1955 ca.

A copy of a non-communist affidavit similar to the one Local 471 officials refused to sign.

Grant continued to try to gain public support by more red-baiting:

“We have heard charges that UPWA’s leadership is communist-inspired and think it is our duty to have this matter clarified before contracting for employment exclusively within government buildings.”

Grant further charged that Local 471 officials did not represent the wishes of their membership.

“The seeds of the present labor disturbance were undoubtedly sown during last year’s negotiations which culminated in a strike because the union said its membership repudiated an agreement signed by union officials.”

“Remembering last year’s fiasco, the corporation decided that it must be assured this time by these officials that they were fully qualified to sign a binding agreement which could not be overturned during the contract period.”

The Washington Post reported, “Palmer has maintained that the membership’s rejection of the agreement last year was ‘simply an instance of union democracy.’ He said the agreement had been signed under the condition that it be ratified by the workers.”

GSI employees rallied at the Shiloh Baptist Church at 1500 9th Street NW on January 4th, the day before cafeterias were scheduled to reopen.

The union members heard Bancroft urge them to “die on their feet fighting like free men rather than submit to slavery” and correctly predict that their “fight before it ends will become the concerns of the Democratic National Committee and the White House,” according to the Washington Post.

Palmer addressed the workers about the need to strike, saying, “if there were an alternative, we would take it, but there is no alternative.”

In an important signal that Local 471 had support beyond a spectrum of left-leaning organizations and individuals, Mary McLeod Bethune, president of the National Council of Negro Women and former close advisor to President Roosevelt, sent a message, “God bless you, give you courage, give you faith.”

GSI meanwhile hired 250 replacement workers to assist 350 supervisors in keeping the cafeterias open with a limited menu and announced that further replacements would be hired depending on how many workers supported the strike.

GSI sets out union-busting case against Local 471: 1948

GSI’s Washington Post ad to the public on the first day of the strike.

“The corporation is extremely sorry that such a senseless, useless strike is to take place. It could have been prevented very easily if union officers had taken an oath against communism,” J. C. Niehuss, a GSI official, told the Washington Post.

In a last-minute effort to stave off a strike, national CIO vice president Allan S. Haywood appealed to Maj. Gen. Phillip B. Fleming, Federal Works Administrator, to intervene in the dispute. The Federal Works Administration leased space to GSI at no cost and split the profits with them.

In an advertisement published in the Washington Post, GSI reiterated its position and made its final argument to the employees and the general public:

“The strike—which is robbing hundreds of employees their pay envelopes—is caused by the political interests of radical labor leaders who point blank refuse to disassociate themselves from a foreign ideology.”

‘We fight against GSI slavery’

Cafeteria workers picket in the sleet and rain: 1948

Cafeteria workers picket outside the Commerce Dept. January 6, 1948 in the sleet and rain.

The outside temperature January 5th reached a high of 43* F, relatively balmy for January. But perhaps in a sign of things to come, that would soon change with average temperatures for the month only reaching 28.8 degrees –a full ten degrees below normal.

Picket lines were set up at nearly all government cafeterias except the two that were requested to be closed by the agencies—Labor and the Supreme Court. Oscar Chapman, undersecretary of the Interior Department, made a request that Interior also be closed during the strike, but Grant refused the request citing another agency that also used the cafeteria.

Picketers carried signs such as: “We fight against GSI slavery,” “GSI refuses to bargain,” and “On strike for a living wage.”

On the first day of the walkout, Palmer estimated the strike to be “more than 95 percent effective.”

GSI spokesperson Niehuss said that about one-third of the normal workforce was in the cafeterias, including supervisors and 300 new workers hired over the weekend. He said 200 more strikebreakers that had been hired would join them.

Seeking to break the unity of the strike Niehuss continued, “The indications are that many workers didn’t report for work because they wanted to see what the next fellow would do. Now that they see they won’t be alone, we expect they will be drifting back.”

Appeal for aid for cafeteria strikers: 1948

An ad published in the Washington Post by the strike support committee appealing for funds.

The union had prepared for a long strike and set up soup kitchens for workers at the Shiloh Baptist Church and at the union’s offices at 1015 M Street NW.

The Washington Post surveyed six cafeterias where managers reported an average customer volume of less than 50 percent, with menus cut by about 60 percent.

Meanwhile the Post wrote an editorial that condemned the union for not signing the non-communist affidavits, but found that to be irrelevant for negotiations and charged GSI had switched positions.

“An informal election conducted by the government originally confirmed Local 471 as a bargaining agent because of GSI’s contention that its position as a quasi governmental agency made the Wagner Act inapplicable. Thus GSI’s insistence that certification be a prerequisite to bargaining in this case represents a complete switch from its previous stand.”

“In any event, it seems to us that an acceptable settlement on this score [differences over wages and benefits] should not be difficult if GSI were to forego its legalism and make a real effort to get together with the union. On this point it is significant that the union already has concluded an amicable agreement with the operators of the Pentagon cafeterias and is in the process of reaching a similar agreement at the Department of Agriculture.”

On the second day of the strike, the union picket lines were up again at all agencies as a snowstorm moved in.

Cafeteria service improved with the hiring of additional replacement workers, but skilled workers such as cooks and bakers remained scarce.

GSI spokesperson Niehuss announced that the strikers’ jobs were being permanently replaced. “GSI cannot take back anyone whose job has been filled.”

On another front, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service announced it would not be further involved with any union whose leaders refused to sign non-communist affidavits, depriving the union of another source of government intervention.

Rev. Jernigan with BYPU youth: 1943

Rev. William Jernigan was among those who signed an appeal to President Truman.

Union supporters including Mary Church Terrell, past president of the National Association of Colored Women; Rev. William Jernigan, executive secretary of the Fraternal Council of Negro Churches; Belford Lawson Jr., former president of Local 471, Washington attorney and national president of Alpha Phi Alpha; Joseph L Townsend, dean of the Howard University medical school; and Dr. E Franklin Frazier, Howard University professor sent a telegram to President Harry Truman expressing concern over “GSI’s refusal to bargain.”

“We urge you to use your good offices to induce this company which operates on property of the United States Government, to bargain in good faith in the American way with the union of its employees.”

Once again, the union support represented a broad spectrum of backing within the African American community.

On January 7th, GSI was providing near-normal service with 750 strikebreakers and pre-cooked meals provided by vendors. However, the number of meals served was still well below the pre-strike level.

The union hit GSI for creating a health hazard by hiring employees without required physical examinations.

The Post editorialized, “GSI, although it has long recognized the union’s authority to represent cafeteria employees, seems to have seized upon the [Taft-Hartley non-communist] affidavit clause as a convenient union-busting bludgeon.”

Palmer issued another statement on the issue:

“This is an obvious attempt to capitalize on the witch hunt hysteria which now dominates the nation’s capital. Never before has anyone, in or out of public life, raised and questioned whatever about the loyalty of government cafeteria employees or their representatives.”

“We deeply resent the slur upon our members contained in GSI’s argument on this issue It is typical of the contempt management has shown for its Negro employees for the past 27 years.”

CIO asks Truman to intervene

CIO and Steelworkers president Phillip Murray: 1942

CIO President Phillip Murray personally met with the strike leadership and asked U.S. President Truman to intervene.

On January 8th, CIO president Phillip Murray himself met with the union on strike strategy and sent a letter to President Truman asking him to order the board of trustees of GSI  “to refrain from union-busting activities” and to meet with Local 471. The GSI board was composed largely of current or former government officials selected by the heads of the various federal departments.

Murray charged the federal government with intervening on the side of GSI and urged Truman to stop the government from its “partisan intervention into the situation” and to set up a “collective bargaining conference” to settle issues in the strike.

Murray also charged that Federal Works administrator Fleming used federal building guards to escort strikebreakers to and from the cafeterias.

GSI spokesperson Niehuss condemned Murray’s involvement:

“He may find he has chosen strange bedfellows by inserting himself so strongly in this dispute after three top government agencies have refused to intervene.”

“Does he not realize that the entire government is requiring loyalty statements from its employees?”

Meanwhile Charles Sands, an international representative of the AFL Hotel and Restaurant Workers announced renewed plans to recruit GSI workers.

Sands passed out two leaflets—one to strikers and the other to strike breakers—asking them to join his union and seek collective bargaining rights. The leaflets charged Local 471 with “striking over a political issue.”

In support of Local 471, Clarence Mitchell, national labor secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) met with GSI head Grant, urging him to submit the strike issues to a third party.

The local NAACP pledged its support to Local 471 and urged GSI to bargain with the union:

“We the representatives of over 10,000 citizens of the District of Columbia…urge you [GSI] to recognize the basic good intentions of Local 471 and begin negotiations with it toward the amicable settlement of the present strike.”

GSI spokesperson Niehuss announced that any striker that failed to report to work by January 9th “will receive their final check,” reiterating that GSI intended the strikebreakers as permanent replacements.

Niehuss also claimed that he had 1,000 workers on the job serving 60,000 of the usual 80,000 government employees. He claimed that by January 12th, the beginning of the second week of the strike, “normal” service would be resumed at nearly all cafeterias.

But Niehuss added, “There are still some jobs open for regular employees who want to come back.”

The union ridiculed the claim and facetiously responded, “by Wednesday they’ll say they’re competing with the Waldorf Astoria.”

As the strike began its second week on January 12th, the union modified its picketing strategy and staged a mass picket where hundreds of strikers encircled the Federal Works Administration building demanding the agency order the cafeterias closed during the dispute.

Congress begins to insert itself

Fred Hartley of anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act: 1940 ca.

Rep. Fred Hartley, one of the sponsors of the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act. 

Congress began inserting itself into the dispute as Rep. Fred Hartley (R-N.J.), one of the authors of the Taft-Hartley Act, urged union members to rid “yourself of your leaders, elect good, honest Americans not afraid to sign a simple statement that they do not believe in the Communist Party platform.”

Rep. Fred E. Busby (R-Il.) read a report compiled by GSI into the Congressional Record, naming five UPWA and Local 471 officials as communists.

But Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. (D-N.Y.) urged President Truman in an open letter to intervene in the dispute:

“Although this company is a quasi-governmental enterprise whose trustees are leading officials of the United States government, it has pursued the worst anti-Negro labor policy of any corporation in the nation. In the 27 years of its existence, this company which fattens on government support, has never placed a Negro worker in a supervisory, managerial or even in a cashier’s position.”

On January 15th in temperatures that ranged from the teens to the 20s another mass picketing took place at the Interior Department at 18th & C NW, and a scuffle at the Navy Department on Constitution Avenue between a strikebreaker and pickets resulted in three arrests—all union members.

Two more union members were arrested at the National Gallery of Art on January 17th in a confrontation with a strikebreaker.

The calls for Truman to intervene could not be ignored by the President. By this point in time, Truman had written off the left wing politically but CIO president Murray, Mary McLeod Bethune, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, and the NAACP were all necessary supporters for what was expected to be a tough election in 1948.

At the same time Republicans controlled both houses of Congress and had just passed the Taft-Harley Act. Public opinion polls had supported restrictions on labor and the Republicans were ready to jump on Truman for any sign he was “soft” on communism.

Federal intervention after all?

Rev. Brooks at cornerstone ceremony for Lincoln Temple: 1928

Rev. Dr. Robert W. Brooks (standing beside table) led a delegation to the Labor Department.

As the strike entered its third week January 19th, Rev. Dr. Robert W. Brooks led a delegation of the Interdenominational Ministers Alliance into a 40-minute meeting with Secretary of Labor Lewis B. Schwellenbach, asking for his intervention in the dispute.

When he emerged, Brooks told the Washington Post, “The Secretary told us he is certainly working on it. He is doing all he can and asked us to give him until tomorrow night to see if a plan he has will work out.”

GSI personnel director J. C. Niehuss responded that the union no longer represented cafeteria employees who had been hired as permanent replacements:

“Even if the union complied with the Taft-Hartley Act tomorrow, we still couldn’t bargain with a union that doesn’t represent our workers,”

Scabs wanted in Cafeteria Local 471 strike: 1948

GSI ad for strike-breakers in the Washington Post.

As frustrations mounted, three different confrontations between strikers and strikebreakers occurred resulting in the arrests of eight. Six strikers were arrested, including four women, while two strikebreakers were arrested.

Bancroft declared the union was having success in turning back strikebreakers and told reporters that many had only waited to pick up their paychecks on Friday and would not return to work on January 19th “now that they have learned the real issues.”

But despite Bancroft’s bravado, the strikers by this point were becoming desperate. Strikebreakers had largely filled their jobs, and while many of the hot meals were not prepared on-site, the cafeterias were operating close to normally.

Battle takes on national significance

Clare Hoffman (R-Mi.) immediately called a meeting of a special subcommittee of the House Committee on Education and Labor for January 20th.

At the hearing, Hoffman grilled Schwellenbach about his potential intervention and whether he was trying to subvert the Taft-Hartley Act by forcing an employer to bargain with a union that had not signed the affidavits.

Schwellenbach placed Local 471’s refusal to sign affidavits in context when he testified the Labor Department “contacted 57,000 unions” about complying with the Taft-Hartley provisions. “As of last week we had only 10,003 comply.”

A breakthrough occurred on January 21st when it was revealed that President Truman asked Labor Secretary Schwellenbach “to investigate the whole situation” and to attempt to settle the strike.

Schwellenbach immediately asked for a legal opinion on whether (1) an employer is barred from negotiating with a union if the non-communist affidavits are not filed and (2) if they are not barred, are they required to negotiate?

Schwellenbach also said he would meet with Maj. Gen. Fleming, the administrator of the Federal Works who held the power to close cafeterias and terminate the GSI contract upon six months notice or immediately for non performance.

Niehuss, usually quick to comment, said, “Now that it’s in the hands of the government, we feel we needn’t say anything. Our case is well-known: we believe our position is legally and morally correct.”

Palmer commented, “At last the President has seen fit to step into a situation that has become a national disgrace. GSI—which uses government property and equipment—has been embarrassing the Administration.”

The battle began taking on national significance as the CIO executive council voted full support for the strikers and urged Truman to intervene, while the New York Times reported on Schwellenbach’s involvement.

The Department of Labor solicitor, William S. Tyson, issued a memorandum opinion January 23rd.

Tyson held:

  1. The national policy is to encourage free and voluntary collective bargaining between employers and employees.
  2. The National Labor Relations Act as amended by the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 (Taft-Hartley) does not prohibit employers from bargaining collectively with unions representing a majority of their employees even though the union has not filed the affidavits and organization and financial statements provided for in Section 9 (f) and (h) of the Act.
  3. The ability of a union to secure board certification because it has not filed the affidavits and organization and financial statements provided for in Section 9 (f) and (h) of the act does not disqualify the union from acting as the bargaining representative of the employees, and does not therefore bar the employer from bargaining with the union.

Tyson reiterated that the union is barred from seeking the assistance of the NLRB but that the Taft-Hartley law, nevertheless, made it a duty for employers and employees to “exert every reasonable effort to make and maintain agreements.”

Tyson further said that the NLRB’s dismissal of a petition by GSI for a representation election “does not bar the employer from continuing to bargain with a union of his employees.”

Contradicting the Federal Mediation Service, Tyson quoted Section 204 of the Act and said, “…where these efforts in collective bargaining failed, the parties should utilize the assistance of the mediation service.”

Tyson conceded that enforcement of this section of the Act without the involvement of the NLRB was problematic, but noted that the Act incorporated provisions for filing suits in federal district courts without regard to compliance with the affidavits section.

What Tyson did not say was that in this situation the federal government could close cafeterias or terminate GSI’s contract in order to force a settlement.

Congress acts against the union

Rep. Clare Hoffman aids union busting: 1948

Rep. Clare Hoffman, chair of the House subcommittee investigating the GSI strike.

Representative Clare E. Hoffman (R-Mi.) accused the Truman administration of trying to nullify the Taft-Hartley Act.

“What is the President trying to do? Sabotage the Taft-Hartley Act, which it is his sworn duty to enforce by suggesting that it need not be used?”

“The question of whether GSI may bargain with Local 471 is not the issue The real issue is whether the Administration can force GSI to bargain with union officials who refuse to comply with the Taft-Hartley law—union officials who do not deny they are Communists.”

Hoffman scheduled a hearing of his House Education and Labor Subcommittee for January 26th.

Meanwhile GSI responded that they were studying Tyson’s opinion, but that their first reaction was that it would have “no effect,” according to Niehuss.

“There will be no settlement with Local 471, unless it can prove it represents our present employees.”

Bancroft, speaking on radio station WQQW, responded:

“We of the union say to GSI, ‘Your permanent employees are on strike.’ This strike with its attendant picketing will not end until every striker is back on the job every strikebreaker is fired and we have a union contract to guarantee decent wage and working conditions.”

Hoffman’s hearing

Hoffman’s intentions were clearly signaled when committee staff accompanied by U. S. deputy marshals raided the union’s former offices on January 26th at 930 F Street NW at 9 a.m. prior to the opening of the subcommittee hearing.

Alfred Bernstein, UPWA negotiations director, told the committee that F. Albert Reiman, a committee staff member, deputy marshal James Collins and three other men came to the office and demanded custody of union records.

Bernstein said they arrived with blank subpoena forms, asked people for their names, and then filled in the blanks.

The only people present were Bernstein and a UPWA secretary named Lila Pollin.

Bernstein testified at the hearing that they persisted “even after I told them I had no authority over records and didn’t even know if there were any there.”

Pollin testified that when the men showed up, records were “in the process of being moved” to a new office. She added that she had no knowledge of what records were available since some furniture and filing cabinets had been moved.

Pollin was read a list of organizations from U.S. Attorney General Tom Clarke’s list of “subversive organizations” and asked if she was a member of any. Pollin denied she had any connection with the Communist Party or any of the organizations listed.

During Bernstein’s questioning, Hoffman asked if Bernstein had ever refused to take a loyalty test

“Of course not. I resent that question. I proved my loyalty in the jungle. I volunteered for military service; if I hadn’t, I would have been over the legal age limit too.”

Bernstein termed the tactics “a witch hunt at its worst” and said after the hearing that Hoffman’s committee is “Hell-bent on breaking the strike.”

Hoffman said he hoped to have Bancroft and Palmer testify at the hearing on January 27th.

When Robert N. Denham, general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board, testified Rep. Wint Smith (R-Ka.) asked, “Isn’t the employer under a duty not to bargain with a union that fails to file the Communist affidavits?”

“Not exactly. It’s his privilege to bargain or not bargain as he wishes,” replied Denham.

Meanwhile Schwellenbach announced he had “a very general discussion of the whole situation with Maj. Gen. U. S. Grant III, GSI president with no conclusions reached.”

At his hearing on January 28th, Hoffman learned that none of the five union officials he sought had been served with subpoenas.

Hoffman was seeking UPWA president Abram Flaxer, secretary-treasurer Eleanor Nelson, organization director Robert Weinstein along with Local 471 officials Palmer and Bancroft.

Hoffman said he wanted to ask them if they were communists:

“I don’t want to charge anyone with being a communist. But I would like them to tell us.”

Hoffman promptly recessed the hearing, but scheduled another to be held on February 2nd.

CIO chief meets with Labor Secretary Schwellenbach: 1946

CIO chief Phillip Murray and Labor Secy. Louis Schwellenbach during the 1946 steel strike.

On January 31st Schwellenbach met with Local 471 officials in his Labor Department offices for 90 minutes.

At the meeting were Local 471 officials Oliver Palmer, Richard Bancroft and UPWA attorney and negotiator Alfred Bernstein. Assistant Secretary John Gibson was also present.

Schwellenbach did not talk about the substance of the discussions, but commented on Hoffman’s attempt to subpoena the union.

“When they called up for the appointment I told them: ‘you come in the front door and go out by the front door. And if you see anyone serving subpoenas, take them.’”

“I have never seen anybody dodge a subpoena very long,” added the one-time federal judge and U.S. Senator.

Flaxer was served his subpoena later on January 31st when he arrived for an appointment with Schwellenbach. Flaxer and CIO organizing director Allan S. Haywood conferred with the Labor Secretary for 90 minutes.

Palmer and Bancroft were never found by the marshals, but announced they would attend the hearing voluntarily.

Union officials testify

On February 1st the union called for a mass meeting where they called upon the members to rally at Hoffman’s hearing and prepared them for what to expect.

As the strike began its fifth week, Hoffman’s hearing made for a wild night February 2nd as hundreds of cafeteria workers jammed the House Education and Labor Committee hearing room where one of Flaxer’s attorneys was thrown out, the representative for the NAACP was cut off by Hoffman, and upon adjournment Hoffman was booed by union members who attempted to follow him to his office.

Flaxer to organize state, local government workers: 1937

UPWA head Abram Flaxer in his office.

When Flaxer was called to testify, Hoffman refused to permit him to read a statement. Instead, for 30 minutes, Hoffman fired questions like:

“Were you ever a member of the Communist Party?” and “Are you now or have you ever been affiliated with…?” and then listed one by one the organizations listed by the Attorney General as subversive as well as others.

Flaxer repeatedly responded:

“For me to answer this question would be inimical to the best interests of the strikers because it assumes that the issue is my political beliefs and not the economic needs of the strikers.”

“My second reason is that this question invades and violates my freedom of opinion.”

As same line of questioning continued, Flaxer began answering, “same answer, same reason.”

At the request of Rep. Arthur Klein (D-N.Y.), Flaxer was permitted to give his statement that read in part,

“Finally, by answering the question, I feel that I would be lending aid and comfort to the current drive to destroy civil liberties in our country.”

“Nor can I, by answering this question, aid and abet the red-baiting hysteria which in the hands of labor-hating employers and their allies is sweeping this country.”

“The sole purpose of the committee is to give strength to the company’s strike breaking endeavors.”

“I submit that the entire inquiry amounts to an abuse of congressional power. In this instance, such abuse helps only a sweatshop employer intent on preventing Negro workers from enjoying the benefits of unionism.”

During the two hours of questioning Flaxer stated that in refusing to sign the non-communist affidavits, the UPWA was following the general CIO policy of noncompliance with the Taft-Hartley Act.

Flaxor: We do not have to comply with the Taft-Hartley Act. We have no benefits under it. We have been thrown back 50 years by the Taft-Hartley Act.

Hoffman: Do you think that’s far enough?

Joseph Forer, defender of civil rights: 1949 ca.

Attorney Joseph Forer

One of Flaxer’s attorneys was forcibly ejected from the hearing when Rep. O. C. Fisher (D-Tx.) asked another UPWA attorney, Joseph Forer, “Are you the same Forer who defended Gerhart Eisler?”

Eisler was a Communist Party member who was initially charged with refusing to answer questions before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) in 1947. He had two trials in 1947—one for refusing to answer HUAC questions and the other for immigration violations.

Eisler was sentenced to one and three years in prison respectively and was the subject of deportation hearings along with five immigrant labor leaders. Eisler would later jump bail in 1949 and flee to the German Democratic Republic where he worked for many years. It was alleged by his detractors that he was Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s personal representative within the Communist Party USA.

When Fisher asked his question, Nathan R. Witt, Flaxer’s other attorney jumped to his feet and objected. A shouting match followed with Witt blasting Fisher for questioning an attorney about his clients, while Hoffman called House Office police to remove Witt.

Flaxer also testified that the Taft-Hartley Act had no direct effect on his union, with a few exceptions.

Hoffman: Well, all right. The Taft-Hartley Act provides that your union can, if it wishes, force an employer to bargain, does it not?

Flaxer: No. The Taft-Hartley Act does not provide that.

Hoffman: So you say that if you comply with the provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act you still cannot bargain collectively?

Flaxer: No; we cannot bargain collectively regardless of compliance.

Hoffman: Sure you can.

Flaxer: But the point I am trying to make is that we do not fall under the Taft-Hartley Act, and we do not have to be concerned by its provisions as an individual union.

Hoffman: But you will concede, will you not, that if you want the benefits of the Taft-Hartley Act, you must comply with its terms.

Flaxer: Well, sir we have no benefits deriving from the Taft-Hartley Act, especially us.

Flaxer was pointing out that as a union of overwhelmingly government employees, the Taft-Hartley Act, except the one provision that bars federal employees from striking, did not cover them.

This testimony was troubling for Local 471, because Flaxer was clearly more concerned with the larger issues that his union faced than the specific situation at GSI where the Taft-Hartley Act was applicable.

Clarence Mitchell, NAACP rights advocate in Washington: 1957

NAACP labor secretary Clarence Mitchell had his testimony cut off.

The hearing ended when Clarence Mitchell, national labor secretary for the NAACP began his testimony by saying he would not answer any questions about the cafeteria strike itself.

Hoffman quickly cut him off, banging his gavel and declaring the hearing recessed. The workers in the audience began catcalls and booing; and police halted a number of strikers when they attempted to follow Hoffman while they shouted at him.

Local 471 testifies

When the hearing reconvened February 3rd, cafeteria workers again showed up by the hundreds as their local leaders, business manager Oliver Palmer and president Richard Bancroft, took the witness chair.

Both Bancroft and Palmer dismissed Hoffman’s questions about communist affiliations as “irrelevant.”

As he had with Flaxer the day before, Hoffman read a long string of questions to Palmer such as asking if he had signed a petition to for the release of Communist Party chief Earl Browder from jail, if he was ever a member of the Communist Party and if he was an official of the National Negro Congress.

The back and forth turned to the question of the non-communist affidavits

Hoffman: You know if you want to force GSI to bargain with your union you’ll have to sign one of these affidavits.

Palmer: No I don’t know that!

Hoffman: Well, you’ll know that before you’re through.

But Palmer gave as good as he got:

Hoffman: Why can you not be friendly and agreeable, and when there is a simple question, answer it?

Palmer: I can’t be friendly and agreeable when you are trying to persecute 1,500 colored workers and deny them the right to have a union.

Hoffman: Nobody—

Palmer: And that is the purpose of this, that is the purpose of this and the only purpose of this.

Hoffman: Wait a moment.

Palmer: The question is do 1,500 Negro workers have a right to have a union.

Hoffman: Certainly they do.

Palmer: John L. Lewis did the same [refused to sign a non-communist affidavit], took the same action.

Hoffman: Forget it.

Palmer: You didn’t bring them up here. You brought us up here because we are Negroes.

Hoffman: You are mistaken as you can be.

Palmer: You brought them up because we are Negroes [applause].

Hoffman: You remember what I told you about applause.

Palmer: You want to smash the Negro union. [Thunderous applause].

Hoffman: Wait a moment. Once more. I only want to repeat, you folks are here just through the courtesy of the committee. That is twice, three times. You know, we used to say when we were kids three times, and out. That is not a threat. That is just a promise of what is going to happen if the disturbance continues.

Washington Post reports on Local 471 officials’ testimony: 1948

The Washington Post reports on Local 471 officials’ testimony.

When Bancroft testified, Rep. Fisher questioned him, describing a number of organizations such as the American Student Union, the American Youth Congress and the Southern Conference for Human Welfare as “communist fronts” and asking about Bancroft’s affiliation with them to which Bancroft responded “irrelevant.”

Bancroft also took the opportunity to make his points:

“I would like to say at this point that I appeared at this hearing. If you will permit me the opportunity to make this statement, Mr. Fisher, to provide you with facts that had to do with the strike of 1,400 Negro workers against Government Services, Inc., to indicate to you the reasons for it, the reasons for membership actions of our union, to indicate to you the history of the relations of our union with Government Services, Inc., and they have existed over a period of 10 years, though with difficulty, and to indicate to you that I have been disturbed frankly, because I had the feeling that a congressional committee would not use some of the tactics which have been used here in not discussing those issues relevant to the strike, not seeming seriously concerned about the fact that 1,400 Negroes have been deprived of their livelihood because of a capricious and arbitrary action on the part of an employer whose history is replete with such capricious and arbitrary actions in the past, and I have been seriously disturbed by it.”

Both Bancroft and Palmer testified that the union membership had directed them not to comply with the non-communist affidavits.

Bancroft provided the minutes of the union meeting where the members voted to refuse to comply with the Taft-Hartley Act on July 22, 1947.

“The executive board recommends, after a thorough discussion on the Taft Harley law, that our union go on record that we do not use the facilities of the National Labor Relations Board.”

“A motion was made and seconded that the recommendation be accepted. After much discussion on the recommendation the motion was carried unanimously.”

During the course of the two union officials’ testimony, Hoffman three times threatened to clear the hearing room as cafeteria workers booed and shouted at subcommittee members.

Also called to testify was Albert C. Boehm of the National Food Service, which operated the Pentagon’s cafeterias.

“I’ve always found the union to be a responsible organization,” said Boehm, to the outrage of Hoffman.

Boehm testified “As we interpret the law, there is no requirement for a union to comply with the Taft-Hartley Act as long as the question of (union) representation does not occur…there is a duty on our part to bargain…”

Hoffman shot back, “There is no legal obligation to bargain at all.”

After the hearing, Hoffman threatened contempt charges against union leaders who refused to answer questions about whether they were members of the Communist Party or other organizations.

The union members had shown their solidarity in large numbers and enthusiastically backed their leaders. However, Bancroft’s testimony was more subdued than the usual fiery speeches that he honed in his days at the ASU. The events of the next few days revealed why.

Schwellenbach says to sign affidavits

During an unrelated hearing on Labor Department reorganization February 5th, Hoffman brought up the GSI strike again to Schwellenbach.

Hoffman asked Schwellenbach about the visit of Abram Flaxer to the Labor Department and what Schwellenbach said to him.

Schwellenbach: I said you file these affidavits or I’m not interested.

Hoffman: I personally want to congratulate you. Didn’t you take the position GSI could bargain whether the affidavits are filed or not?

Schwellenbach: Yes.

Hoffman: Don’t you agree they should file the affidavits before seeking the aid of the government?

Schwellenbach: Yes, I told them so.

Schwellenbach had met separately with Flaxer and local 471 officials Bancroft and Palmer prior to Hoffman’s hearing Feb. 2nd-3rd. It was now clear that Local 471’s ace in the hole—President Harry Truman—was also insisting on the union filing the affidavits before he would help the union.

Local 471 signs the affidavits, Bancroft quits

Leaders of striking union take non-communist oath: 1948

Local 471 officials submit non-communist affidavits.

The following day eight Local 471 officers, including Palmer, signed the affidavits. Bancroft resigned the office of president rather than sign.

“Now GSI can stop seeking excuses to evade their obligation to bargain,” said Palmer.

GSI’s position didn’t change. Niehuss said affidavits must be filed by both the local officers and by the UPWA officers and that the local must win an NLRB election among those workers now on GSI rolls, according to the Washington Post.

“The corporation does not intend to displace any of its 1,300 present employees,” Niehuss said.

According to the Post, officials of the national UPWA indicated there was no chance that the UPWA officers would file.

Meanwhile, strikers staged another mass picket at the office of Federal Works Administrator Phillip Fleming, while snow flurries blew around them, calling on him to force GSI to bargain.

On February 8th, the union held another mass meeting at the Shiloh Baptist Church where Rose Randolph, the vice president that succeeded Bancroft as president, presided.

With Bancroft in the audience and speaking in favor, a resolution passed blasting the government for interfering on the side of GSI and charging GSI with trying to break the union because it was composed almost entirely of African Americans.

The resolution charged the government with unfair labor practices and said in part:

“Though we have picketed early and late in bitter cold and through snow and slush, we are confident of victory.”

“Scabs have been encouraged to trespass on federal property while we have been denied the warmth and restroom facilities in the buildings which our taxes helped to build and maintain.”

“GSI’s attacks on us have been made because we are Negroes and are aimed halting the right of Negroes to belong to a union of their own choice and to bargain fairly without the dishonest injection of false issues.”

Washington, D.C. Shiloh Baptist Church: 1970 ca.

The Shiloh Baptist Church where Local 471 held meetings and set up a soup kitchen for strikers.

GSI spokesperson Niehuss dismissed the charge, saying, “As far as we are concerned the government has been entirely neutral.”

“The United Public Workers have tried to turn this into a racial matter and their charge has no basis in fact. GSI has been the predominant employer of Negro help in the District and the charge of discrimination against the colored race is patently ridiculous.” 

Force GSI to negotiate?

The next day the Washington Post reported that a high administration source said President Truman ordered Federal Works Administrator Philip B. Fleming to require GSI to bargain with the union.

Fleming had the power to close cafeterias or terminate the contract with GSI.

According to the Post, the White House source said that when Local 471 officials signed the affidavits, it removed the “moral” issue that the White House viewed as the main obstacle to their involvement.

Hoffman hastily called a hearing February 10th and summoned Fleming.

Hoffman: Have you received any such orders?

Fleming: I have not

Hoffman: Oh, dear.

Hoffman then called the Washington Post reporter Frank Wilder as a witness, but Wilder refused to name his source and stood by his story.

Grant testified and repeated that GSI would not bargain until UPWA officials signed affidavits and Local 471 won an election among the replacement workers.

At one point Hoffman told the 40 strikers jammed into the small hearing room that they might get their “friends” who stayed on the job to vote for Local 471.

“We have no friends at GSI. They’re all scabs. We are all GSI employees,” shouted a woman from the back of the room.

At the White House, presidential secretary Charles G. Ross told reporters that Truman “has no comment on the strike situation beyond what he has already said; namely, that the situation is entirely in the hands of Secretary Schwellenbach.”

One reporter asked Ross, “Does this mean the story in the Washington Post is wrong?” to which Ross replied, “I have no further comment to make on it.”

The next day, with Hoffman out of town, Rep Fisher called the managing editor of the Washington Post, James Russell Wiggins, who testified “The story we received is in its essentials correct.”

Again, more than 100 Local 471 members jammed the hearing room.

The latest effort to haul the media in to testify about sources and other issues marked the third time in four months that Hoffman’s committee used this tactic—implying contempt of Congress charges if they refused to answer.

Meanwhile the strike was past the five-week mark with no end yet in sight. Frustrations were growing on the picket line and the courts were beginning to act on previous arrests.

Two strikers were convicted in court of previous incidents while a new incident occurred at the Independence cafeteria at 7th and Independence Avenue SW. Police reported that a woman striker hit a non-striker on the head with an umbrella.

Two days later another striker was convicted of assault while a scab was jailed for 90 days for carrying a pistol.

The union called a mass meeting for the striking workers February 15th and about 1,000 attended.

Bernstein, who was serving a negotiator for Local 471, told reporters that at Arlington Farms, the military police had been used “for the first time” to escort strikebreakers through the picket lines.

Niehuss denied the claim but said there was a “fairly large concentration” of pickets there, and that Public Works Administration guards took “preventive measures” after some strikers attempted to chase workers in the cafeteria there.

Conciliator appointed

Conciliator in 1948 Cafeteria Local 471 strike: 1944

George E. Strong, a labor relations veteran, is appointed as conciliator.

A little over a week after the Post reported that Truman would intervene in the strike, a conciliator was appointed by Federal Works Administrator Philip B. Fleming.

George E. Strong, a veteran of World War I and II with broad experience in both the army and the government for settling labor disputes was named to try to work out an agreement to end the strike.

Strong, who had resolved over 100 strikes, was optimistic he could reach a settlement, “This is just another dispute. I’ve seen them much tougher than this.”

GSI’s board of trustees changed their tune a bit as they agreed to discuss the dispute with the conciliator.

Strong immediately began meeting with the principals involved, including GSI head General Ulysses Grant III, the negotiator for Local 471 Alfred Bernstein, Secretary of Labor Lewis Schwellenbach, Local 471 officials, Government Services attorney John L. Cross and others. After five days of meetings, he reported on February 20th that there was “some progress.”

While this shuttle diplomacy was going on the support committee for the union held a fundraiser for the strikers at Turner’s Arena February 19th featuring acclaimed actor, singer and left-wing activist Paul Robeson.

Robeson - Take Jim Crow off the American dollar: 1949

Paul Robeson came to D.C. many times to lend his support. Here, he pickets with Bureau of Engraving workers.

Robeson performed before the 2,500 people assembled and told them, “I know of no appearance in this city that meant more to me than tonight. We are sick and tired of picking up the crumbs.”

Former Local 471 president Richard Bancroft told the group, “Local 471 is being used as a guinea pig in an effort to break unions,” referring to the Taft-Hartley Act.

The event sponsored by the Citizens Committee in Support of Cafeteria Workers raised $7,000 that was enough to keep the strike going for five days. Robeson donated his services as well as a $100 check.

Samuel Rodmans, a support committee member, told those assembled that it cost about $10,000 per week, including $250 a day for a soup kitchen, $150 a day for food and $5-6,000 a week for strikers rent and fuel bills in order to maintain the strike.

As the strike dragged on, clashes again erupted on the picket line—again at Arlington Farms where Palmer charged that a supervisory employee “provoked the whole thing.”

“He made himself so officious as to start conducting strike breakers through our picket lines. He hit one of our people. I don’t know where they get the authority to interfere with orderly picket lines.

Niehuss maintained the strikers were “chasing the employees into the dormitories.” The picket line was “so dense that patrons couldn’t get into the building.”

Strong raised the spirits of strikers when he announced February 24th that he expected to settle the strike “in the next few days.”

Committee obstructs settlement

Hoffman responded to this news by ordering 16 witnesses, including high government officials, to appear February 28th in a closed hearing to find out if the Truman administration was trying to settle the 54-day old strike by bypassing the Taft-Hartley Act.

He also announced he wanted to know if the administration was putting “pressure” on GSI to force it to bargain with Local 471.

Among those subpoenaed was George Strong, who was trying to craft a settlement between GSI and Local 471.

Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.) responded that he was “shocked that any member of Congress would try to keep any labor dispute from being peacefully settled. If the administration is trying to settle the strike, it should be praised, not criticized.”

Rep. Arthur G. Klein, House Labor Committee: 1950 ca.

Rep. Arthur G. Klein said the committee hearing was “obstructing” a settlement.

Rep. Arthur Klein (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Labor Committee condemned the subcommittee hearing as “obstructing” a resolution of the strike.

The subpoenas indeed had a chilling effect.

During the hearing Strong pointedly told Hoffman his committee had impeded progress in the negotiations.

Strong: As a matter of fact I tried to work it out along those lines [strikers having first preference of vacancies] and I was making quite a bit of progress. In fact, I was hopeful even up until last night that I could do it.

Hoffman: Nothing this committee has done or any statements issued by it have interfered in any way with your negotiations.

Strong: Yes. It has.

While the hearing was supposedly “secret,” details quickly leaked out.

GSI had offered to immediately take back between five and six hundred employees, but after subpoenas were issued GSI said it would take back strikers as positions became available—backtracking and making Strong’s position as conciliator untenable.

Strong did not ask the two parties to meet, but to agree to an outline of the conditions under which the strike could end and lead to some type of written agreement

Specifically there would be a written agreement, but no contract per se until the union was “certified.” Strong would act as “administrator” to decide questions arising between the GSI and Local 471. The company would agree to administer a voluntary check-off of union dues. The company would not discharge strikebreakers to make way for returning strikers but would re-open the Labor Department and Supreme Court cafeterias with union members and fill existing vacancies with union members. Those not immediately recalled would have first priority on vacancies that arose. Economic details were not revealed at that time.

Again hundreds of union members turned out for the hearing, but were initially turned away. Later a small group of spectators was admitted.

The committee’s inquiry was an outrageous intrusion into an attempt to settle a strike where details of the parameters of a possible settlement were openly discussed before the parties had agreed upon them–or in the case of Local 471 even heard them.

Cafeteria Local 471 nemesis Rep. O. C. Fisher: 1965 ca.

Rep. O. C. Fisher (D-TX) accuses President Truman of “evading the nation’s labor laws.”

After the hearing the three subcommittee members, Clare Hoffman, O. C. Fisher and Wint Smith, issued a statement accusing Truman of “evading the nation’s labor laws.” In the same statement, the three praised GSI and urged Local 471 to purge itself of “communist influence and domination.”

The next day, Strong issued a statement expressing “surprise” at Hoffman’s accusation and continued by saying,

“As I read the Taft-Hartley Act, there is nothing in it which prevents or even discourages the parties to a labor dispute from settling it by private negotiation or by utilizing a third party acceptable to both.”

Strong ‘fed up’

On March 2nd Strong announced, “I’m just about fed up” with his attempt to settle the strike, but said he would give it one last try.

While Strong’s efforts continued, the trials of strikers charged in connection with picket line incidents continued and in one case resulted in a hung jury. Picketing was temporarily suspended at all struck government cafeterias while negotiations continued.

Hoffman called another hearing March 6th that featured him berating Strong for negotiating with Alfred Bernstein of the UPWA who had not signed a non-communist affidavit. The exchange in part went:

Hoffman: Mr. Bernstein refused to tell us whether he was a communist or not, did he not?

Strong: I don’t know

Hoffman: He did refuse to tell us whether he was affiliated with certain organizations, which were charged with being communistic in their activities. Accepting that as a fact, why do you want to sit across the table and deal with Mr. Bernstein?

Strong: I don’t want to sit across the table.

Hoffman: Why do you do it?

Strong: Simply because I have always understood that a union has a right to be represented by whom they please.

Hoffman: That’s it all right. They can have a habitual criminal. They can have a convict in the penitentiary represent them if they want. If you want to, you can go to prison and deal with a convict. You are the representative I understand, appointed by the President.

Strong: I don’t know anything about that.

During the hearing Strong testified that both GSI and the union had agreed to all terms except whether he would be the administrator of disputes or whether arbitrators selected from the American Arbitration Association (AAA) would decide issues related to the agreement.

The union was opposed to using the AAA because of the undue delay it would cause, while GSI opposed Strong—perhaps because of his criticism of their backtracking.

At a meeting of the union during the evening of March 7th, Palmer announced a resumption of picketing. He told the members that the union officials had accepted Strong’s plan for a settlement, but that it had been rejected by GSI.

Truman adviser refuses subpoena

John Steelman, chief of staff of President Harry Truman: 1943 ca.

Presidential assistant John R. Steelman refused a committee subpoena.

The next day presidential assistant John R. Steelman refused to answer a congressional subpoena to testify at yet another GSI strike hearing.

Hoffman said he was referring the matter to the U.S. Attorney. “I would like to know if presidential advisers are exempt from our subpoenas,” Hoffman said.

He also announced that he would seek contempt of Congress citations against union officials for failing to answer the questions by the committee members. He named Palmer, Bancroft, Flaxer and Bernstein.

Apparently not well practiced in setting up witnesses for contempt charges, Hoffman repeatedly made statements to all the witnesses such as, “If that is your comment, if that is your answer that is all right”—one of the statements he made to Flaxer.

Steelman wrote to Hoffman the next day:

“As you know, my official duties are to advise and assist the President of the United States. After the receipt of each of the subpoenas, I promptly informed the President, and in each instance the President directed me, in view of my duties as his assistant, not to appear before your subcommittee.”

Hoffman responded,

“If presidential advisers are exempt, then—my God!—he could have 50 of them down there. He has them in mobs. Maybe all these GSI strikers are his advisers too.”

On March 11th, Strong made a written report to Federal Works administrator Philip Fleming that blasted GSI and the Hoffman subcommittee for the breakdown of his efforts to settle the 66-day strike.

“The activities of this committee that has been investigating the strike under direction of Rep. Clare E. Hoffman (R.-Mi.) have made settlement of the strike almost impossible.”

“Just when I thought I had the strike settled, the subcommittee would get in contact with GSI, or issue subpoenas, or hold at hearing at which GSI’s representatives would made commitments under oath which they could not modify to effect a settlement.”

Strong told a Washington Post reporter that GSI “is intent on breaking this union.”

Feds threaten to takeover cafeteria services

Fleming says U.S. may run cafeterias to end strike: 1948

The Truman administration threatens to terminate GSI contract.

More than 10 weeks into the strike on March 16th, Fleming threatened to terminate GSI’s contract and have the federal government take over running the cafeterias.

The Washington Post reported, “Fleming, the government’s ‘landlord’ of the cafeterias, personally notified GSI President U. S. Grant III, that he is seriously looking into the feasibility of terminating GSI governmental contract.”

Fleming added that he thought Strong’s proposal was a “reasonable” one and said he tried without success to convince the GSI board of trustees to accept it.

Fleming’s remarks were followed up the next day when John W. Gibson, assistant Secretary of Labor, said the company acted in “bad faith” during the efforts by Strong to settle the strike.

Gibson told a delegation of Local 471 members that GSI’s rejection of Strong’s recommendation was especially galling, “particularly after having investigated Strong and then accepting him” as conciliator.

GSI made a proposal to Fleming March 19th to settle the one outstanding issue, which Fleming promptly rejected. However, Fleming sent GSI a counter-proposal.

The following day, GSI announced that they “substantially accepted” Fleming’s proposal. “There are one or two items still to be adjusted, but it is believed they will not cause any material difference of opinion.”

The union scheduled a meeting for March 21st to consider the possible settlement after making a statement that they weren’t yet sure what the terms were.

Hoffman was now the one who was desperate. He released the subcommittee report to the full committee, which charged Truman with setting a “very dangerous precedent” for evading the anti-communist provision of the Taft-Harley Act and saying in part,

“…unions refusing to file anti-communist affidavits may come to the White House for appointment of a sympathetic conciliator and arbitrator.”

This precedent, Hoffman alleged, could now be applied to strikes in coal, auto, electrical and steel industries as well as to the “comparatively trivial” GSI strike.

But Hoffman’s efforts were in vain.

Union accepts terms

Hundreds of Local 471 members met at Shiloh Baptist Church March 22nd and overwhelmingly ratified the agreement.

The sticking point of who would decide disputes was settled by permitting Fleming to name the arbitrators. Fleming named Federal Works division counsel Daniel L. Boland to administer terms of the agreement and counsel Alan Johnstone to rule on any appeals from Boland’s decisions.

The rest of the agreement largely followed the one proposed by Strong three weeks previously.

  1. Under its terms, the two closed cafeterias would re-open and be staffed by returning union members. Several hundred others would be quickly recalled to fill current vacancies while the rest would be called in as vacancies occurred. It was estimated that 20 strikers per day could be returned.
  2. The six-and-one-half-cent raise granted by GSI that matched the Pentagon agreement would be incorporated.
  3. Union dues would continue to be deducted.
  4. The agreement did not bind GSI to meet directly with Local 471 officials or to negotiate a contract after this agreement ends December 31, 1948. However, there was a provision under which discussions of a new contract could take place under the administrator.
  5. Picket lines were to be withdrawn.

The union called the settlement “a smashing victory” and held a victory party later in the night at the Shiloh Church.

GSI, while not breaking the union, had realized labor savings and never directly negotiated with Local 471 and was not bound to do so under the settlement.

The strike ended after 78 days and it was certainly a victory for Local 471. The largest of the few predominantly African American unions in the city had taken on a company intent on breaking the union…and survived.

Former DC cafeteria union head as a California judge: 1990 ca.

Richard Bancroft, shown in a photo circa 1985.

The cost of that victory was suffering through weeks of bitter cold, privation, members jailed and losing a smart, capable leader in Richard Bancroft with many members having to wait to be recalled back to work, but they had preserved their union.

However, on the larger question of resisting the Taft-Harley Act by non-compliance and negotiating outside of it, the results were more mixed.

The Truman administration indicated they would intervene only if union officers signed the non-communist affidavits.

However, the settlement did circumvent the law with government intervention, despite the technical non-compliance with Taft-Hartley, since the UPWA officials never signed the non-communist affidavits.

The strike won acceptance from the Department of Labor that existing unions that refused to sign non-communist affidavits did not lose their bargaining rights.

But the strike signaled that while larger, more strategically placed unions like the mine workers and electrical workers may be able to secure agreements without signing the affidavits, smaller units like Local 471 would have difficulty surviving.

In that sense, the Local 471 strike was a defeat for those who advocated non-compliance as a method of fighting the Taft-Hartley Act.

Aftermath

Cafeteria strikers given harsh sentences: 1948

Cafeteria workers are given harsh sentences for picket incidents.

The trials that resulted from incidents on the picket line continued, and on April 17th, five pickets convicted of assaulting strikebreakers were each sent to jail for six months—a harsh penalty designed to send a message to Local 471 and other unions. Judge John P. McMahon stated while imposing the sentences:

“These crimes happened in broad daylight in downtown Washington with all its crowds. Strikers have no right to intimidate non-strikers and if they do, they will not go unpunished here,” 

The assaults involved fisticuffs and none of the strikers used weapons. The harsh sentences contrasted with the earlier 90-day jail sentence given a strikebreaker who brandished a pistol.

In May, the government moved further in its anti-communist quest: the Federal Works Administration implemented a mandate that all cafeteria workers must sign loyalty oaths where they swore they were not communists or communist sympathizers.

Some U.S. senators and representatives introduced bills in June to end GSI operation of government cafeterias and replace the service with a government-run operation. The bills, however, did not move.

As contract negotiations approached for Local 471 at the end of the year, Local 471 announced it had withdrawn from the UPWA in November and would continue as an independent union. This removed one of the last objections that GSI had for direct bargaining.

Shortly afterward Local 471 and GSI reached an agreement, after four days of negotiations, for a 1949 contract. The union obtained a 7-½ cent per hour raise, a company-financed group hospitalization plan, seniority in layoffs, and voluntary check-off of union dues. GSI in essence recognized the union again without the NLRB certification they demanded.

The fight against Taft-Hartley for Local 471 was over and after a year-long battle, they finally won a contract agreement with GSI.

Things did not end as well for the UPWA. It was expelled from the CIO, along with 10 other unions for being “communist-dominated” in 1950. Flaxer fought a number of raids by other unions and dis-affiliations of local units over the next few years.

He was called before a House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1952 where a number of former UPWA officials, as well as his wife, testified against him. He was cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over UPWA membership lists to HUAC. UPWA represented approximately 60,000 members at that point.

By 1953 UPWA membership had dropped to about 35,000 members. Flaxer urged the remaining units to go their own way to avoid continued persecution as communist allies and he dissolved the organization shortly afterward. Flaxer’s contempt conviction was later overturned by the courts on a technicality.

The Supreme Court and lower courts initially upheld the non-communist affidavit on national security grounds or on the issue of preventing “political strikes,” studiously avoiding ruling on the civil liberties issue, Years later, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the non-communist affidavit on First Amendment grounds in 1965 in the case of the United States vs. Brown–long after communists had been driven out of the mainstream of the labor movement..

Local 471 progressive tradition

Grande dame of civil rights pickets in D.C. - 1950

Mary Church Terrell pickets a D.C. Kresge’s in 1950.

Local 471 continued its progressive tradition and in 1950 joined with 87-year old civil rights Grande Dame Mary Church Terrell to form the Coordinating Committee for the Enforcement of D.C. Anti-Discrimination Laws (CCEAD).

The group sought, through direct action like sit-ins, boycotts and picketing while lobbying and challenging non-compliance of the law through the courts, to enforce DC’s so-called “lost laws” that prohibited racial discrimination in the city..

The campaign began with Terrell and three others, including Local 471 member Essie Thompson, being refused service at the Washington, D.C. Thompson’s Restaurant at 725 14th Street NW. After being denied service, the four filed suit to enforce the old anti-discrimination laws.

It was a natural fit for the union where African Americans prepared and served food in the city’s private sector cafeterias for an all-white clientele.

Palmer led the union to provide the ground troops for Terrell’s pickets, and most large department store and chain drug store lunch counters desegregated under pressure from Terrell’s group in the years 1950-53.

Anti-discrimination flyer from Terrell and Palmer: 1953

A 1953 appeal to supporters signed by Terrell and Palmer.

In 1953, in an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1871 Organic Act creating the then D.C. City Council granted it general police power to regulate local affairs, that the 1872 and 1873 regulations fell within this authority, and that they remained valid.

The remaining segregated facilities then fell like the last few tiles in a line of dominoes.

Palmer remained active in politics and led his union to affiliate with the Hotel & Restaurant Union in January, 1956 after the AFL and CIO federations merged. The union was renamed Local 473 at that time.

He served on both the AFL-CIO D.C. Central Labor Council executive board and the D.C. Democratic Committee, becoming a leader in the Home Rule fight seeking voting rights in the District of Columbia.

The union was ultimately merged with other D.C. area locals to form Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees (HERE)  Local 25 in the 1970s. A merger at the national level between the clothing and needle trades union UNITE and the hotel and restaurant union HERE occurred in 2004. In 2009, UNITE-HERE Local 23 was formed over a large geographical area to focus on food service, parking lot and airport concession workers.


Author’s notes

Lewis joins picket line at Press Cafeteria: 1940

The daughter of John L. Lewis, Katherine, pickets with Local 471 at Press Cafeteria in 1940.

We often cannot choose the time and place of our battles and Local 471 found itself in that position in late 1947. Despite tremendous odds against them, they held their union together, not only through the long strike, but through its aftermath.

Their ability to withstand a determined employer is worth examining.

They had capable, experienced leaders who involved and mobilized the rank-and-file early and throughout the strike. They had the benefit of waging a strike just the year before so that they and the rank-and-file were better prepared for the long battle.

Perhaps caught off guard by the demand for the non-communist affidavits, they pivoted quickly and prepared the members well for what was to come.

GSI stuck to their message of keeping communists out of the government buildings, but Local 471 hammered their own message of a union-busting employer that wanted to smash the African American union—a message that ultimately resonated with their own members, the larger public in the Washington, D.C. area–and the highest government officials.

One can almost hear the conversations that must have taken place on the all-male, all-white GSI board composed of government officials accustomed to segregated federal facilities with African Americans in the lowest paying jobs in Jim Crow Washington, D.C. about the impudence of these African American leaders of a predominantly black, female union.

Local 471 was able to survive the fight by keeping the rank and file informed and active—not only picketing facilities, but holding mass pickets, regular meetings and massing for the House committee hearings.

They prepared well for sustaining the strikers through the long battle by setting up a broad strike support committee that raised funds to help provide food as well as rent and utility money for their members.

They were able to do so because the leaders expanded their base of support beyond a narrow group of left-leaning individuals and organizations, making sure to involve moderate African American individuals and groups.

They capitalized on their location in Washington, D.C. to grab the attention of the CIO president Murray and U.S. President Truman.

As happens when our forces emerge from battle intact, a little luck on the timing probably helped. Later in 1948, Murray had abandoned his centrist course in the CIO and turned solidly against the left leaning unions.

DC cafeteria union’s 20th anniversary: 1958

20th anniversary celebration of Local 471, renamed Local 473, after affiliating with the Hotel & Restaurant Union in 1956.

In some instances around the country, union members abandoned their leaders behind communist accusations, but Local 471 stayed the course, confident that their leadership made the correct decision to fight.

The members had faith in their leaders not only because the union had uplifted its members in its 10 years of existence, but because the union leaders were forthright with their members and they perceived their leaders as fighting for them.

Criticism of the Communist Party and its policies is certainly a legitimate topic, but there is little doubt that the expulsion of communists and their allies from the mainstream of the American labor movement drastically weakened unions in the early 1950s.

Besides a general fear of communists during the hysteria of the Red Scare, the main charge against the communists was their “undemocratic practices.”

The communists did in fact caucus before union meetings and try to manipulate parliamentary procedure to win their internal battles within the unions. But so did their opponents. That’s the same way the U.S. Congress works—making the non-communist affidavit requirement more than a bit hypocritical.

The result of the communists’ expulsion was actually less democratic unions as remaining union leaders often ran them as personal fiefdoms.

Widespread new organizing ground to a halt or found itself still-birthed in the period after the expulsion from the CIO of communist leaning unions. Instead, the CIO and AFL concentrated their organizing efforts on raiding the unions that wouldn’t sign non-communist affidavits.

Many of the CIO unions that had been socially active turned to narrow business unionism focused only on collective bargaining and grievance representation–and leaving them unprepared for the challenges to come.

Some of the Communist Party-led and allied unions successfully fended off many of the AFL and CIO raids. The United Electrical Workers (UE), the Farm Equipment Union (which ultimately merged with the UE), Longshore and Warehouse and Mine, Mill and Smelter surprisingly beat back a number of raids.

Doing so was not only difficult because of the climate of the times, but because of the twisted way the NLRB applied the Taft-Hartley law.

If, for example, the CIO International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE) was seeking representation at a plant represented by the now-unaffiliated and non-complying United Electrical Workers (UE), only the IUE’s name would appear on the ballot. For the UE  to “win” the NLRB election, the workers had to vote for “no union” in order for it to continue as bargaining representative. Talk about an organizing challenge!

While the state of the labor movement today has many causes, one of them was the exclusion of the communists with their talented organizers and vibrant unions that advanced the rights of African Americans and women and brought real wage gains to workers. That is not to say that everything would have turned out great. The Communist Party itself withered during the 1950s and had difficulty attracting new members.

In retrospect, refusing the non-communist affidavits in order to neutralize the Taft-Hartley Act was a tactic that was doomed before it had a chance to be implemented once the AFL and CIO left the decision to individual unions.

At that point communists within the labor movement were in a very bad position due to the requirement. Sign it and have charges brought against you for a false affidavit, don’t sign it and you’ll be thrown out of your union. If you go your own way, you’re fighting not only the employer, but the AFL and the CIO.

Future Progressive Party Presidential Candidate Henry A Wallace: 1939

Henry Wallace in 1939

Just as complicated was the decision to support Henry Wallace in the 1948 election. The anti-communist current was already sweeping the nation, fed by Republicans and Democrats alike. The Wallace campaign took a principled stand that the U.S. should seek peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union, along with racial equality and repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act.

Often critics of Wallace’s campaign call it naive. But at that point in time, the Soviet Union’s successful assistance in bringing about communist-led governments in some Eastern European countries was all within its sphere of influence agreed to by Churchill, Stalin and Roosevelt near the end of World War II.

The Soviets did not intervene on the side of communist forces in Greek civil war because Greece was in the British sphere of influence.

The Marshall Plan was driven more by the U.S. fear that Italy and France may vote communists into power while Truman also saw an opportunity to potentially wrest Poland and Czechoslovakia from the Soviet sphere of influence.

A strategic path of peaceful co-existence was not likely to succeed given the broad political support at the time for confrontation, but it was not wrong in principle to wage a fight around it in 1948.

There is little written about the Cold War decapitation of African American labor leadership in the Washington, D.C. area.

Marie Richardson at Home at Her Desk

Marie Richardson in 1946.

Among experienced local African American trade union leaders who were driven out, jailed or buckled under to anti-communist pressure during the Red Scare were Thomas Richardson of the UPWA, Marie Richardson Harris of the UPWA and the National Negro Congress, Henry Thomas of the Laborers, William S. Johnson of the Hotel & Restaurant Local 209 and Richard Bancroft of Local 471.

The connections between the old activist African American labor movement of the 1930s and 1940s that was intimately intertwined with the civil rights movement of the time and the new activist movement of the late 1950s and early 1960s was effectively severed.

The new rising African American leadership within unions had to try to re-invent the wheel in the 1950s in unions that largely emphasized grievances and contracts, but not organizing and the connection to larger social issues. Black leaders who saw the labor struggles and civil rights as intertwined and part of the larger national and international issues were largely gone– along with their strategy and tactics.

Palmer’s continued activist leadership of Local 471 gives us a hint of what the other path may have been.

What became of Bancroft, who resigned as president rather than sign a non-communist affidavit?

He enrolled in the Howard Law School where he graduated at the top of his class in 1951, moved to California where he went into private practice. He was a founder of the Charles Hamilton Houston Bar Association and was later appointed to the Superior Court in California. He returned to Washington, D.C. in his last years where he doubtless took pride in his days at Local 471.

Were Bancroft and Palmer members of the Communist Party? Neither ever claimed membership.  However, the somewhat discredited FBI paid informer Mary Markward, who infiltrated the Washington, D.C. Party, testified in 1951 that Bancroft was a member of the Northeast club of the District’s Communist Party.


Sources include:

The Washington Afro American; The Washington Star; The Washington Post; The Atlanta Daily World; The New York Times; The CIO: 1935-1955 by Robert Zieger; Reshaping American Society and Institutions, 1945-1960 by Robert H. Bremner and Gary W. Reichard; Hearings before a Special Subcommittee of the Committee on Education and Labor, House of Representatives, Eightieth Congress, second session: Investigation of GSI Strike; Labor’s Struggles, 1945-1950, a participants view by Irving Richter; The Labor Standard, Vol. 4, No. 2; The Office Worker, April 1947; Monthly Labor Review, Vol. 65, No. 5; Left Out: Reds and America’s Industrial Unions, Judith Norris and Maurice Zeitin; A National Issue: Segregation in the District of Columbia and the Civil Rights Movement at Mid-Century, Wendell E. Pritchett. Also incorporated is previous research done for the Washington Area Spark.


The author was an activist for 50 years in the Washington, D.C. area.  He is a graduate of the National Labor College, the former secretary-treasurer of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 and former executive director of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400. He also worked for the Metropolitan Washington Council AFL-CIO and Progressive Maryland. He is also a former bus operator for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and currently resides in North Carolina.


Want to read more from this period in D.C. history?

DC’s fighting barber and the end of public school segregation – (1947-54) It wasn’t Brown v. Board of Education that ended legally segregated schools in the District of Columbia. It took a working class-based effort of pickets, boycotts, demonstrations and lawsuits that purposely excluded  the NAACP’s legal team.

Strike wave at Washington, D.C.’s Capital Transit: 1945 –  An economic battle during the greatest strike wave in the nation’s history that was intertwined with racial politics of the day produced a new generation of union leaders that turned what is now Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 into a powerhouse union.

Shootings by D.C. police spark fight against brutality: 1936-41 – Police killings of African Americans spark the local Communist Party to take on a fight against police brutality. The fight ended up with a broad-based coalition that honed the tactics of the later civil rights movement and brought a reduction in police shootings.

The D.C. women streetcar operators of World War II – The Capital Transit Co. refused to hire African Americans to operate streetcars and buses during a severe labor shortage, turning instead to white women. Who were they? What was their story?

A D.C. civil rights and labor leader remembered: Marie Richardson – From helping her father organize a union as a youngster to being jailed for 4 1/2 years during the McCarthy era, Marie Richardson Harris was an activist fixture in the Washington, D.C. area as the first woman to serve as a union’s national representative, to carrying the civil rights struggle through World War II while the men were away fighting and then into the Cold War where she became a casualty.

Police raid fundraiser by Progressive Party supporters: 1948 – The New Deal coalition crashes during the Cold War, but not before the left wing makes one last stand by running Henry Wallace for president on a pro-labor, pro-civil rights, pro-peaceful coexistence with the Soviet Union platform in 1948. Here, the reality of what they faced begins to raise  its head when police raid a fundraiser for the Progressives in the District of Columbia.

The fight against Capital Transit’s Jim Crow hiring: 1941-55 – A group of young people take on one of the most visible symbols of Jim Crow in the nation’s capital–the Capital Transit system that refuses to hire African Americans as streetcar and bus operators. From humble beginnings, to mass marches, to a refusal of Presidents Roosevelt and Truman to back a government order to desegregate, through the cold war and to a resolution that includes agreement by the city’s transit union to a desegregation plan.

Looking for photos of the period? Try some of the following:

Jim Crow at U.S. Engraving: 1947-50
DC’s fighting barber: 1947-54
DC swimming pool integration: 1949-54
DC National Negro Congress: 1936-55
For fair employment: 1941-50
Abolish poll taxes: 1940-48
Free Willie McGee: 1945-51
Bilbo has got to go: 1945-46
No police brutality: 1941
No police brutality: 1936-40
DC Jim Crow Theaters: 1922-54
Fighting Capital Transit Jim Crow hiring: 1941-55
Cafeteria Local 471
DC Red Scares
Marie Richardson remembered
No police brutality: 1936-40
Liberation of Dachau: 1945
D.C. area strike wave: 1945-46
Capital Transit strikes: 1945
Wartime strikes: 1942-45

 

New finding aid for Spark blog posts

7 Dec

(See Navigation page for updates to this post)

We hope to begin adding new posts in 2018 about change makers in the greater Washington, D.C. area that are largely unknown.

However, we wanted to better organize both our blog and photo collections before turning our attention to additional research and writing.

The following are broad categories to help you find our blog posts. They are listed from latest post to oldest post within each category.

Categorizing these posts within broad categories inevitably leads to disputes. Please accept these categories as finding aids instead of viewing them as political statements.

Blog Post Finding Guide

(For photos, see our Flickr photo guide)

Anarchism and Syndicalism

No posts at this time

Antiwar

(See Vietnam War for Indochina conflict)

Unbowed and unbroken Debs comes to Washington: 1921 [January 10, 2016 by JW] A brief description of Socialist Eugene Debs Washington, D.C. visit following his release from prison for opposing World War I.

Civil Rights and Black Liberation Before 1955

DC’s fighting barber and the end of public school segregation [August 20, 2015 by Daniel Hardin]: A look at Gardner Bishop and the Consolidated Parents group that ended legal segregation of schools in the District of Columbia through boycotts picketing and a legal strategy separate from Brown v. Board of Education.

Shootings by DC police spark fight against brutality, 1936-41 [April 20, 2013 by Craig Simpson]: An account of an early civil rights struggle in Washington, D.C. that united the African American community from the NAACP to the Communist Party and implemented many of the tactics that are still used today.

DC’s old Jim Crow rocked by 1939 Marian Anderson concert [March 14, 2013 by Craig Simpson]: A view of the celebrated struggle against the Jim Crow Daughters of the American Revolution Constitution Hall from the viewpoint of activists. It’s a different one than often told where First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Interior Secretary Harold Ickes save the day.

“Scottsboro Boys” – New tactics and strategy for civil rights [February 19, 2013 by Craig Simpson]: The campaign around the “Scottsboro Boys” – nine African American youths accused of raping two Alabama white women—marked the beginning of the civil rights movement out of the churches and into the streets. This account of activities in Washington, D.C. outlines civil disobedience, marches and petition campaigns involving broad coalitions that saved the lives of the nine young men.

Before 1963: The 1922 silent march on Washington [February 6, 2013 by Craig Simpson]: A brief history of the first major African American march on Washington that was held to call for a federal anti-lynching law.

600 black women stand strong: the 1938 crab pickers strike [December 5, 2012 by Craig Simpson]: The amazing struggle of 600 black women led by a communist organizer to improve their conditions and win a union on Maryland’s Jim Crow Eastern Shore. The account is followed by a description of an amazing set of photographs of Crisfield during that time and an account of the communist CIO organizer Michael Howard.

The fight against Capital Transit’s Jim Crow hiring: 1941-55 [October 14, 2012 by Craig Simpson]: The long struggle to integrate Washington’s Capital Transit Company operator ranks—from World War II to the early years of the modern civil rights movement.

A DC labor and civil rights leader remembered: Marie Richardson [November 19, 2012 by Craig Simpson]: Marie Richardson Harris is believed to be the first African American woman to hold national office for a major labor union. She later spearheaded Washington, D.C.’s National Negro Congress and was jailed for four-and-a-half years during the McCarthy era.

Civil Rights and Black Liberation After 1955

Contradictions in the cause: Glen Echo, Maryland 1960 [June 26, 2015 by Daniel Hardin]: A behind the scenes look at the internal conflicts within the storied movement to desegregate the Glen Echo Amusement Park.

Raging civil rights struggle leads to union victories: Cambridge Md. 1963 [May 31, 2015 by Daniel Hardin]: The fierce civil rights struggle that involved armed fighting by blacks and whites and a three-year occupation by the Maryland National Guard leads to unity among workers.

Crazy Dion Diamond: A 1960 Rights Warrior in the Suburbs [January 20, 2013 by the editor]: A brief summary of the activities of one of the civil rights activists in Washington, D.C. in the early 1960s. It is followed by an excerpt from Kwame Ture about an incident in a southern jail with Dion Diamond.

Standing against the Maryland Klan 1971: a personal experience [January 2, 2013 by Bob Simpson, cross-posted in the Daily Kos]: A view of the Maryland Klan and one individual’s decision to confront the group at a Klan picnic and cross burning in Rising Sun, Maryland.

The Black Panther Party Revolutionary People’s Convention: November 1970 [November 25, 2012 by the editor]: The turning point in the Black Panther Party’s influence is told through illustrations of the event.

Communists

Paddy Whalen and the Midnight March of the Baltimore Brigade [February 4 2015 by Daniel Hardin]: The port of Baltimore’s leader of the seamen, Paddy Whalen, exerted a powerful influence on all of Maryland’s and the District of Columbia’s labor and civil rights struggles.

DC police raid 1948 fundraiser by Progressive Party supporters [March 6, 2013 by Craig Simpson]: An account of a relatively minor event at the beginning of the second Red Scare that illustrates the repression that was to come for the next ten years.

Shootings by DC police spark fight against brutality, 1936-41 [April 20, 2013 by Craig Simpson]: An account of an early civil rights struggle in Washington, D.C. that united the African American community from the NAACP to the Communist Party and implemented many of the tactics that are still used today.

Police break up unemployed protest at the White House: 1930 [February 26, 2013 by the editor]: A short account of President Herbert Hoover’s response to a 1930 demonstration by the unemployed sponsored by the Communist Party outside the White House. Hoover would gain notoriety and ultimately be defeated for what the public perceived as his callous attitude toward the social conditions created by the Great Depression.

“Scottsboro Boys” – New tactics and strategy for civil rights [February 19, 2013 by Craig Simpson]: The campaign around the “Scottsboro Boys” – nine African American youths accused of raping two Alabama white women—marked the beginning of the civil rights movement out of the churches and into the streets. This account of activities in Washington, D.C. outlines civil disobedience, marches and petition campaigns involving broad coalitions that saved the lives of the nine young men.

600 black women stand strong: the 1938 crab pickers strike [December 5, 2012 by Craig Simpson]: The amazing struggle of 600 black women led by a communist organizer to improve their conditions and win a union on Maryland’s Jim Crow Eastern Shore. The account is followed by a description of an amazing set of photographs of Crisfield during that time and an account of the communist CIO organizer Michael Howard.

A DC labor and civil rights leader remembered: Marie Richardson [November 19, 2012 by Craig Simpson]: Marie Richardson Harris is believed to be the first African American woman to hold national office for a major labor union. She later spearheaded Washington, D.C.’s National Negro Congress and was jailed for four-and-a-half years during the McCarthy era.

D.C. Area Miscellaneous

DC police raid 1948 fundraiser by Progressive Party supporters [March 6, 2013 by Craig Simpson]: An account of a relatively minor event at the beginning of the second Red Scare that illustrates the repression that was to come for the next ten years.

Cock Rock – The rape of our culture [Originally published October 1972 in the Montgomery Spark by Bob Simpson. Republished February 12, 2013 with additional images]: A view from the left of the debasing of women by male rock music.

Washington Free Press battles suppression: 1969-70 [November 7, 2012 by Craig Simpson] A spunky underground D.C. publication battles authorities to its death, but not before knocking down repressive restrictions on free speech and a free press.

Fight Against Fascism

Standing against the Maryland Klan 1971: a personal experience [January 2, 2013 by Bob Simpson, cross-posted in the Daily Kos]: A view of the Maryland Klan and one individual’s decision to confront the group at a Klan picnic and cross burning in Rising Sun, Maryland.

Immigrant Rights

No posts at this time

 LBGT

MoCo gay teacher fired 1972; justice denied for 40 years [December 20, 2012 by Craig Simpson]: Joe Acanfora, an early gay student activist, is barred from teaching in Montgomery County, Maryland public schools causing a nationwide examination of the issue.

Maryland marriage equality: over 50 years in the making [November 14, 2012 by the editor]: A brief photo history of some of the LGBT liberation struggles in the Washington, D.C. area on the occasion of the passage of Maryland’s marriage equality act.

Labor Movement

Raging civil rights struggle leads to union victories: Cambridge Md. 1963 [May 31, 2015 by Daniel Hardin]: The fierce civil rights struggle that involved armed fighting by blacks and whites and a three-year occupation by the Maryland National Guard leads to unity among workers.

Strike wave at Washington, D.C.’s Capital Transit: 1945 [May 10, 2015 by Daniel Hardin]: In the midst of a struggle over integration and pent-up wage demands following World War II, transit workers in Washington wage a battle to better their conditions and in the process set the stage to transform their union.

Paddy Whalen and the Midnight March of the Baltimore Brigade [February 4 2015 by Daniel Hardin]: The port of Baltimore’s leader of the seamen, Paddy Whalen, exerted a powerful influence on all of Maryland’s and the District of Columbia’s labor and civil rights struggles.

The 1937 Phillips Packinghouse strike – Promise and defeat [September 18, 2014 by Daniel Hardin]: An account of interracial solidarity during a long effort to unionize packinghouse workers on Maryland’s Jim Crow Eastern Shore.

Washington Post strike at the crossroads, December 1975 [December 12, 2012 by Craig Simpson]: An examination of the strengths and weaknesses of Post strike–one of the greatest defeats suffered by labor in the Washington, D.C. area.

600 black women stand strong: the 1938 crab pickers strike [December 5, 2012 by Craig Simpson]: The amazing struggle of 600 black women led by a communist organizer to improve their conditions and win a union on Maryland’s Jim Crow Eastern Shore. The account is followed by a description of an amazing set of photographs of Crisfield during that time and an account of the communist CIO organizer Michael Howard.

A DC labor and civil rights leader remembered: Marie Richardson [November 19, 2012 by Craig Simpson]: Marie Richardson Harris is believed to be the first African American woman to hold national office for a major labor union. She later spearheaded Washington, D.C.’s National Negro Congress and was jailed for four-and-a-half years during the McCarthy era.

Meatcutters strike betrayed: October 24, 1973 [October 24, 2012 by the editor]: A brief description of a Washington, D.C. meat cutters strike in which the national Teamsters Union refused to honor picket lines, dooming the walkout to failure.

For a moment in time….Mineral Pigment strike October 19, 1973 [October 19, 2012 by the editor]: A slide show of one day when worker power held the company at bay (no longer supported in WordPress, but the photos can be seen at our Flickr site.

The fight against Capital Transit’s Jim Crow hiring: 1941-55 [October 14, 2012 by Craig Simpson]: The long struggle to integrate Washington’s Capital Transit Company operator ranks—from World War II to the early years of the modern civil rights movement.

Marijuana

No posts at this time

 Miscellaneous

No posts at this time

National Liberation and Anti-Imperialism

(for Indochina War, see Vietnam War)

No posts at this time

Prison Rights

No posts at this time

Slave Resistance/Revolts/Military Action

Maryland slaves make a bold bid for freedom: July 7-8, 1845 [July 2 2015 by the editor]: An account of upwards of a hundred Maryland slaves that armed themselves and staged a quick time march toward freedom in Pennsylvania.

Socialism

Unbowed and unbroken Debs comes to Washington: 1921 [January 10, 2016 by JW] A brief description of Socialist Eugene Debs Washington, D.C. visit following his release from prison for opposing World War I.

Students

Miami means fight back: 1972 [Originally published in the Montgomery Spark, Vol. 2, No. 1, September 6, 1972 by Bob Simpson. Republished April 26, 2014 with additional photographs}: A first hand account of a group of Maryland radicals dubbed The Route One Brigade that traveled to Miami, Fl. to protest at the 1972 Republican convention.

30 Days in May: U. of Md. 1970 [August, 1970 by the Democratic Radical Union of Maryland. Originally published in The Radical Guide to the University of Maryland, 1970. Republished May 29, 2014 with an introduction and postscript by the editor and added photographs]: A contemporaneous account of the transformation of the sleepy southern campus at the University of Maryland into a hotbed of radicalism that brought the National Guard onto campus to quell protests for three consecutive years

Transit in the D.C. Area

Strike wave at Washington, D.C.’s Capital Transit: 1945 [May 10, 2015 by Daniel Hardin]: In the midst of a struggle over integration and pent-up wage demands following World War II, transit workers in Washington wage a battle to better their conditions and in the process set the stage to transform their union.

The DC women streetcar operators of World War II [March 20, 2013 by Craig Simpson]: In the midst of a World War II shortage of operators and a campaign by African Americans to integrate the operator ranks, the transit company hires women for the first time to pilot the city’s streetcars and buses.

The fight against Capital Transit’s Jim Crow hiring: 1941-55 [October 14, 2012 by Craig Simpson]: The long struggle to integrate Washington’s Capital Transit Company operator ranks—from World War II to the early years of the modern civil rights movement.

U.S. National Domestic Politics and Issues

Native Americans take over the Bureau of Indian Affairs [Originally published November 29, 1972 in the Montgomery Spark by Bob Simpson. Republished March 26, 2013 with added photographs]: An account contemporaneous with events of the Native American Trail of Broken Treaties demonstration and subsequent seizure of the Bureau of Indian Affairs that ended peacefully despite both sides arming themselves during the confrontation.

Unemployed

Police break up unemployed protest at the White House: 1930 [February 26, 2013 by the editor]: A short account of President Herbert Hoover’s response to a 1930 demonstration by the unemployed sponsored by the Communist Party outside the White House. Hoover would gain notoriety and ultimately be defeated for what the public perceived as his callous attitude toward the social conditions created by the Great Depression.

Veterans 

No posts at this time

Vietnam War

Miami means fight back: 1972 [Originally published in the Montgomery Spark, Vol. 2, No. 1, September 6, 1972 by Bob Simpson. Republished April 26, 2014 with additional photographs}: A first hand account of a group of Maryland radicals dubbed The Route One Brigade that traveled to Miami, Fl. to protest at the 1972 Republican convention.

30 Days in May: U. of Md. 1970 [August, 1970 by the Democratic Radical Union of Maryland. Originally published in The Radical Guide to the University of Maryland, 1970. Republished May 29, 2013 with an introduction and postscript by the editor and added photographs]: A contemporaneous account of the transformation of the sleepy southern campus at the University of Maryland into a hotbed of radicalism that brought the National Guard onto campus to quell protests for three consecutive years

The 1969 Nixon Inauguration: horse manure, rocks and a pig [January 9, 2013 by Craig Simpson]: An account of President Richard Nixon’s first Inauguration from the point of view of anti-Vietnam War protesters and how it helped change the movement from protest to confrontation.

Women’s Rights

The DC women streetcar operators of World War II [March 20, 2013 by Craig Simpson]: In the midst of a World War II shortage of operators and a campaign by African Americans to integrate the operator ranks, the transit company hires women for the first time to pilot the city’s streetcars and buses.

Cock Rock – The rape of our culture [Originally published October 1972 in the Montgomery Spark by Bob Simpson. Republished February 12, 2013 with additional images]: A view from the left of the debasing of women by male rock music.

When abortion was legalized: one woman’s experience [Originally published February 1972 in the Montgomery Spark by an anonymous woman. It was republished January 15, 2013]: A woman’s experience with abortion shortly after the procedure was legalized in the District of Columbia followed by her reflections 40 years later.

Washington Area Spark

Washington Area Spark – Flickr photo collection guide [October 4, 2017 by the editor]: A finding aid for photographs and other images on the Washington Area Spark Flickr site]

2000 historic photos of DC activism now online [January 26, 2016 by the editor]: Links to some of the most popular and interesting photo collections on the Washington Area Spark Flickr site]

Vintage Washington Area Spark comes back to life 1971-75 [October 13, 2015 by the editor]: a brief description of the original Washington Area Spark and On The Move newspapers and links to PDFs of the tabloid.

A million and counting… [February 15, 2015 by the editor]: A post highlighting some of the popular an interesting photo sets from Spark’s Flickr collection.

Spark 1st Quarter in Review [April 3, 2013, by the editor]: A recap of posts that were published during the first three months of 2013 with brief descriptions and links.

Spark 4th quarter in review [December 26, 2012 by the editor]: A brief summary of the Washington Area Spark blog posts for the previous three months].

Welcome to Washington Area Spark [October 13, 2012 by the editor]: The opening post that gives a brief description of the blog and its mission.

Washington Area Spark – Flickr photo collection guide

4 Oct
Cold winds blow on DC cafeteria workers: 1948

1948 cafeteria strike

by the administrator

[See navigation page for updates to this post)

The Spark collection is now approaching 3,000,000 photo views on our Flickr site with 2,700 images in 265 different albums, so we’re adding a research guide to help you find images of interest.

Further, our collection of images of struggles for freedom, economic and social justice, against imperialist war, for liberation is growing. We collect, research and publish these images from the pre-Internet era in the hope of connecting the struggles today with those of yesterday.

Hundreds attempt escape at makeshift jail: Mayday 1971

1971 Mayday detainees

The following are broad categories to help you find images. The image albums are not listed in any particular order within the broad categories.

Categorizing these albums within broad categories inevitably leads to disputes. Please accept these categories as finding aids instead of viewing them as political statements.

African American parents picket & boycott DC schools: 1947

1947 DC school boycott

Within Flickr, you may also browse albums (collection of related photographs and images), the photo stream (images by date uploaded) or by camera roll (by date of the image). You may also use the search feature at the top of any Flickr page by entering your own search terms. We strongly urge researchers to use search terms since an image contained in an album may relate to your area of interest even though the album is about a different issue.

As you view these images, we hope you will gain a greater appreciation of these agents of change and learn from their sometimes brilliant and sometimes disastrous strategy and tactics.

Image Albums:

Anarchism and Syndicalism

Sacco & Vanzetti: 1920-27
D.C. Weather bombings: 1971-75
Big Bill in DC: 1915
First Red Scare: 1919-25

Antiwar

(See Vietnam War for Indochina conflict)

World Citizen: 1948-49
War against Iraq: 1991
Student Peace Union: 1958-67
Debs in DC: 1921
Antiwar: 1917
Women against war: 1920-80
Jeanette Rankin: 1914-40
Women’s International League: 1915-90
No forced ROTC: 1930-70
Anti-draft protests: 1947-72
Youth Congress: 1934-41
Pre-war peace pickets: 1941
No nukes: 1950-85
Harrisburg 7: 1971-72

Civil Rights & Black Liberation Struggles before 1955

Safeway Jim Crow: 1935-41
Black postal clerks: 1868-1940
Frederick Douglas: 1818-1895
Cafeteria Local 471
Laundry strike: 1937
Interracial dance: 1929
Adam Clayton Powell in DC: 1940-70
Jim Crow at U.S. Engraving: 1947-50
Crime conference: 1934
Maryland lynch mobs: 1930s
Parents League: 1919
DC’s fighting barber: 1947-54
DC swimming pool integration: 1949-54
DC New Negro Alliance: 1934-43
DC National Negro Congress: 1936-55
Mary McLeod Bethune
Truman at NAACP: 1947
African American GAR: 1900-35
Youth Congress: 1934-41
For fair employment: 1941-50
Abolish poll taxes: 1940-48
Gone with the Wind: 1940
Interracial strike: 1937
Georgia lynching protest: 1946
DC Scottsboro action: 1932-35
Free Willie McGee: 1945-51
Bilbo has got to go: 1945-46
Mary Church Terrell: 1863-1954
Martinsville 7: 1951
No police brutality: 1941
No police brutality: 1936-40
No VA Jim Crow?: 1946
DC Jim Crow Theaters: 1922-54
Anti-lynching campaign: 1922
MD crab strike: 1938
Marie Richardson remembered
Fighting Capital Transit racism: 1941-55

Civil Rights & Black Liberation Struggles after 1955

King in DC: 1956-65
VA school segregation: 1957
Youth march: 1959
DC civil rights: 1966
Adam Clayton Powell in DC: 1940-70
Malcolm in DC: 1961-63
NoVa theater Jim Crow: 1962-63
Goodman, Schwerner, Chaney: 1964
Wallace in MD: 1964-72
MD school segregation: 1954-74
Rats cause riots: 1967
Poor People’s march: 1968
20th Anniversary march: 1983
Giles-Johnson: 1961-67
King holiday: 1968-86
DC civil rights: 1962-64
Bowie State: 1968
UMD Black Student Union: 1968-75
Stadium pickets: 1963-90
Terrence Johnson: 1979-80
March on Washington: 1963
Laurence G. Henry: 1960-61
March on DC: 1958
Cambridge, MD rights: 1963-67
DC Selma reaction: 1965
Prayer Pilgrimage: 1957
Demand open housing: 1963-66
MD civil rights: 1960-68
MLK assassinated: 1968
Glen Echo picket: 1960
Rockville, MD sit-in: 1960
Homes not roads: 1969
100 hour Hiser picket: 1960
DC rights warrior: 1960
Resistance to the Klan in MD:
African Liberation: 1972-86
DC Black Panthers: 1969-74
VA restaurant sit-ins: 1960
Racism at the Library of Congress: 1971-73
Children’s march for survival: 1972

Communists

Laundry strike: 1937
Cafeteria Local 471
Federal workers school
Interracial Dance: 1929
Communist Assn.: 1944
Anti-Deng protests: 1979
May Day: 1935
MD crab strike: 1938
Seamen march on DC: 1937
Md.-D.C. communists: 1920-65
Release John Porter: 1928
Bicentennial protests: 1976
Hunger Marches: 1931-32
Immigration rights: 1930
Rosenberg execution: 1953
Celanese strike: 1936
Passaic strike: 1926
Madalyn Murray O’Hair: 1963
DC unemployed protest: 1930
DC Red Scares
Marie Richardson remembered
Sammie Abbott appreciation
DC Scottsboro action: 1932-35
No police brutality: 1936-40
Police raid Progressives: 1948
Spanish Civil War: 1936-39
First Red Scare: 1919-25

D.C. Area Miscellaneous 

CCNV: 1973-1990
D.C. voting rights: 1932-64
Group Health: 1959
Hit and Stay: 1968-75
Homes not roads: 1969
Police raid Progressives: 1948
Sammie Abbott appreciation
Free Press battle: 1969
Surveying police surveyors: 1971-73

Fight Against Fascism

Spanish Civil War: 1936-39
Wallace in MD: 1964-72
Responding to the right: 1940-85
Liberation of Dachau: 1945
Off to fight fascism: 1942-45
Anti-fascist protests: 1930s
Resistance to the Klan in MD:

Immigrant Rights

Sacco & Vanzetti: 1920-27
Anti-deportation: 1940
Immigrant rights: 1977
Mt. Pleasant riot: 1991
Immigration rights: 1930
Meeting at Central Presbyterian: 1973

LBGT

LBGT rights: 1975-90
DC LGBT rights: 1965-74
MoCo gay teacher fired: 1972-73

Labor Movement

Safeway Jim Crow: 1935-41
Black postal clerks: 1868-1940
Government union: 1934
Patco strike: 1981
Laundry strike: 1937
Cafeteria Local 471
Federal workers school: 1937
Big Bill in DC: 1915
Price controls: 1946
Navy Yard wage cuts: 1921
Jim Crow at US Engraving: 1947-50
Tom Mooney in DC: 1939
Release John Porter: 1928
John L. Lewis in DC: 1935-69
Postal employees: 1934
Terrence Powderly: 1849-1924
Group Health: 1959
Debs in DC: 1921
Hotel workers: 1930-49
Celanese strike: 1936
DC truck strike: 1940 ca.
Transit strike: 1955
Transit strike: 1951
Samuel Gompers: 1850-1924
Passaic strike: 1926
Solidarity Day: 1981-82
Stadium pickets: 1963-90
D.C. Labor Meetings
Government workers: 1928
Communications workers: 1940-80
ATU 689 birth: 1916-17
D.C. area strike wave: 1945-46
Capital Transit strikes: 1945
Mother Jones 1837-1930
Taft-Hartley protests: 1947
Seamen march on DC: 1937
WPA protests: 1936-40
Interracial strike: 1937
DC streetcar women: 1943-61
MoCo teachers strike: 1968
MD crab strike: 1938
Marie Richardson remembered
Fighting Capital Transit racism: 1941-55
Post busts pressmen’s union: 1975
Post printers lockout: 1973
K. Graham burned in effigy: 1976
DC Metro wildcats strikes: 1978
Farmworkers Safeway boycott: 1973
Transit strike: 1974
Confrontation at Mineral Pigment: 1973
On the job murder at Metro: 1974
Racism at the Library of Congress: 1971-73
Terps at issue in hotel fight: 1974
Union fight at Lanham hotel: 1974
Hotel workers hit GOP: 1974
Say no to Rhodesian chrome: 1973
Caucus pickets steel talks: 1977
Farah boycott: 1973
May Day picket: 1974
Teamsters strike Safeway: 1974
Meatcutters strike betrayed: 1973
Retail clerks lose strike: 1974
ATU Local 689: No Service 1974
Union staff strike NEA union: 1974
People’s Drug strike: 1974
Fairfax Hotel strike: 1974
Painters strike: 1937
Longshore battle: 1951-54
Wartime strikes: 1942-45
First Red Scare: 1919-25

Marijuana

Honor America Day: 1970
Yippie smoke-in: 1973
Legalize pot: 1979

Miscellaneous

Revolutionary culture
Random radicals
Statement flags: 1930-75

National Liberation & Anti-Imperialism

(For Indochina War, see Vietnam War)

GW Sino Soviet: 1969
DC Area SDS: 1963-69
War against Iraq: 1991
Spanish Civil War: 1936-39
NSA-CIA to NLF: 1967-71
Palestine protest: 1971
Puerto Rican nationalists: 1950-54
Irish republicans: 1919-21
No to imperialism: 1920-90
African liberation: 1972-86
Free 12 Iranian artists: 1973
Say no to Rhodesian chrome: 1973
CIA out of Greece: 1974
Down with the Shah: 1974
Keep out of Mideast war: 1973
Antiwar: 1917

Prison Rights

Rebellion against system: DC jail 1972
DC Women’s Detention Center: 1973
Tear the walls down: 1973
DC jail uprising trial: 1974

Slave Resistance/Revolts/Military Action

Escape from slavery: 1853-58
Frederick Douglas: 1818-1895
Fight for freedom: 1861-65
MD slave revolt: 1845
African American GAR: 1930-35
Christiana Riot: 1851

Socialism

Debs in D.C.: 1921
People’s Party: 1972

Students

Catholic U strike: 1967
Youth Congress: 1934-41
Anti-deportation: 1940
NSA-CIA to NLF: 1967-71
DC area SDS: 1963-69
No forced ROTC: 1930-70
GW Sino Soviet: 1969
Bowie State: 1968
UMD Black Student Union: 1968-75
Howard U protests: 1967
U of MD ignites: 1970
Cutbacks and layoffs must stop at the U. of MD: 1973
ROTC off campus: U of MD 1971
U of MD antiwar protests: 1972
Terps at issue in hotel fight: 1974
MoCo teachers strike: 1968
Rennie Davis at Montgomery College: 1973

Transit in the DC Area

Group Health: 1959
Exact bus fare: 1968
D.C. streetcar women: 1943-60
Transit strike: 1974
ATU 689 birth: 1916-17
On the job murder at Metro: 1974
ATU Local 689: No Service 1974
Fighting Capital Transit racism: 1941-55
Transit strike: 1955
Transit strike: 1951
Capital Transit strikes; 1945
DC Metro wildcat strikes: 1978

U.S. National Domestic Politics & Issues

Farmers’ protest: 1977-85
No social security cuts: 1981
Earth Day: 1970
Price controls: 1946
Townsend pension plan: 1936
Bicentennial protests: 1976
Chippewas protest on the Mall: 1970
Throw the Bum Out: 1973-74
Wanted: William E Colby 1973
Madalyn Murray O’Hair: 1963
BIA takeover: 1972

Unemployed

Mr. Zero in DC: 1921-32
Hunger marches: 1931-32
Bonus Army: 1932-34
Coxey’s army: 1894-44
Jobless: 1949
Youth Congress: 1934-41
D.C. unemployed protest: 1930
WPA protests: 1936-40
Unemployed League: 1934
Workers Alliance: 1935-40
Cutbacks and layoffs must stop at the U of MD: 1973
No cuts in jobless benefits: 1975-77

Veterans

Bonus Army: 1932-34
Dewey Canyon III: 1971
African American GAR: 1930-35
Vets march on the White House: 1974
Servicemen demand bonus: 1973
VA target of vets picket: 1974
Vets hit military court: 1974
Demanding justice at Justice: 1974

Vietnam War

Protest Viet partition: 1954
DC area SDS: 1963-69
Antiwar: 1967
DC antiwar: 1971
DC national antiwar rally: 1970
NSA-CIA to NLF: 1967-71
Dewey Canyon III: 1971
Chicago 8/7 conspiracy: 1968-70
DC Weather bombings: 1971-75
DC Anti-Vietnam War: 1968
DC Anti-Vietnam War: 1966
Hit and stay: 1968-75
Largest Anti-Viet War protest: 1971
Moratorium: Oct. 1969
Anti-draft protests: 1947-72
Howard U protests: 1967
Moratorium: Nov. 1969
Mayday: May 5, 1971
Honor America Day: 1970
DC anti-Vietnam War: 1965
Mayday: May 4, 1971
Mayday: May 3, 1971
Mayday: May 2, 1971
Mayday: May 1, 1971
March on Pentagon: 1967
Republican convention: 1972
Rennie Davis at Montgomery College: 1973
U of MD ignites: 1970
Counter-Inaugural: 1969
Inauguration protest: 1973
ROTC off campus: U of MD 1971
DC Anti-Vietnam War: 1972
U of MD antiwar protests: 1972
Final march: Vietnam War 1975
March on the Pentagon: 1972
Wanted: William E. Colby: 1973
Harrisburg 7: 1971-72

Women’s Rights

Abortion rights: 1989
Green Guards: 1940
Women’s vote: 1910-20
Women against war: 1920-80
Jeanette Rankin: 1914-40
Women’s International League 1915-90
Universal childcare: 1971
DC streetcar women: 1943-60
Women’s rights: 1970
DC Abortion: 1972
Ratify the ERA: 1976
MD crab strike: 1938
Marie Richardson remembered

Washington Area Spark Historical

Washington Area Spark
Spark and On The Move mastheads
Photographers of Spark & On the Move
Images published in Spark
Images published in On The Move
Spark and On The Move in action: 1973-74
Spark and On The Move trivia
Two children at Spark house: 1972
Mike Quatro concert: 1972

2,000 historic photos of DC activism now online

26 Jan
Hunger March women prepare to board truck: 1932

Hunger March in Washington, D.C. – 1932

We’ve posted photo 2K on our Flickr site as our fifth year comes to a close.

Browse three different ways:

Album (related images)
Photo stream (by dated posted)
Timeline (by date of image)

Or you can use the search feature at the top of the Flickr page to find your topic, person or date that interests you.

Some of the newest interesting albums:

Debs in DC: 1921Famed socialist leader and presidential candidate Eugene Debs in DC – Debs comes to Washington, DC following his release from the Atlanta Penitentiary in 1921 where he had run for president of the U.S. and received nearly a million votes. Where did he go? Whom did he visit? Who visited with him? What did he see?

Mr Zero in DC: 1921-32Mr. Zero – before the Yippies of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and ‘Pie Man’ Aron Kay who understood modern media, there was Mr. Zero who grasped the impact of the new photographic capabilities of daily newspapers. He used his theatrics to advance the interests of the unemployed in the 1910s and 20s.

Hunger Marches: 1931-32While most have heard of the Bonus Army march on Washington in 1932, few have heard of the Hunger marches that occurred in 1931-32 that had as great an impact at the time and provided the impetus for the unemployment insurance system we know today.

Celanese strike: 1936The Celanese Strike of 1936 in far off Cumberland, Maryland produced the great communist labor leader George A. Meyers who went on to become head of the 10,000 member textile union, head of the Maryland-DC CIO and later the head of the Communist Party USA’s trade union work. Meyers, as head of the local CIO, spearheaded efforts to desegregate defense industries in the Baltimore-Washington area at the beginning of World War II.

Poor People's March: 1968Poor People’s March: 1968. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. planned this march to be a massive civil disobedience action that would shut down Washington, DC to demand economic justice. After his assassination, the focus was changed to a lobby effort that was doomed by the change of focus, relentless rain and lack of effective leadership. Many historians mark this as the end of the national focus of the modern civil rights movement that began with the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957.

Maryland Lynch Mobs: 1930sThe last major wave of lynchings in Maryland occurred in the 1930s, see images and read about these barbaric crimes that have no historical markers. And see those that stood against them.

 

The vintage Washington Area Spark is now online. Scroll way down your screen on the right and click on any issue for the original tabloid paper published from 1971-75.

Some of the all time favorites albums:

DC Unemployed Protest: 1930
Maryland Civil Rights: 1960-68
Virginia Restaurant Sit-Ins: 1960
Fighting Capital Transit Racism: 1941-55
U of MD Ignites: 1970

Thanks for you interest. Do you have historic photos you’d like to share? Contact us at Washington_Area_Spark@yahoo.com

 –The administrators

Unbowed & unbroken Debs comes to Washington: 1921

10 Jan
Debs outside Attorney General’s office: 1921

Debs outside the Attorney General’s office in Washington, D.C. Dec. 26, 1921.

by JW

Eugene Debs, the inspirational labor and socialist leader of the late 19th and early 20th centuries visited Washington, D.C. several times during his life.

However his most famous visit occurred after his Christmas Day 1921 release from the Atlanta Penitentiary while serving a 10-year sentence for sedition after U.S. President Warren Harding commuted his jail term, along with 23 others.

Debs, who received nearly a million votes while running for U.S. president from his jail cell in the 1920 election, was incarcerated for the crime of speaking out against U.S. entry into World War I and the forced draft of young men into the army.

Debs left prison and spent a day and a half in Washington, D.C. where he visited the U.S. Attorney General in Justice Department offices and U.S. President Warren Harding at the White House, a man who had defeated him in the election the previous year.

Labor & socialist leader

King Debs: 1894

Capitalist view of “King Debs,” 1894 Pullman Strike.

Early in his adulthood, Debs worked with several craft unions including the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen. He became disillusioned with this model of unionism and was instrumental in the founding of the American Railway Union (ARU), one of the nation’s first industrial unions that organized across craft and skill lines.

The ARU achieved early success with an 1894 strike at Great Northern Railway. Workers at the Pullman Palace Car Company,  many of whom were already ARU members, organized a wildcat strike over pay cuts in the summer of 1894. Debs initially opposed calling a boycott, citing the weakness of the union.

However after workers began boycotting Pullman cars in several areas of the country, Debs called for a nationwide boycott by the ARU against handling trains with Pullman cars, in what became the nationwide Pullman strike, affecting most lines west of Detroit, and more than 250,000 workers in 27 states.

Using the excuse of keeping the U.S. mail running, President Grover Cleveland used the United States Army to break the strike. Thirteen strikers were killed and thousands blacklisted.

As a leader of the ARU, Debs was convicted of federal charges for defying a court injunction against the strike and served six months in prison. The right of the government to use the injunction was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

While in prison, Debs began reading socialist literature and its message hit home. He became an articulate spokesperson for socialism.

He later helped found the Socialist Party and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW)—a radical rival to the American Federation of Labor.

He ran five times for U.S. president, receiving nearly a million votes in 1912 and 1920. In the latter election, he ran for the office from a prison cell.

Imprisonment

Canton speech lands presidential candidate Debs in jail: 1918

Debs imprisoned for this speech in Canton, Ohio June 16, 1918.

Debs was opposed to U.S. workers fighting for the capitalist class in World War I and made a speech against the war in Canton, Ohio in 1918. Debs said he phrased his words carefully mindful of the possible consequences.

Nevertheless, he was charged with ten counts of sedition, convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

He gave two thundering speeches to the court, saying at one point,

Your honor, I ask no mercy, I plead for no immunity. I realize that finally the right must prevail. I never more fully comprehended than now the great struggle between the powers of greed on the one hand and upon the other the rising hosts of freedom. I can see the dawn of a better day of humanity. The people are awakening. In due course of time they will come into their own.

At his sentencing hearing he said,

Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

After his appeals were exhausted, he began serving his sentence April 13, 1919. More than one million signed a petition calling for Debs release. However, President Woodrow Wilson denied appeals for clemency saying at one point, “This man was a traitor to his country and he will never be pardoned during my administration.”

When Warren Harding succeeded Wilson, renewed appeals for clemency began in earnest. Attorney General Harry M. Daugherty invited Debs to Washington in March 1921 as part of an evaluation of Debs status. Debs then returned to prison.

Eugene Debs clemency telegram: 1921

Telegram ordering Debs release from prison, December 24, 1921.

On Christmas Day 1921, Debs’ sentence was commuted. When he left the Atlanta Penitentiary, he was sent off with the cheers of 2,300 inmates. The warden provided him with a first class train ticket to Washington, D.C. (instead of to his home or to his place of sentence which is customary).

Debs rode in a sleeper car and donated the difference in the ticket to the Russian relief fund. He was accompanied by his brother Theodore; Celia Rotter of the Debs freedom conference; Lucy Robbins of the American Federation of Labor and the Debs freedom conference; along with a number of newspaper reporters.

Arrival in Washington, D.C.

Debs at the Hotel Harrington: 1921

Debs (tall man in center) at the Hotel Harrington with supporters and newsmen Dec. 26, 1921.

Debs arrived in Washington’s Union Station where he found the taxicabs were non-union and promptly headed for a streetcar. However, a reporter prevailed upon him to accept a ride in an automobile to the Hotel Harrington where he sat down in the barber’s chair, had a shave and then ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

He walked from the hotel at 11th & E Streets NW and called upon Daugherty at the Justice Department offices at 1010 Vermont Avenue NW about 11 a.m. dressed in clothes provided by the warden when he left prison—brown suit, dark felt hat, dark overcoat and black shoes.

Debs calls on U.S. Attorney General: 1921

Eugene Debs outside the office of U.S. Attorney General Harry Dougherty Dec. 26, 1921.

“I was courteously received by the Attorney General,” Debs said, “and expressed to him my interest in and my devotion to my fellow prisoners who were no more guilty than I and who still remain in prison.”

By fellow-prisoners, he said he meant both “political offenders and prisoners in general.” Hundreds of war opponents were sentenced to prison for speaking out against the war while the U.S. government was claiming it was fighting to make the world “safe for democracy.”

After a 30-minute conference with Daugherty he then walked to the White House arriving shortly before noon. “I’ve started for here four or five times,” Debs said tongue in cheek, “but this is the first time I ever landed,” (referring to his five times running for President).

Eugene Debs leaving the White House: 1921

Debs outside the White House Dec. 26, 1921 where he met with U.S. President Warren Harding. Debs ran for president as a socialist five times.

He was received by President Harding and met with the president for about 30 minutes inside the White House.

At the White House I was received very cordially by President Harding, with whom I exchanged opinions and points of view, so that he might perfectly understand my attitude in reference to my future activities. During the visit I took occasion to express my appreciation of the consideration.

Debs walked back to his hotel. He originally planned to leave Washington the same day, but a parade of visitors caused him to stay overnight at the Harrington.

Among those who called upon him was Samuel Gompers, President of the American Federation of Labor who had urged his release. Gompers committed to working to free the remaining political prisoners—mostly men and women from the rival IWW.

Debs with group outside Dougherty’s office: 1921

Debs shown with supporters and newsmen Dec. 26, 1921 in Washington, D.C.

The following day on the 27th he saw Peter MacSwiney, brother of the late Lord Mayor of Cork; Frank Morrison, Secretary of the American Federation of Labor; Philip LaFollette, son of the senior Senator From Wisconsin; Santiago Iglesias of the Puerto Rican Senate and Canuto Vargas, Secretary of the Pan American Federation of Labor; Urbain Ledoux, the advocate for unemployed who bestowed his lantern on Debs ending Ledoux’s quest for “an honest man;” along with dozens of friends and well-wishers.

Before leaving Washington, Debs held an unauthorized rally with several hundred supporters in Union Station where he said in part, “I believe in free speech. In the expression of these differing opinions we find our way to higher civilization.”

“With every drop of blood in my veins,” he concluded, “I am opposed to war. Human life is too sacred a thing to be spent in bloodshed.”

He then left for his home in Terre Haute, Indiana and when he arrived, he was greeted by 50,000 well-wishers in a public demonstration.

Questioned about his prison-issued suit, Debs stated his desire to wear his too-large suit for some time saying, “Like the wrinkles on my face, they (the prison issued clothes) have cost me something.”

During his time in prison, Debs refused all privileges not accorded the other inmates and his health suffered. Debs never recovered his health from his time in prison and died October 20, 1926. He left a legacy as the greatest socialist leader in the history of the United States, although he said,

I am not a Labor Leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else; if you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the Promised Land if I could, because if I led you in, some one else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition.


Sources include The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, Nick Salvatore’s Eugene Debs: Citizen and Socialist among others. The author is a student at the University of Maryland.

 

Vintage Washington Area Spark comes back to life: 1971-5

13 Oct
spark-1971-11-19-vol-1-no-3-1

November 19, 1971 – Spark’s third issue.

Updated October 25, 2015 – 3rd and final year of Spark & complete On the Move now online:

This new online tool for researchers and those interested in the period of radical activity in the Washington, D.C. area from 1971-75 is now relatively complete.

The third year of Spark marked its complete transition from a student-oriented radical newspaper to one based among the Washington, D.C. area workforce while still retaining its campus distribution along with a few bookstores and other news outlets.

The tabloid’s circulation peaked in the third year at around 25,000–up from its first issue circulation of 500.

While the newspaper’s politics began aligning more closely with a Maoist group called the Revolutionary Union, it still retained its independence and published articles and covered events that were sponsored by other groups and broader coalitions.

However, internal and external pressures caused it to cease publication two issues into its third year. Printing prices skyrocketed while a number of key members of its volunteer staff left for personal reasons. The financing, writing, production and distribution took its toll and the tasks began wearing on the core volunteers that had been performing the various functions without compensation for nearly two years.

In addition, the newspaper’s turn toward the politics of the Revolutionary Union alienated some contributors and distributors.

The newspaper was reincarnated as On The Move six months after Spark ceased publication. On the Move looked much more like the several dozen local newspapers that sprung up across the country in this period that were closely aligned with and largely staffed by members of the Revolutionary Union. The focus was on worker militancy and actions sponsored by the RU or groups aligned with it. Articles were republished from Revolution (the RU’s national newspaper) as well as from other local RU-oriented newspapers.

On The Move’s circulation was primarily at worksites around the city and distribution never went higher than around 1,000 copies per issue. Each issue looked less like it’s previous incarnation as jargon increased and coverage of local news decreased.

On The Move ceased publication after one year largely due to the same reasons as Spark–overburdened staff and even weaker finances. The impact of the paper was lessened by increasingly sparse local content and poor circulation.

There were several unsuccessful attempts over the next several years to revive the newspaper, including the publication of one issue of an RU-oriented Baltimore-Washington Worker. 

Links to the third year of Spark and the first and only year of On The Move:

3rd year of Spark:

Vol. 3, No. 1, October 11, 1973
Vol. 3, No. 2, November 24, 1973

Complete On The Move:

Vol. 1, No. 1, April-May, 1974
Vol. 1, No. 2, August, 1974
Vol. 1, No. 3, November, 1974
Vol. 1, No. 4, December, 1974
Vol. 1, No. 5, January, 1975

Updated Oct. 18, 2015 – 2nd year of Spark now online

The second year of the Washington Area Spark monthly tabloid is now online. Vol. 2, No. 8 published in March/April 1973 is missing. If you have a copy, please contact us at washington_area_spark@yahoo.com. A full twelve issues were published in the second year of the paper.

The second year of Spark was marked by clashes with the new student government, the administration and even the trustees of Montgomery College. The previous student government had allocated funds for publishing Spark, but it became a race to spend the money before it was cut off. The last student funds were spent in December 1972 and the newspaper declared its independence from the campus in January 1973.

The second year also marked an expansion from its Montgomery County roots to a Washington, DC area-wide newspaper. The paper struggled to find a replacement for the student funds and came to rely on a mix of limited advertisement, sustainer contributions and staff contributions.

The politics of the newspaper also changed. It declared itself to be guided by Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung Thought. This turn to the left occurred at a time when the base of the newspaper–student activism began to fade with the end of the draft and the winding down of the Vietnam War.

The iconic Spark bomb shrunk in size and then disappeared. As the newspaper became more political, both advertising and distribution centers dropped as small business owners rejected the paper’s politics. This in turn changed the format of the newspaper–adding an extra fold–so that it was easier to hand out at workplaces.

Content also changed with an increasing focus on economic and work place issues. However, unlike many self-styled Maoist newspapers of the era, the Spark continued to carry different viewpoints, continue to give space to counter-cultural events and cover other groups, including demonstrations sponsored or strongly influenced by the Young Workers Liberation League /Communist Party USA and the Workers World/Youth Against War and Fascism group that had Trotskyist roots, black liberation groups and anarchists.

Links to the second year of Spark:

Vol. 2 No. 1 – September 6, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 2 – October 4, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 3 – October 31, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 4 – November 19, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 5 – December 20, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 6 – January 20, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 7 – February 21, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 8 – unavailable
Vol. 2 No. 9 – May 11, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 10 – June 12, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 11 – July 11, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 12 – August 17, 1973

Original post:

We are finally getting around to scanning and posting the original Spark and its successor On The Move. Five of the first six issues are posted (one is missing) and represent the first year of publication. More will be posted in the coming weeks. They have been posted unedited meaning the discoloration of the aging newsprint is captured as well.

We hope this resource will add to the rich alternative publication history in the greater Washington, D.C. area and provide researchers with additional information on left-leaning activities in the early 1970s in this region.

Spark began as a Montgomery College student publication after a group of radicals calling themselves the Montgomery County Freedom Party won several seats in the student government and obtained funding for the publication. The other official student newspaper, The Spur, continued to publish during this period as well.

The volunteer staff used a typewriter and press type to lay out the tabloid. Photos that required half-tones had to be done by the printer for the offset press process.

The eclectic tabloid published six issues in its first year (the publication year mirrored the student year) and included inflammatory language about police and revolution, but focused on student and county issues with a smattering of articles about local and national issues related to left-leaning causes. The politics of the contributors included feminists, anarchists, liberals, pacifists and revolutionaries.

The publication dates are a little confusing. At times they represented publication date and at times they represented the end of the period prior to what was expected to be the next issue’s publication.

By the last issue of the year (Vol. 1 No. 6), the newspaper began to include expanded coverage of county-wide issues and was distributed at a few locations other than the college.

Vol. 1 No. 1 – unavailable
Vol. 1 No. 2 – October 25, 1971
Vol. 1 No. 3 – November 19, 1971
Vol. 1 No. 4 – December 10, 1971
Vol. 1 No. 5 – February 29, 1972
Vol. 1 No. 6 – April 15, 1972

Do you have a copy of the first issue of Spark? If so, please e-mail us at washington_area_spark@yahoo.com

 

DC’s fighting barber & the end of public school segregation

20 Aug
Boycott Browne school: 1947

The Consolidated Parents Group pickets the Board of Education in 1947.

By Daniel Hardin

It took an uprising by working class African Americans  to spark a Supreme Court decision to outlaw Washington, D.C. school segregation and break new ground in interpreting the “due process” clause of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.

Gardner Bishop worked as a barber after moving to Washington, D.C. in 1930, living east of the Anacostia River. In 1947 his 14-year-old daughter Judine was enrolled in the District’s public schools.

The segregated school system was grossly overcrowded with inferior facilities and substandard equipment.

Bishop sought a transfer for his daughter to the elite African American Banneker School, but was turned down by the black school officials because he was only a barber and schools like Banneker were reserved for the children of lawyers, ministers and other professionals.

He tried to gain admittance for Judine to the nearby white Elliot Junior High where student vacancies existed, but was also turned down based on the city’s long-standing dual school system. Bishop termed this “double Jim Crow.”

Bishop reflected back on those times 30 years later and said,

Segregation was not only white against black, but it was also upper class blacks against the lower class. We were on the bottom shelf. I’m black and I’m poor, so I’m segregated twice.

 Already substandard, now half the education

The whites-only Elliot Junior High School had a capacity of 918 students but only 783 enrollees. By contrast, the African American Browne Junior High, the neighborhood school Judine was assigned to, had a capacity of 783 but an enrollment of 1,638.

Garnet C. Wilkinson, longtime DC school official: 1950 ca.

Garnet C. Wilkerson, asst. supt. of DC black public schools.

Browne students began the school year in double shifts. Garnet Wilkinson, the African American assistant superintendent in charge of black schools, devised a plan where Browne would end some of the double shifts by using the formerly white, but now unused Blow and Webb elementary schools as annexes.

Browne students’ parents were outraged. The double shifts effectively cut students education in half while the use of the elementary schools meant longer walks for students to facilities with no equipment and desks too small for the larger adolescents.

Wilkinson’s plan went into effect December 1st. Classroom assignments called for 1,146 students to “shuttle” between the Browne school at 24th Street and Benning Road NE, the Blow School at 19th Street and Benning Road NE and the Webb School at 15th and Rosedale Streets NE. At the same time 680 students would continue their part time status at Browne.

Bishop disdained the Browne PTA, calling them “handpicked.” According to Bishop they had property owners in the area, various civic association representatives and non-parents in leadership. When working class parents attended the meetings, they felt “passed over,” according to Bishop.

In response, Bishop organized Browne students’ parents who “worked two jobs and went to church on Sundays” to meet at the Jones Memorial Church where they voted to stage a student strike or “sit-out.” The group would come be known as the Consolidated Parents Group.

Enough is enough

DC rights leader Gardner Bishop: 1950 ca.

Consolidated Parents Group leader Gardner Bishop.

The day before the planned boycott, Bishop organized a cab caravan to transport students to the Board of Education meeting at the Franklin Administration Building at 13th & K Streets NW.

Without any warning, Bishop led 40 children into the meeting and announced, “These are children from the Browne Junior High School and there’s not going to be—not one of them—or anyone else—at that school tomorrow, so I just wanted to explain who’s doin’ it and why.”

Browne recalled the board initially denied him the right to speak, but relented. “They sat there like a bunch of fools not believing a word they heard.”

The boycott began December 3rd with all children staying away from school and with children picketing at the schools and parents at the Franklin building. The city’s newspapers picked up the story and ran sympathetic articles.

Consolidated organized itself further and Bishop came to rely on a core group of leaders composed of Marie W Smith and Burma Whitted, vice presidents; Unity T. Macklin, secretary; and James Haley Sr., Treasurer along with a dozen other member activists among the hundreds of members.

Down with DC school segregation: 1947

Consolidated Parents pickets the board of education at 13th & K NW in 1947.

By mid-December, under ferocious attack from more conservative elements in the black community, Consolidated partially ended their boycott by having children return to Browne but continue boycotting Blow and Webb.

Supplementary classes for children were set up by the group at Jones Memorial Church.

As the weeks wore on, the strike began faltering and some parents began sending their children to the annexes. Shortly afterward a settlement was finally reached whereby students returned to the classrooms February 3, 1948.

The issues that arose in the strike would be settled by two lawsuits. One sponsored by the Browne PTA asked that the Board of Education be enjoined from assigning black junior high students to elementary schools while there was space available in white schools. The other sponsored by Consolidated Parents challenged the unequal facilities of the segregated school system itself.

As part of ending the strike, the Board of Education agreed to house the students in five different self-contained school buildings and ended students “shuttling” between facilities.

Consolidated Parents bonds with Houston

Getting to a lawsuit was a big leap for Bishop. He was distrustful of “upper class Negroes” as were the other parent members of Consolidated. The “highfalutin” and “comfortable” blacks didn’t use tactics that Bishop believed would lead to results.

However as the strike continued without resolution in December 1947, they voted to have Bishop contact Charles Hamilton Houston, a former NAACP litigation director and former head of Howard University’s law school.

Houston Challenges Board over Marion Anderson: 1939

Charles Hamilton Houston before the Board of Education in 1939.

It was a decision born of desperation. Houston was seen as one of the upper class of blacks that had disparaged working class African Americans and helped to “hurt” the “little people,” according to Bishop. However, Bishop was willing to try rather than have the strike end in abject failure.

Houston was in private practice and was working to become appointed as one of the District of Columbia commissioners—there was no elected representation at that time.

Bishop went to a Houston for Commissioner rally in mid December and introduced himself. Bishop said Houston was “elated” to meet the leader of the strikers. Consolidated Parents met with Houston at his home at 3611 New Hampshire Ave. NW where the venerable civil rights attorney told them, “You got yourself a lawyer.”

Houston took two legal approaches—accusing the school board of failing to provide black facilities equal to those of white students and of perpetuating fraud by claiming that black children could receive as much education in one half day as white children in a full day.

Gardner recalled that Houston “never let up…never backed down…never ceased working…and never accepted a penny,” even paying the filing fees out of his own pocket. Houston enlisted help from Howard University professors and from other attorneys from the Houston law firm.

Consolidated Parents meeting: 1949

Consolidated Parents Group meeting flyer from 1949.

While the cases were winding their way through the courts, Bishop and other leaders of Consolidated held hearings, bombarded the school board with complaints about teacher/pupil ratios and filed suits on behalf of black children excluded from kindergarten, overcrowding at Cardozo High School and other manifestations of the separate and unequal school system.

Lawsuits dismissed

The court cases were dismissed in 1950. The PTA’s case of Carr v. Corning was turned down by the court of appeals because the double shifts and “shuttling” were ended before the suit was heard. In the other cases, the courts found that the District’s schools had been segregated since the 1860s and that the white and black schools were equal enough to meet the requirements of the 14th Amendment.

The outcome was not unexpected by Houston and Bishop. A report by George Strayer detailing the District’s systemic exclusion of black children from kindergarten, inadequate classroom space and facilities for African Americans and disparate teacher/student ratios was issued too late to be introduced as evidence.

In preparation for defeat, Bishop and Houston agreed to radically change their approach. They would directly challenge the so called “separate but equal” system itself, hoping to overturn the 1896 Supreme Court decision that established the “separate but equal” doctrine in the Plessy v. Ferguson.

James Nabritt: 1950 ca.

James Nabritt circa 1950.

In April 1950, Houston realized he was dying and called Bishop to his bedside. He asked Bishop to permit James Nabritt to take over as attorney for Consolidated Parents.

Bishop, Nabritt and Houston agreed that they wanted nothing to do with what Bishop called “the social club” NAACP suits that sought to equalize the separation. Instead they would attack Jim Crow head on. It was a risky strategy that carried the peril of upholding segregation.

Houston died days after their meeting and a giant of the early civil rights movement and a champion of African Americans in the District was gone.

Spottwood Bolling takes center stage

Fresh with victory in the Carr case, the DC school board continued to build segregated schools. They opened the white John Phillips Sousa Junior High in Anacostia on September 11, 1950 with a large auditorium, double gyms, seven basketball courts, a softball field and a number of empty classrooms.

Bishop escorted eleven black children to enroll on the first day of school.

Those black children walked in there and they saw the most beautiful school they had ever seen. All those wonderful typewriters, the laboratories, the great gymnasium…

While the principal of the all white school graciously took them on a tour, he refused to admit the students.

Victory in Bolling v. Sharpe: 1954

Spottswood Bolling in front of his home in May 1954.

One of the students was Spottswood Bolling Jr., whose mother was a bookbinder for the federal government. Bolling was assigned to Shaw Junior High on U Street NW, an overcrowded black school with no science equipment and no playground.

Nabritt enlisted another Washington, D.C. civil rights attorney, George E. C. Hayes, as co-counsel. They filed suit with Bolling’s being the first name on the document. The suit named C. Melvin Sharpe, the District’s school superintendent as the defendant.

Nabritt avoided citing the 14th Amendment that applied only to states and because it would be too easy to get an outcome that merely increased spending on black schools—or worse—found the schools equal enough.

Instead, Nabritt cited the due process clause of the 5th Amendment, a guarantee binding on Congress that in turn administered the District of Columbia.

Two years passed while the case moved through the courts when Nabritt received a telephone call from the clerk of the Supreme Court who indicated that the Court wished to consolidate the case with others challenging Jim Crow schools. Bishop was suspicious and insisted that the NAACP, which provided representation in the other major school suits, be excluded from the Bolling v. Sharpe team.

Nabritt filed the necessary petition to the Supreme Court to bypass the court of appeals. The Court granted the petition and arguments were heard December 9, 1952. The case was consolidated with four others and re-argued December 8th and 9th 1953.

Arguments to the Court

Nabritt and Hayes took turns presenting oral arguments to the Court in 1953.

George E C Hayes: 1948

Co-counsel George E. C. Hayes circa 1950.

Hayes opened saying,

The position we are taking with respect to these cases, that segregation, per se, is unconstitutional, and that without regard to physical facilities, without regard to the question of curriculum and that if, as a matter of fact, there is a designation that one must go to a particular school for no other reason than because of race or color, that that is a violation of the constitutional right; and as this Court has said, wherever the issue is raised with respect to color, then it is upon the Government to show that the reason for it, that there is a reason for it—that there is a reason that is a justifiable reason.

Nabritt strenuously argued the distinction between the 14th Amendment and the 5th Amendment.

The basic question here is one of liberty, and under liberty, under the due process clause, you cannot deal with it as a quantum of treatment, substantially equal. You either have liberty or you do not. When liberty is interfered with by the state, it has to be justified, and you cannot justify it by saying that we only took a little liberty You justify it by the reasonableness of the taking. We submit that in this case, in the heart of the nation’s capital, in the capital democracy, in the capital of the free world there is no place for a segregated school system. This country cannot afford it, and the Constitution does not permit it, and the statutes of Congress do not authorize it.

Victory

Washington Post leads with end of school segregation: 1954

Washington Post on the Supreme Court decision banning school segregation.

The court, led by newly confirmed Chief Justice Earl Warren decided unanimously in favor of the plaintiffs.

In his opinion, he noted that while the 14th Amendment, whose Equal Protection Clause was cited in the more famous Brown vs. Board in order to declare segregation unconstitutional did not apply in the District of Columbia, the 5th Amendment did in fact apply.

Warren held that “the concepts of equal protection and due process, both stemming from our American ideal of fairness, are not mutually exclusive.” While equal protection is a more explicit safeguard against discrimination, the Court stated, “…discrimination may be so unjustifiable as to be violative of due process.”

Referring to the technicalities raised by the case’s location in the District of Columbia, the Court held that, in light of their decision in Brown that segregation in state public schools is prohibited by the Constitution, it would be “unthinkable that the same Constitution would impose a lesser duty on the Federal Government.”

The Court concluded: “racial segregation in the public schools of the District of Columbia is a denial of the due process of law guaranteed by the 5th Amendment.” The Court restored both Bolling and Brown to the docket until they could reconvene to discuss how to effectively implement the decisions.

Bishop and Consolidated Parents had their victory for working class African Americans in the only major school case decided without counsel from the NAACP.

After the Court’s decision, Bishop stepped down as head of the Consolidated Parents Group. Bishop continued to hold his own court in his B&D Barbershop near 15th & U Streets NW where he worked until he retired in 1985. He died November 25, 1992.


Postscript

White students terrorize Anacostia black students: 1954

White students at Anacostia High chase black enrollees October 4, 1954.

Conservatives have consistently attacked the specific Bolling v. Sharpe decision through the years as going beyond the bounds of reasonableness.

Implementation of the Court decision was not without resistance. White students, with backing by some parents, staged walkouts and confrontations with newly enrolled black students on the first day of District of Columbia school integration October 4, 1954.

Students at McKinley, Eastern, Chamberlain Vocational high schools and McFarland and Taft Junior high schools staged demonstrations in the days following. Attendance at schools across the city was down after calls for a student strike by white students.

In the most egregious incident white students at Anacostia High School attempted to attack black students in October 1954 and staged student rallies and marches in opposition to integration, including one that drew hundreds of students and parents.

Integrated students at Anacostia High School: 1957

Integrated class at Anacostia High School in 1957.

Court ordered integration did not solve the problem of equal opportunity and quality education.

Community activist Julius Hobson filed suit in 1967 to end a tracking system by the District’s schools that put working class African Americans on a vocational “track” denying them the opportunity afforded to white students and black children from professional parents. A 1968 decision was awarded in Hobson’s favor that abolished the District’s tracking system.

However, the issue of providing a quality education to the District’s working class African Americans is an ongoing one that has not as yet been resolved in the 21st Century.


Author’s notes:

Gardner Bishop in his barbershop: 1974

Gardner Bishop in his barbershop at 15th & U Streets NW in 1974.

Gardner Bishop held an abiding disdain for all—black or white—that behaved in a condescending or uncaring manner toward the issues of working class African Americans.

An example of Bishop’s sharp tongue occurred in 1937 when he passed a “whites only” park where his four-year-old daughter wanted to get on the swing set. As Judine was swinging back and forth, a police officer came up and pointed out the “whites only” sign.

Bishop responded, “She can’t read.” The remark cost Bishop a $10 fine for disorderly conduct.

Given this incident, it was no surprise that the Consolidated Parents Group also fought for equal recreation facilities.

When a 14-year-old African American boy died after swimming after hours in the segregated Rosedale pool at 17th & Gales Streets NE in June 1952, Consolidated joined other groups in picketing the playground and the board of recreation. The ongoing picketing culminated in a number of arrests.

In September, over 100 children climbed over the fence of the whites-only pool and entered the swimming area. The recreation staff closed the pool, but the following day the children returned and by shear numbers integrated the pool. One police officer said, “I can’t arrest these children. They’re having such a good time.”

The pool closed for the season shortly afterward and the recreation board opened the Rosedale playground to all. Before the pool opened in the spring, the board voted to integrate the pool as well.

Bishop’s legacy may be more than his victory over segregation. His determination to fight and form new forms of organization to challenge what others said couldn’t be challenged may be equally important. It’s a lesson that was learned in the 1960s with the formation of SNCC and the transformation of CORE and with the attempts today to form organization out of the struggle in Ferguson.

Sources include the Afro American, The Washington Post, The Daily News, The Washington Star, The Pittsburgh Courier, Groundwork: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Struggle for Civil Rights by Genna Rae McNeil, Jim Crow’s Children: The Broken Promise of the Brown Decision by Peter Irons, First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School by Alison Stewart.


Want to see and read more?

Additional images of the fight for DC school desegregation

Images of the fight for DC parks and recreation integration in the 1940s and 1950s

Images of a 1919 mobilization by DC school parents

Images of a 1930s boycott movement to end segregation at DC stores

Images of the fight to integrate theaters and performance venues in DC

Images of the fight to integrate employment at the Capital Transit Company

Images of the fight against racism at the Library of Congress

The story of the fight to integrate theaters and performance venues in DC

The story of the fight to integrate employment at the Capital Transit Company


Maryland slaves make bold bid for freedom: July 7-8, 1845

2 Jul

Fighting the Mob in IndianaReportedly marching six abreast on open roads during daylight, dozens of enslaved African Americans made their way along Maryland roads toward freedom July 7-8, 1845.

The plot began in Charles County led by Mark Caesar and William Wheeler. The group of several dozen African Americans armed themselves with a pistol, scythe blades, bludgeons, swords and clubs and began their trek to Pennsylvania, about 110 miles away.

The Charles County band was joined by others seeking freedom from St. Mary’s County. While marching north en route through Prince George’s County, still others swelled their ranks to nearly 75.

The plan was to make their way “in great haste” before slave owners had a chance to gather men to pursue them, according to the Montgomery Journal.

Battle Near Rockville

The group made good progress and the Journal reported the group was seen “within two miles of Rockville” on the Frederick Road (today’s Route 355).

A group of white men on horseback called the Montgomery Volunteers caught up with those marching toward freedom and surrounded them somewhere between Rockville and Gaithersburg. Caesar and Wheeler reportedly ordered the group to fight back.

Fugitive Slaves Recaptured: 1850A brief skirmish erupted and 35 members of the group were captured by the white slave catchers and several African Americans were killed. Others, including Wheeler, initially escaped.

Some of the captured, upon defending themselves, had been shot and wounded.  One witness reported that the group was shot with powder and ball, and the survivors chained and driven off like beasts.

The Port Tobacco Times reported, “They had to be fired upon before they would surrender.”  All of those seized, including five who were badly injured, were taken to the jail at Rockville under the assumption that they had run away from their masters. Most of the recaptured were sold out of state to new slave masters.

A group of four who escaped the Montgomery Volunteers were captured in Westminster, about 20 miles from the Pennsylvania border. Wheeler was still at large on July 16 when the Maryland Journal asked readers to, “Keep a look out for him, as lots of money will be forked over to any one who may nab him.”

Wheeler captured, convicted & escapes

Wheeler was eventually captured and brought to Port Tobacco in Charles County for a trial that began September 1, 1845.

Bill Wheeler convicted in MD slave insurrection: 1845

Wheeler is convicted of insurrection.

The Times called Wheeler and Caesar the “prime movers and instigators in the late Negro insurrection.” The Times reported that the two, “If proved to be guilty, will, in accordance to the law in relation to this crime, suffer the penalty of death.”

Wheeler was found guilty by a jury of white men on September 2nd and sentenced to hang until dead. Fearing that Wheeler’s death sentence may be commuted, a law was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in March 1846 to insure he would remain in jail for the rest of his life:

An Act to authorize and require the Warden and Keepers of the Penitentiary of Maryland, to receive and keep negro William Wheeler, now under sentence of death into Penitentiary, in the event of the commutation of his sentence by the Governor.

However, Wheeler escaped the county jail after four months of incarceration in the facility. Despite a $100 reward offered for his apprehension, Wheeler was never re-captured.

Mark Caesar’s Trial

Mark Caesar sentenced for MD slave rebellion: 1845

Caesar is sentenced to 40 years.

Caesar was charged with insurrection and his trial began September 4, 1845, three days after Wheeler’s.

A jury split 8-4 in favor of conviction and the result was a hung jury. The prosecution decided to re-try Caesar, a 35-year old free black man who worked as a carpenter, on different charges. This time Caesar faced charges of “aiding and abetting slaves in making their escape from their masters,” according to the Port Tobacco Times.

Caesar was then found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in the penitentiary where he died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1850.

Aftermath

News of the uprising terrified slave owners in Charles, St. Mary’s, and Prince George’s Counties, according to the Journal.

Prison record of revolt leader Mark Caesar: 1850

Mark Caesar’s prison record showing he was a 35 year old,  5’8″ carpenter who could read and write at the time he was sentenced.

“This is the most daring movement which has ever come under our observation.” Never before had an armed group of enslaved men taken a “public road in open day, within 2 miles of a County town, and in a thickly settled neighborhood,” the Journal noted.

As a result, Charles County sought “to confine the slaves within proper limits, and to keep them free from those influences which poison their minds and tend to render them dissatisfied with their condition,” the Journal wrote.

According to the Maryland Archives, some slave owners desired to have a special militia created for the purpose of suppressing any uprising and capturing runaways. They proposed anyone taking part be rewarded for their efforts.

In St. Mary’s County, it was decided that a “Committee of Vigilance” would be formed, with ten people in each election district to watch any travel of African Americans within the county.  The “Montgomery Volunteers” reportedly received many new enlistees.

Despite the efforts of slave catchers, it appears some of those who made their break for freedom with Caesar and Wheeler were never apprehended.


Editor’s notes:

Slavery hung on in Maryland until the Civil War. Union occupation of the state resulted in a new state Constitution adopted April 1, 1864 November 1, 1864 outlawing the practice. Voting rights were extended to non white males in the state in 1867.

Long live Mark Caesar and Bill Wheeler.

Sources include the The Maryland Archives, Resistance to Slavery in Maryland by Cheryl Janifer LaRoche, the Port Tobacco Times and the Maryland Reporter.

Post updated 7/5/15 to reflect the correct effective date of the Maryland Constitution outlawing slavery. Thanks to Ben Fischler

 

 

Contradictions in the Cause: Glen Echo Maryland 1960

26 Jun
Glen Echo Integration Picket Line: 1960

Protesters demand Glen Echo admit African Americans in 1960.

By Daniel Hardin

The story of the effort to end segregation at Glen Echo Amusement Park in Montgomery County, Maryland 55 years ago is an inspiring one that continues to be celebrated today.

A mixed group of black and white college students from the local Nonviolent Action Group (NAG) began picketing the facility in June 1960 calling for an end to the privately owned park’s policy of barring African Americans.

The neighboring residents of the overwhelmingly white and majority Jewish community of Bannockburn joined them. Together they sustained the picket lines through the summer heat in the face of American Nazi Party counter demonstrators until the owners gave in and finally desegregated the facility the following spring.

The effort involved harassment and arrests and resulted in a precedent setting court case establishing that an off-duty sheriff deputy employed as a park guard conducting the arrests at the behest of the park owners was in fact an agent of the state. Such use of a state agent to enforce segregation was illegal, the Supreme Court ruled in 1964. It was a resounding victory all the way around–both in the social forces involved and the outcome.

Lost in the re-telling of the story is how some white participants worked to depose the black leader of NAG in the middle of the Glen Echo fight and replace him with one more palatable to the Kennedy-Johnson presidential ticket that opposed enacting national legislation on civil rights. The successful attempt, in turn, sowed some of the seeds of the black power movement later in the decade.

Background to Glen Echo Protest

The storied Glen Echo Amusement Park opened in 1891 as a segregated facility featuring concerts and other arts performances. Streetcar service to Glen Echo began the same year. The park didn’t fare well featuring performing arts and converted to an amusement park in the early twentieth century.

At the time Glen Echo opened, the reversal of African American gains during the Reconstruction period was at its peak and both terror and new segregationist laws were enforcing Jim Crow.

The nascent civil rights movement in the Washington area tried a number of tactics to fight the renewed denial of the rights of African Americans ranging from protests against lynching to armed self-defense during the Washington “riot” of 1919.

Scottsboro pickets clash with police at Supreme Court: 1932

An unauthorized march to “Free the Scottsboro Boys” at the Supreme Court in 1932 introduces civil disobedience to the early rights movement.

The tactic of civil disobedience for civil rights was introduced in Washington, D.C. during the Scottsboro campaign in 1932 when communists staged a prohibited march on the Supreme Court.

The boycott was introduced during the 1930s in a campaign to force those doing business in the black community to hire African Americans. District of Columbia residents also employed a wide range of methods in a fight against police brutality 1938-41.

Picket lines and court cases largely de-segregated public facilities within the District of Columbia during the 1940s and 50s, but the suburbs remained bastions of segregation.

The sit-in tactic was utilized at the Alexandria, Virginia public library in 1939, but the approach was not adopted on a widespread basis either in the Washington, D.C. area or around the country.

However, the use of the tactic exploded when four African American students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University began a movement when they staged a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960.

Origins of the Nonviolent Action Group

At the same time, a 25-year old divinity student was forming a group dedicated to civil rights action at Howard University. Laurence Henry led a small group of Howard students who were joined by students from other area colleges to picket the Capitol in March 1960 demanding movement on a federal civil rights bill. The organization was named the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG).

The picket line was completely ignored and Henry concluded that picketing targets like the Capitol and the White House were a “waste of time,” according to the Washington Post.

Arrested for Arlington Sit-In: 1960

Laurence Henry (right) arrested at a sit-in at Howard Johnson in Arlington, Virginia June 10, 1960 during the desegregation campaign.

Instead Henry decided to emulate the Greensboro sit-ins. He first targeted Alexandria, Va., which responded by agreeing to undertake a quick desegregation study composed of black leaders and white businesses in return for a postponement of demonstrations. Henry agreed and moved NAG’s first sit-in to Arlington, Virginia. On June 9th a small interracial group began a sit in at a People’s Drug Store and quickly spread to other restaurants and lunch counters in that city.

They were confronted by up to 300 residents organized by the American Nazi Party and several arrests by police, including Henry. However the demonstrators continued their sit-ins for two weeks until most major chain stores agreed to desegregate. Alexandria city officials quickly announced that chain stores and restaurants in the town would also desegregate and Fairfax County gave similar notice a week later.

Glen Echo Protests Begin

Kids Celebrate Day at Glen Echo Park: 1947

Washington Star news carriers enjoying themselves in segregated Glen Echo in 1947.

Fresh from victory in Virginia, the group picked Glen Echo Park in Montgomery County, Maryland as its next target. Glen Echo was a high-profile segregated facility and it was believed victory there would start the rest of the dominos in the Maryland suburbs tumbling.

The protests began early in the day on June 30th when two African American young women, Maudie Parker and Louise York, entered the park and were ordered to leave.

After the young women complied with the order, NAG leader Laurence Henry moved toward the gate and was halted by park security chief Francis J. Collins. A WWDC radio reporter recorded the conversation as follows: Collins: “What race do you belong to?” to which Henry responded, “I belong to the human race.”

Collins barred admittance and an integrated group of 60 people set up a picket line, carrying signs that read, “Glen Echo Should Echo Democracy” and “End Jim Crow at Glen Echo.”

Demonstrators enter the park

Henry soon defied Collins and led a group of about two-dozen into the park to The Ranch restaurant, which promptly closed down. About a dozen protesters moved onto the merry-go-round after white supporters bought tickets for the group.

Arrest on the Carousel at Glen Echo Park: 1960

Francis Collins places Marvous Saunders under arrest on the Glen Echo carousel June 30, 1960.

Collins, who was also a Montgomery County deputy sheriff, placed five African Americans under arrest after they refused to leave the ride within five minutes of his order to do so. Those arrested were Gwendolyn Greene (Britt), Cecil Washington, Marvous Saunders, Michael Proctor and William Griffin.

The demonstrations lasted about three hours on the first day, but it was just the first of hundreds of hours of picketing that involved assaults by the American Nazi Party and more arrests by police, Henry was beaten and arrested by police August 3rd in Glen Echo. In the county jail he joined fellow NAG member Dion Diamond in a hunger strike before police released the pair August 5th.

A number of residents from the nearby community of Bannockburn quickly joined in the picketing. Bannockburn was a close-knit progressive community, including many residents of the Jewish faith and several labor union leaders.

Counter demonstrators from the American Nazi Party showed up as well, broadcasting their messages of hate and attacking civil rights demonstrators with their fists from time to time. However, the Nazi’s presence probably increased support for the civil rights demonstrators.

Community brings new resources

Confidence in the Cause: Glen Echo, MD 1960

Nazis counter demonstrat0rs at Glen Echo while lone picket for civil rights passes by July 11, 1960.

The residents built their own support network and began supplying picketers to help sustain the lines. On many days they were the only ones picketing.

Irene Stambler, one of the residents remembered in a 2005 interview with Washington Jewish Week that the Bannockburn community provided food, permitted protesters to use bathrooms in their homes and “served lots and lots of lemonade” during the hot, humid summer weather.

Gwendolyn Britt, one of those arrested on the carousel and an early NAG activist, said, “”I have to applaud the community and the residents for joining in and supporting our action, for insisting that residents did not sit idly by,” according to WJW.

In addition to the logistical support, the Bannockburn community brought political connections that NAG lacked. Herman Bookbinder, another Bannockburn resident who was then a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO and later joined the Kennedy administration, brought high-profile rights activists into the fight.

Some other prominent people also lent support. Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. agreed to do a fundraiser for legal defense of those arrested, which NAG leader Henry estimated at 43 people at the time. The only African American U.S. congressman, Adam Clayton Powell (D-NY) also weighed in.

Perhaps most importantly, the Bannockburn community began to bring political pressure on the Montgomery County Council to cease busing students to Glen Echo as part of its recreation program. “It was natural that our community was responsive to it…It responded beautifully, both Jews and non-Jews,” Bookbinder said in the WJW article.

Laurence Henry

Jackie Robinson with Laurence G. Henry: 1962

Laurence Henry (right) with baseball great Jackie Robinson in Baltimore in 1963.

Laurence Henry was born in Philadelphia, Pa. in 1934 as one of 11 children to Walter L. and Vera Robinson Henry who raised their sons and daughters to excel.

Henry, an African American divinity student at Howard, was part of a new generation that demanded civil rights now and didn’t have the patience for incremental change that was advocated by many of the movement’s elder leaders.

During the Glen Echo picketing of 1960, Henry attended a meeting on civil rights sponsored by the NAACP in Washington, D.C. that was attended by a number of prominent leaders and celebrities. Jibreel Khazan, one of the Greensboro Four, remembered in a 1979 interview that Henry stood up and said,

I did not come here to drink tea and speak sympathy. I came here to get involved with rights for my people.”

Henry then left the room. Khazan related that people in the room were baffled. They simply had no understanding of what Henry was trying to say. But Henry gave meaning to the words through his actions.

100 Hour Picket at the Hiser Theater in Bethesda, MD: 1960

100 hour picket at the Hiser Theater July 1960.

Henry led other desegregation efforts in Montgomery County that summer, joining Rockville residents led by the Rev. Cecil Bishop in a sit-in at the Hi-Boy Restaurant July 9 that resulted in 25 arrests, but also in desegregation of the restaurant two weeks later.

After four arrests at the Hiser Theater in Bethesda, Henry led a 100-hour picket line July 26-28 to protest the theaters refusal to permit African Americans to view films.

The Civil Rights Bill of 1960

U.S. Senate Democratic and Republican leadership collaborated to pass a weak voting rights bill in 1960. Amendments to make the bill meaningful such as providing for the U.S. Attorney General to file for civil injunctions against officials committing rights violations or for a permanent Commission on Equal Job Opportunity were tabled or defeated by with bi-partisan votes.

NAACP lobbyist Clarence Mitchell wrote, “The Civil Rights Bill passed by Congress failed to meet the NAACP’s standard of a meaningful civil rights bill…” After the bill passed, the Democratic Party adopted a platform at their Presidential nominating convention July 11-15 that contained many of the measures they had fought against adding to the bill. Presidential nominee Sen. John F. Kennedy and vice-presidential nominee Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson were thereby then forced to run on a platform they both opposed.

Bible Answers Race Hate at Sit-In: Arlington VA, 1960

American Nazi Party members and supporters confront Laurence Henry (right) and another protestor during an Arlington sit-in June 9, 1960.

Rights advocates, however, were buoyed by the platform that was not watered down like the usual planks on civil rights.

Republican Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen saw an opening to embarrass Kennedy and Johnson and introduced a series of civil rights measures including federal aid for school districts that voluntarily desegregated and a measure that would establish an agency to enforce equal job opportunity.

Both Kennedy and Johnson, the Senate majority leader, reacted quickly. Kennedy felt he could ill-afford to alienate southern Democrats whom he believed he needed to win the presidency.

Harris Wofford, brought into the Democratic presidential campaign to win the African American vote, devised a strategy for a grand bargain whereby the Democrats would make raising the minimum wage in 1960 their centerpiece while promising civil rights leaders that major rights legislation would be the first order of business for a new Kennedy administration. In the meantime, they would kill the Dirksen initiatives.

They quickly signed up Democratic U.S. Senators and Representatives to support the plan and enlisted liberal Sen. Joseph S. Clark (D-Pa.), a staunch civil rights advocate, to lead the charge. Clark moved to table Senate bill 3823. His motion was adopted by a vote of 54 to 28. This prevented any further action on the bill.

This was the only record vote on civil rights between the adoption of the party platforms and the adjournment of the 86th Congress. Both Kennedy and Johnson went on record voting against taking action on civil rights.

Many of the new civil rights activists viewed this as betrayal. Veterans like Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. and Ralph Abernathy tacitly supported Republican Richard M. Nixon for president. Dirksen had dealt a blow, but it would not prove to be a fatal one.

Henry Plans Sit-in at Democrat’s Office

Henry reacted with outrage and accused Clark of “shaking hands with the devil,” [referring to southern Democrats] when speaking at an August 14 NAACP meeting in the District of Columbia and announced his intention to lead a sit-in at Clark’s office, according to The Evening Star.

Clark denounced Henry’s remarks as “irresponsible.” Some of the Bannockburn residents moved to quickly blunt Henry. At a meeting August 15, they demanded he apologize to Clark. Henry refused–after all as he’d said earlier he wasn’t here to “drink tea and speak sympathy.”

Civil rights leaders bolster line at Glen Echo: 1960

Roy Wilkins, A. Phillip Randolph, Hyman Bookbinder, Laurence Henry and Gwendolyn Greene on picket line at Glen Echo, MD August 17, 1960.

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps cynically Bookbinder arranged for Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP, A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and William Oliver of the United Automobile Workers to walk the picket line August 17 at Glen Echo. Bookbinder was lobbying for the AFL-CIO priority of raising the minimum wage that was part of Wofford’s “grand bargain.”

Bookbinder’s show of power in bringing national rights leaders to the local struggle had its effects on local rights activists. Later in the week, a meeting was arranged between Clark and members of NAG by Bookbinder. The students gave Clark a written apology that extolled Clark as “a major figure in the battle for civil rights legislation,” according to the Washington Post. However, Henry refused to express regret for his remarks.

Henry Removed from Leadership

Montgomery mug shot photo of Laurence Henry: 1960

Laurence Henry’s mug shot from a Montgomery County MD arrest in 1960.

Members of NAG held a meeting August 19 and removed Henry from leadership and designated Howard physics student Woody Jenkins as president. Jenkins said Henry’s plan to sit-in a Clark’s office was the “height of irresponsibility.”

Henry reacted calmly when speaking to the press, “The whole thing is that they claim they haven’t had enough voice, that I’ve been dictating. They wanted to have a hand in policy making.”

But on August 21st during a speech in Washington, African American Congressman Adam Clayton Powell (D-NY) referred to Henry’s ouster and blasted, “an effort to make a certain young man in this town a captive colored man.” Powell had earlier in his talk used “captive” to mean “Uncle Tom.” Powell promised to “present the facts to the public about the people who were forcing this young man to change his stand,” according to the Afro American. Henry was present during Powell’s speech.

Henry stuck to his principles and announced his intention to continue working to desegregate Glen Echo and was quoted in the Star saying, “It’s my project, I’ll be there until the place closes,”

Henry announced plans to march from Washington to Baltimore demanding a federal court injunction against Glen Echo. Leonard Brown, a spokesperson for NAG, denounced the effort saying, “Anything he does in this fashion, he does on his own,” according to the Star. But Henry went ahead with the 12-hour overnight march to the hearing in Baltimore and a number of NAG members joined him, including Gwendolyn Britt, one of those arrested on the carousel at Glen Echo.

Victory at Glen Echo

Judge James H. Pugh Orders Subversion Probe: 1969

Judge James H. Pugh presided over the trial of Glen Echo protesters in 1960.

Picketing did in fact continue into the fall until the park closed for the season. Three days before the park closed, the Montgomery County government agreed to stop busing white children to the Crystal Pool as part of their recreation program.

The park’s owners, Abram and Samuel Baker were seemingly unmoved. “This has always been a segregated park and we intend to keep it that way,” said a park spokesperson according to the Washington Post.

Judge James H. Pugh convicted the five African American students accused of trespassing for using tickets bought by whites to board the merry-go-round. In open court, Pugh justified his decision saying,

Imagine, college students from New York and college students from other places trying to force your ideas on the way other people run their businesses.

The political pressure, however, was building as public opinion increasingly swung against the segregationists. In early 1961, Bookbinder left his job with the AFL-CIO and took a position as assistant to the Secretary of Commerce and prevailed upon new Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to get involved. Kennedy threatened park owners with revoking the lease that permitted streetcars to service the park.

First Black Children at Glen Echo: 1961

Alfred Beal (l) and Larry Murrell (r) are the first African American children to ride the Glen Echo, MD merry-go-round March 30, 1961.

Shortly afterward, the Baker brothers quietly announced that Glen Echo would open in the spring of 1961 as a desegregated facility. On March 30, 1961 Alfred Beal and Larry Murrell, both age 10, became the first African Americans to ride the carousel at the park.

The case of the five arrested on the carousel made its way to the Supreme Court where attorney Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. argued that the justices should rule the convictions for trespassing were invalid. In 1964, the Court found that Collins was acting as an agent of the County to enforce private segregation and thereby his actions were illegal when he placed the five under arrest.

Kennedy Fails to Keep Promises

Sit-In Vets Demand Civil Rights Legislation: 1960

Veterans of lunch counter sit-ins picket the White House August 15, 1960 demanding action on a civil rights bill.

After tabling the civil rights legislation, Congress also declined to pass a minimum wage increase. The legislative process had failed all participants in the Glen Echo protests in 1960.

Kennedy turned the tables on Nixon by securing much of the African American vote when Wofford convinced him to make a private phone call to Coretta Scott King in October 1960. Mrs. King was expecting a child any day while her husband languished in a Fulton County, Ga. jail. Kennedy expressed sympathy for Mrs. King’s plight and aides promptly leaked the conversation to the press.

The press asked Republican nominee Richard Nixon about King’s jailing and he responded “no comment.” King was released from jail shortly afterward and the word of Kennedy’s unprecedented phone call by a major presidential candidate and King’s subsequent release spread like wildfire through the black community.

Rev. King Sr. quickly switched his endorsement from Nixon to Kennedy and Abernathy urged African Americans to put away their Nixon buttons and vote for Kennedy. Kennedy won the 1960 election by the narrowest of margins, bolstered by an estimated 70% of the African American vote. But he quickly forgot his promise to introduce a major civil rights initiative as the first order of business for his administration.

It would be three years after his initial commitment before he put any weight behind a meaningful bill and another year before it passed Congress under President Lyndon Johnson. In the meantime, the Klan’s terrorist murders, government enforcement of segregation and police violence rained down on civil rights activists.

Henry Continues Activism

Henry continued his civil rights activism with NAG, regaining a leadership position as chair of the planning committee. A young Howard student named Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) joined NAG and began working with Henry on actions. Carmichael would go onto head SNCC and becoming the leading black power spokesperson of his era. Henry organized several hundred people to picket the White House on Nov. 8th –Election Day 1960—around four demands:

  • Compliance with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling desegregating schools.
  • Free elections in the South and Washington, D.C.
  • Complete integration of public accommodations and businesses that receive government contracts.
  • Change the Senate and House rules to remove the filibuster and other obstacles to truly meaningful civil rights laws.
Harris Wofford replies May 29, 1961 to Laurence Henry's request for a meeting.

On May 29, 1961, Harris Wofford offers to meet with Laurence Henry.

In the spring of 1961, Henry sought a White House meeting between the President’s office and direct action rights activists. He received an invitation from his old adversary Wofford who wrote,

…I have heard of your work for a long time and would personally like to meet and talk with you.

Henry later took part in the civil rights marches on Selma and in Montgomery Alabama. He also worked for several years as a freelance photographer documenting civil rights struggles and leaders like Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., growing particularly close to Malcolm.

Henry was beaten within inches of his life in Chester, Pa. by white racists while photographing 1964 civil rights demonstrations in the Philadelphia suburb.

Laurence Henry photo of Malcolm X: 1964

Laurence Henry photo of Malcolm X. Malcolm reportedly “loved it.”

He traveled to the Dominican Republic in 1965 and interviewed Lt. Col. Montest Arache who was then leading the fight against a U.S. invasion of that country. Upon his return, he was treated like an enemy by the U.S. government.

After working on the family run black-oriented publication NOW!, he soon turned back to his divinity degree and returned to Philadelphia where he became a community leader and founder and pastor of Christ Community Baptist Church in Philadelphia before he died in 1980.


Author’s notes: Many activists from that period also knew Henry by his brother Imari Obadele who, until his death in 2010, was president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Africa, an organization attempting to turn five Southern states into an independent black nation.

The effort by liberals to depose Henry was one of many such incidents in the civil rights movement that would lead many African Americans to abandon their alliance with white liberals and form a black power movement later in the decade.

The Best Cup of Coffee: Arlington, Virginia 1960

Laurence Henry (far right) joins others for a victory cup of desegregated coffee in Arlington, VA on June 23, 1960.

Time proved Laurence Henry’s stance against tabling Dirksen’s bill in 1960 correct. No major legislation was initiated by the administration until 1963 and that legislation languished in Congress for a year before it passed in the wake the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing that killed four young girls and the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, two of whom were white.

There is no doubt that white liberals contributed critical support in the immediate victory at Glen Echo. Their support, however, came with a price of inaction at a higher level. Activists in the Black Lives Matter movement today are faced with a similar quandary and must carefully consider the pros and cons of enlisting institutional support.

Sources include The Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Baltimore Afro, Ebony, The Indianapolis Recorder, Now!, The Cincinnati Herald, The Gazette, Washington Jewish Week, The Civil Rights Digital Library, The Clarence Mitchell Papers, and The Global Non-Violent Action Database, among others.


ADDENDUM I

Seeds of the Black Power Movement

Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) Delivering a Speech: 1965

Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) in 1965.

The federal government continued its ambivalent commitment to civil rights, sometimes intervening in local cases, but declining to take a comprehensive approach after the 1960 elections.

NAG continued its activism and in the fall of 1960 and a freshman named Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) joined the Non-Violent Action Group that was by then affiliated with the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee. H. Rap Brown (later Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin) also joined. Both would become chairs of SNCC and black power advocates.

Carmichael (Ture) leads sit-in at RFK's office: 1962

Stokely Carmichael (3rd from left) leads a sit in at Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy’s office March 16, 1962.

Carmichael worked with Henry following the latter’s removal from leadership of NAG and was undoubtedly aware of Henry’s desire to confront Democrats who paid lip service to civil rights progress while taking no action.

Where Henry was thwarted in 1960, Carmichael seized the opportunity to do so in February 1962 when NAG activist Dion Diamond was arrested for “criminal anarchy” (attempting to overthrow the government) for attempting to speak at Southern University in Louisiana. Carmichael organized a sit-in at U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s office and was forcibly evicted, but drew attention to the passive nature of the federal government in the face of brutal repression and use of state apparatus in the suppression of civil rights.

SNCC Chair Censored in 1963

March on Washington: 1963

Tents are ready for March on Washington Aug. 27, 1963.

Liberal attempts to restrain and utilize the African American civil rights movement for their own purposes were widespread and the most publicized incident occurred when the Kennedy administration insisted on censoring Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee chair John Lewis speech at the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom.

The Kennedy administration shifted positions from trying to ignore civil rights to finding a way to co-opt the movement into support for the administration. Administration liaison Burke Marshall demanded support for a weak Kennedy civil rights initiative and insisted that Lewis drop references to marching through the south like Sherman.

Protest organizers faced a larger problem when copies of SNCC Chairman John Lewis’ speech were circulated. In the prepared text, Lewis expressed opposition to an administration backed civil rights bill, derided those who urged patience and talked about “the revolution is at hand.” There was particularly strong objection to this passage:

We will march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own ‘scorched earth’ policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground – nonviolently. We shall fragment the South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of democracy.

Patrick O’Boyle, the archbishop of Washington, who was scheduled to deliver the invocation, objected to Lewis’ speech and threatened to not only walk out, but to take all Catholics with him if the speech was given. John Lewis said he would deliver the speech as written or not at all.

Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers told coalition members,

If John Lewis feels strongly that he wants to make this speech, he can go someplace else and make it, but he has no right to make it here because if he tries to make it he destroys the integrity of our coalition and he drives people out of the coalition who agree to the principles…This is just immoral and he has no right to do it, and I demand a vote right now because I have to call the archbishop.

Lewis dropped the incendiary words and gave a modified speech, but the incident galvanized resentment by black activists toward white liberals. Within a few years, Willie Ricks and Carmichael were popularizing the slogan “Black Power” in 1966 and a large segment of the African American civil rights movement broke away from white liberal influence.


ADDENDUM II

Recognition of the Murdered

The following is a partial list of those murdered by others seeking continued subjugation of black people from the time of inaction on the Dirksen amendments until the 1968 Fair Housing Act was enacted. It is excerpted from a longer list compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

September 25, 1961 · Liberty, Mississippi

Herbert Lee, who worked with civil rights leader Bob Moses to help register black voters, was killed by a state legislator who claimed self-defense and was never arrested. Louis Allen, a black man who witnessed the murder, was later also killed.

April 9, 1962 · Taylorsville, Mississippi

Cpl. Roman Ducksworth Jr., a military police officer stationed in Maryland, was on leave to visit his sick wife when he was ordered off a bus by a police officer and shot dead. The police officer may have mistaken Ducksworth for a “freedom rider” who was testing bus desegregation laws.

September 30, 1962 · Oxford, Mississippi

Paul Guihard, a reporter for a French news service, was killed by gunfire from a white mob during protests over the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi.

April 23, 1963 · Attalla, Alabama William Lewis Moore, a postman from Baltimore, was shot and killed during a one-man march against segregation. Moore had planned to deliver a letter to the governor of Mississippi urging an end to intolerance.

June 12, 1963 · Jackson, Mississippi Medgar Evers, who directed NAACP operations in Mississippi, was leading a campaign for integration in Jackson when he was shot and killed by a sniper at his home.

September 15, 1963 · Birmingham, Alabama Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were getting ready for church services when a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing all four of the school-age girls. The church had been a center for civil rights meetings and marches.

September 15, 1963 · Birmingham, Alabama Virgil Lamar Ware, 13, was riding on the handlebars of his brother’s bicycle when he was fatally shot by white teenagers. The white youths had come from a segregationist rally held in the aftermath of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.

January 31, 1964 · Liberty, Mississippi Louis Allen, who witnessed the murder of civil rights worker Herbert Lee, endured years of threats, jailings and harassment. He was making final arrangements to move north on the day he was killed.

March 23, 1964 · Jacksonville, Florida Johnnie Mae Chappell was murdered as she walked along a roadside. Her killers were white men looking for a black person to shoot following a day of racial unrest.

April 7, 1964 · Cleveland, Ohio Rev. Bruce Klunder was among civil rights activists who protested the building of a segregated school by placing their bodies in the way of construction equipment. Klunder was crushed to death when a bulldozer backed over him.

May 2, 1964 · Meadville, Mississippi Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore were killed by Klansmen who believed the two were part of a plot to arm blacks in the area. (There was no such plot.) Their bodies were found during a massive search for the missing civil rights workers Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.

June 21, 1964 · Philadelphia, Mississippi James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner, young civil rights workers, were arrested by a deputy sheriff and then released into the hands of Klansmen who had plotted their murders. They were shot, and their bodies were buried in an earthen dam.

JULY 2, 1964 Civil Rights Act

July 18, 1965 · Anniston, Alabama Willie Brewster was on his way home from work when he was shot and killed by white men. The men belonged to the National States Rights Party, a violent neo-Nazi group whose members had been involved in church bombings and murders of blacks.

AUGUST 6, 1965 VOTING RIGHTS ACT

August 20, 1965 · Hayneville, Alabama Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal Seminary student in Boston, had come to Alabama to help with black voter registration in Lowndes County. He was arrested at a demonstration, jailed in Hayneville and then suddenly released. Moments after his release, he was shot to death by a deputy sheriff.

January 3, 1966 · Tuskegee, Alabama Samuel Leamon Younge Jr., a student civil rights activist, was fatally shot by a white gas station owner following an argument over segregated restrooms.

January 10, 1966 · Hattiesburg, Mississippi Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer, a wealthy businessman, offered to pay poll taxes for those who couldn’t afford the fee required to vote. The night after a radio station broadcasted Dahmer’s offer, his home was firebombed. Dahmer died later from severe burns.

June 10, 1966 · Natchez, Mississippi Ben Chester White, who had worked most of his life as a caretaker on a plantation, had no involvement in civil rights work. He was murdered by Klansmen who thought they could divert attention from a civil rights march by killing a black person.

July 30, 1966 · Bogalusa, Louisiana Clarence Triggs was a bricklayer who had attended civil rights meetings sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality. He was found dead on a roadside, shot through the head.

February 27, 1967 · Natchez, Mississippi Wharlest Jackson, the treasurer of his local NAACP chapter, was one of many blacks who received threatening Klan notices at his job. After Jackson was promoted to a position previously reserved for whites, a bomb was planted in his car. It exploded minutes after he left work one day, killing him instantly.

May 12, 1967 · Jackson, Mississippi Benjamin Brown, a former civil rights organizer, was watching a student protest from the sidelines when he was hit by stray gunshots from police who fired into the crowd.

February 8, 1968 · Orangeburg, South Carolina Samuel Ephesians Hammond Jr., Delano Herman Middleton and Henry Ezekial Smith were shot and killed by police who fired on student demonstrators at the South Carolina State College campus.

April 4, 1968 · Memphis, Tennessee Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister, was a major architect of the Civil Rights Movement. He led and inspired major non-violent desegregation campaigns, including those in Montgomery and Birmingham. He won the Nobel peace prize. He was assassinated as he prepared to lead a demonstration in Memphis.

APRIL 11, 1968 FAIR HOUSING ACT


Want to see and read more?

See more photos of the Glen Echo protests

See more photos of the Arlington restaurant sit-ins

Read about NAG member Dion Diamond and see more images

See more images related to Laurence Henry

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