Archive | 1960-1969 RSS feed for this section

The D.C. black liberation movement seen through the life of Reginald H. Booker

28 Jan
Booker forcefully denounces D.C. freeway plan: 1970

Reginald Booker at a 1970 D.C. Council hearing.

By Craig G. Simpson

Reginald Harvey Booker was an activist and later a revolutionary leader of many social justice movements from the mid 1950s through the 1970s in the District of Columbia; involved in early desegregation struggles, the anti-Vietnam War movement, anti-freeway and pro Metro construction battles, black worker rights and anti-police brutality efforts, among a myriad of other rights battles.

He was the target of a CIA, FBI and District of Columbia police spying and disruption campaign from at least 1968 through 1972.

Booker is sometimes briefly credited for his work in the anti-freeway battles, but died with no fanfare in 2015. He had no Washington Post obituary and has no Wikipedia page, yet he played a vital role in many of the pivotal civil rights and black liberation struggles in the District of Columbia during that era.

Warning—This is a long post that runs over 100 printed pages.

Early Life

Southwest D.C. prior to ‘Negro removal:’ 1949

4th Street SW in 1949 near Booker’s childhood home before Southwest was razed for urban renewal.

Reginald Booker was born in Philadelphia, Pa. June 20, 1941 and his family moved to Washington, D.C. when he was nine years old to 360 N Street SW where he attended Bowen Elementary School. It was at this time that Booker became aware of racial discrimination and Jim Crow in the District of Columbia.[1][2]

“I didn’t know anything about segregated schools until our family moved to Washington, D.C….next door to me lived a white family that had a little boy. We used to play together,” Booker said in a 1970 interview.

“I began to realize when I got in the sixth grade that for whatever reason blacks and whites did not attend the same school.”[3]

Urban renewal in southwest Washington forced Booker’s family to move and they settled in a home at 459 Luray Place in the Parkview neighborhood a few blocks from the Washington Hospital Center.[4]

“When I was in the seventh grade I was attending Shaw Junior High School, I became acutely aware that blacks and whites did not attend the same schools because they claimed blacks were inferior or something like that,”

“This is where I really became socially conscious when I hit seventh grade at Shaw Junior High School. Because at that time I was at Shaw the Supreme Court handed down their ’54 decision. I remember teachers had reminded us how to behave; watch our manners when we went to an integrated school.”[5]

Adolescent Activism

Youth March on Washington for Civil Rights: 1958

The 1958 Youth March on D.C.

When he was 13, he attended his first demonstrations for rights when he walked from his house to a picket line protesting Jim Crow at a Woolworth’s lunch counter at 14th Street and Park Road NW.[6]

By the time he was 16, he joined national marches in the city led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Dr. King used to make a lot of appearances in Washington speaking at rallies. I used to attend them,” Booker recalled.[7]

King led a series of national demonstrations beginning with the 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom that drew upwards of 25,000 people to call on President Dwight Eisenhower to enforce the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decisions finding segregated public schools illegal.

King followed up with the 1958 and 1959 youth marches for the same purpose and these run-ups to the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom cemented his national leadership of the civil rights movement and gained valuable experience staging mass demonstrations.

Booker also began reading and raising his consciousness.

“When I was in junior high school I read the Communist Manifesto. I have read it several times since then. I began to really become aware of what was going on. I’ve always been an avid reader,” Booker remembered.[8]

Booker graduated from Roosevelt High School in June 1961 where he played football as an offensive lineman.[9]

Critique of white supremacy at D.C. schools

Reginald Booker at Roosevelt High School: 1957

Reginald Booker (front row, far left) in 1957 at Roosevelt High School.

Booker spoke to Afro American reporter Chuck Stone by phone in December 1961 after an article on white supremacist practices in the District schools, including Roosevelt, was published in the Afro.

Stone interviewed Rosa K. Weiner, a white Fulbright Scholar and honors graduate of Radcliffe College, who had been a teacher at Western and Roosevelt high schools before resigning in protest of their racist practices.

Based on the interview, Stone wrote that “Several high school administrators repeatedly made derogatory statements about colored people, defended segregation in the District school system, called all colored students ‘potential criminals,” and referred to colored people as ‘coons,’” according to Weiner.

Booker, who had only graduated months before, confirmed the central charges made by Weiner.

School administrator accused of white supremacy: 1961

Vice principal Walter E. Horn.

Booker was quoted as saying, “Everything you wrote in that article was true. The white teachers at Roosevelt gave Miss Wiener a hard time because she treated the colored students decently. There were all kinds of racial segregation at Roosevelt because of [assistant principals] Mr. [Walter E.] Horn and Mrs. [Erna R.] Chapman.”

Stone said that Booker confirmed details of Wiener’s account including the barring black students from the stage crew and the refusal to permit black students to work in the school bank. “They let everybody work in the bank even Chinese, but no colored girls,” said Booker.

However, Stone said it was Booker who offered the sharpest indictment of the school system:

Vice principal accused of white supremacy: 1961

Roosevelt High School vice principal Erna R. Chapman.

“The basic track system operates. Even when colored students make “A’s” and “B’s,” they are still never promoted out of the basic track. Many white teachers are racially prejudiced against them and colored students just don’t have a chance to improve.”[10]

In perhaps his first public speaking engagement, Booker attended an April 9, 1963 hearing on reinstating corporal punishment in the schools and a policy permitting expulsion of students with disciplinary problems that was proposed by superintendent Carl Hansen.

Despite the overwhelming sentiment at the hearing in favor of the proposal, Booker testified against it, saying that Hansen’s plan “would only build resentment” among students.[11]

Booker joins CORE

Marchers demand job & housing equality in DC: 1963

A 1963 CORE demonstration in D.C.

After graduating from high school, Booker became involved with the local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) that was then headed by Julius Hobson. CORE took direct action to break down segregation in this period prior to the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“CORE at that time was the only organization that was doing anything in Washington,” Booker said.[12]

In the early 1960s, there were few shopping areas outside of downtown Washington, D.C. The commercial district was concentrated along 7th Street NW and F Street NW where department stores like Woodward and Lothrop, Kann’s, Garfinkel’s, the Hecht Company and Lansburgh’s were located along with a host of specialty stores.

The lunch counters and restaurants downtown were mostly integrated for customers during the Mary Church Terrell-led picketing and lawsuit of the early 1950s,[13] but employment remained largely segregated with better paying jobs reserved for whites.

“CORE integrated all of the department stores downtown. As I remember we picketed all of the department stores.”[14]

CORE picked up in 1961-62 where a group of ministers had left off in 1959, putting pressure on selective downtown stores to do meaningful hiring and promotion of black workers, using tactics of picketing, boycotts and the issuance of a “Christmas Selective Buying List” that named stores that had meaningful de-segregation policies.[15][16]

The group had success reaching agreements with Hecht’s, Lansburgh’s, Woodward & Lothrop, Kann’s, Jelleff’s, Hahn’s Shoe Store, Bond Clothes, Raleigh’s Haberdasher, William Allen Shoes, among others.[17][18][19]

Lansburgh’s was among the toughest to crack and picket lines lasted several months. The downtown store employed 1,000 workers of whom about 200 were black, but only 11 were sales clerks and 17 were in clerical jobs at the time of the picketing and boycott.[20]

Hospital desegregation

Black doctors fight hospital discrimination: 1960

1960 conference on integrating District of Columbia hospitals.

CORE also turned its attention to desegregating hospitals and began its effort at the one that almost cast a shadow on Booker’s home.

“CORE broke up discrimination in the hospitals in the District of Columbia in terms of segregating patients by race in rooms. I remember very specifically we started in the Washington Hospital Center. They’d had an admission policy segregating black and white patients according to race.”[21]

Black doctors organized through the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Washington and the Imhotep conference had pushed for admitting privileges and integrating patients, but did not engage in direct action.[22] CORE protests began at the WHC June 11, 1964[23] and days later seven were arrested for staging a sit-in in the main lobby.[24]

Tim Coleman, a spokesperson for the hospital at the time, acknowledged the practice, “The Hospital does separate its patients by race when it creates an emotional environment that contributes to the recovery of the patient.”[25]

Within a few more days of picketing, the hospital gave in and reached a settlement with the NAACP, CORE and the Urban League to assign rooms without regard to race. The agreement was brokered by hospital trustee Gilbert Hahn and called for an end to picketing and the dropping of charges against the seven arrested.[26]

“Then the rest of the hospitals began to fall in line,” Booker said.[27]

CORE began picketing Casualty Hospital next and reached an agreement similar to the Hospital Center July 17th[28]. Columbia Hospital for Women voluntarily complied before picketing started.[29]

Hobson fired from CORE

Hobson seeks D.C. Delegate post: 1971

Julius Hobson in 1971.

Prior to the hospital pickets, Hobson had been pressuring the school system to improve education for black children and charged that 10 years after the Bolling v. Sharpe decision outlawing segregation in District public schools that black children were still segregated and getting inferior education.

In March 1964, he called for a one-day school boycott on April 30th and a week-long series of pickets and civil disobedience.[30] Almost immediately mainstream civil rights organizations condemned the boycott [31]

Hobson, after meeting with school Superintendent Carl F. Hansen, later called off the boycott saying that Hansen committed to 90 percent of what he [Hobson] was trying to achieve, but vowed to monitor school system progress.[32]

Hobson’s leadership at D.C. CORE had been under attack from a group of dissidents that accused him of “undemocratic procedures.” He had been re-elected the previous month to head the local group, but James Farmer, the national director, removed Hobson and placed the local CORE chapter in receivership during the time the hospital pickets were ongoing. For a brief time two groups claiming to be D.C. CORE were staging pickets.[33]

Booker on Hobson’s firing

CORE leader James Farmer: 1963 ca.

CORE national leader James Farmer in 1963.

Booker explained that he thought Hobson was expelled for stepping on the toes of powerful people that funded moderate civil rights organizations.

“Well, under the leadership of Julius Hobson—the reason I keep stressing Hobson’s name is because Julius Hobson was the only black person in Washington at that time who had the courage to do anything public and take what was then considered a radical or revolutionary position about the position of black people in this city.”

“CORE advocated a school boycott and at that time after CORE advocated a school boycott, and after CORE attacked the hospital policies here, for whatever reasons Julius Hobson was dismissed from CORE by James Farmer, who at that time was the national director of CORE.”

“A lot of people who sit on the board of directors of these hospitals are the big named people [who] are also involved in getting finances to CORE.”

“Also when CORE advocated a school boycott here it really scared a lot of people. You see it really speaks to whether or not at that time James Farmer or people like him were really sincere and committed to carry this struggle as far as it could go…”

Formation of ACT

Gloria Richardson Dandridge returns to Cambridge: 1967

Gloria Richardson Dandridge in 1967.

“[Hobson] subsequently formed a group called ACT, A-C-T. I went along with Hobson pretty well with Charles Cassell…who was also very active in CORE and very active in the group called ACT that we formed.”[34]

Direct action advocates such as Gloria Richardson from Cambridge, Md.,; Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (D-N.Y.); Jessica Gray of Harlem, N.Y.; Stanley Branch of Chester, Pa.; and activist comedian Dick Gregory all attempted to form a national ACT organization along with Hobson. Malcolm X sent a representative to the initial meeting.[35][36]

“So it was really the people who were really acting in terms of being publicly active in taking radical positions, or committing radical or revolutionary acts,” Booker said.[37]

ACT never really took off on a national level although Hobson continued to lead the organization for several years locally.

Booker explains his viewpoint on why civil rights organizations generally faltered in the wake of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the belief of many that demonstrations were no longer necessary.

“I really don’t think the civil rights bill did, for all practical purposes, didn’t help out the masses of black people.”

“I think there was a lot of publicity, a lot of fanfare surrounding the civil rights bill, because the people who pushed the civil rights bill, which the civil rights bill was a liberal piece of legislation—they wanted to make the black people believe that this was going to cure all, when in fact the civil rights bill hasn’t solved anything.”

“I don’t think there was a long rang perspective in terms of this being a protracted struggle, in terms of this being an international struggle.”[38]

First leadership role

District Action for Racial Equality (DARE): 1963

The Washington Post August 17, 1963.

In 1963 while still working with Hobson within CORE, Booker joined with other activists to form the District Action for Racial Equality (DARE) as a direct action civil rights group focused on issues east of the Anacostia River.

Booker would become chair of the relatively small group.

DARE was one of the few District rights groups that supported Hobson’s call for a school boycott {along with the local SNCC chapter and Americans for Democratic Action).[39]

The group targeted the American Security and Trust Bank for picketing August 16, 1963 charging that only 73 out of more than 1,000 employees were black and only 11 of the black workers were in jobs above the blue collar level.[40]

The group also intervened in a planned eviction of eight people from a Barry Farms apartment in August 1963 after the District Welfare Department withheld assistance checks. DARE won a delay in the eviction until the mother, daughter, her sister and five children could find another place to live. DARE also expedited the payment of the withheld checks.[41]

The younger woman’s welfare was cut off because of an alleged violation of the “man in the house rule” where it was then presumed that if a man lived in the house he was taking care of the children and welfare payments were cut off. In this case the man was not the children’s father and under no legal obligation to support them.[42]

Booker and another DARE member worked on this case and brought four other Barry Farms residents to the meeting with the Welfare Department to discuss the case and related grievances.[43]

The “man in the house rule” was particularly onerous because it forced families to make a decision between splitting up to receive assistance or going without food and housing.

DARE also joined with SNCC to hold a “freedom rally” at the St. Phillip’s Episcopal Church on Shannon Place SE in Anacostia where the organizers told residents to hold rent strikes and public demonstrations to begin to address the issues plaguing the community.[44]

The rally was, in part, designed to build for a January 31, 1964 rally at the District Building the next day where, “Some 70 singing, marching students picketed the District Building…and demanded a ‘War on Poverty—Not on the Poor,’” according to the Evening Star.[45]

The protesters, organized by DARE, CORE and the Non-Violent Action Group (the SNCC affiliate at Howard), issued a flyer demanding “The city must have rent control and must create jobs by building hospitals, schools and low-cost housing that are needed.”[46]

In response to a District Commissioners order against discrimination in the sale or rental of housing, speakers promised to utilize this order in their fight against evictions by threatening to take black residents evicted from their homes and relocate them to white areas [47]

Drafted into the Army

Fort Jackson recruits at boot camp: 1965 ca.

Army recruits at boot camp at Fort Jackson, S.C. circa 1965.

Booker was drafted into the U.S. Army in January 1965 where he was initially stationed at Fort Jackson, S.C.[48]

Booker was immediately faced with white supremacy in the service.

“Racism was very apparent, and very rampant in Columbia, S.C. for black soldiers… black soldiers could only go certain places in Columbia, S.C.”[49]

Booker went on to recount what led to a fight between black and white soldiers in his barracks.

‘They always had fights between black and white troops…see most of your non-commissioned officers in the army are white sergeants and a large percentage of them hail from the south. They still had their same rigid attitudes about black people, whether or not you were a solider.”

“I was involved in a race fight in our barracks where we lived then. I remember specifically, in the building that we lived we had approximately forty-four whites and we only had five blacks. Four brothers slept downstairs and one slept upstairs. One night the brother that was going upstairs was getting ready to go to bed, and they told him they didn’t want anymore ‘niggas’ sleeping upstairs.”[50]

After a few months at Fort Jackson, Booker was sent to Fort Hood, Texas.

“I was sent to Fort Hood, Texas; which is not too far from Dallas, Texas, which is notoriously racist. For example, right outside of the base at Fort Hood, Texas black soldiers could not go into certain restaurants…even though the Defense Department is supposed to put off limits, the establishment [that] does not serve all people.”[51]

After Fort Hood, Booker spent 18 months at Fort Sill, Oklahoma where he continued his civil rights activism as an active duty soldier.

Civil rights activist in the service

Protest amusement park that barred black soldiers: 1966

Protest at the Lawton, Ok. amusement park in 1966.

“After being stationed in Fort Hood, Texas, I was sent to Fort Sill, Oklahoma at which time I joined a local branch of the NAACP at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Because in the town, which is called Lawton, Oklahoma, there was an amusement park that was segregated, and they refused to admit black people to the park, including black soldiers.”

“On this basis, we used to picket and demonstrate at the park, the local branch of the NAACP which I was a member of and which I participated in actively.”[52]

Refused to go to Vietnam

When orders came for Booker’s unit to go to Vietnam, Booker refused.

“I was in a company that was predominately black. It was called an Ammo Company, and was scheduled to go to Vietnam. As a matter of fact, the company did go, but I didn’t go because I refused to go to Vietnam.”[53]

Booker explains at length his opposition to the Vietnam War was based on the concept of self-determination of nations and his view that the U.S. waged war against peoples of color in some excerpts from the 1970 interview.

“I think the whole question of Vietnam beside from being [a] military question [is] the question of self-determination…It’s not up to the United States to decide who’s going to rule Vietnam.”

“I think the whole war in Vietnam is a racial war…but I think if we look at the war In Vietnam we can see American troops—black troops in the United States Army in Vietnam constitute approximately 11 percent of the combat troops. They constitute at least 45 percent of the combat deaths.”

“The war is a race war. When the United States invaded Cambodia it was on the first picture that went out on UPI [United Press International], the picture of black soldiers with weapons on the Cambodians. Those Cambodians looked a lot like you and I…That’s a classic example where the white man is pitting black people against black people.”

“I think just on the subject of warfare if we look at the last two wars this country has fought, or been involved in on a major scale, they’ve been against non-white nations.”

“If we go back to the Korean War that’s still not settled, because they’ve only reached a truce at the 38th parallel. Once again the United States against an Asian country. Once again the United States psychologically partitioned Korea and called one part North Korea and one part South Korea.”

“Psychologically in the minds of people the United States has done the same thing in Vietnam. They call one part…North Vietnam and one part South Vietnam, because the United States found out that after France was defeated at the battle of Dienbienphu that Ho Chi Minh who [would] have been the popular elected president of Vietnam, the United States didn’t want that because they want to control Vietnam economically and militarily.”

“Okay we go back to the Japanese-American War. The United States had already won the war against Japan. It was not necessary to drop the atomic bomb on Japan. The reason the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Japan was to tell the non-white world that we cannot be beaten; we are invincible.”

Fort Hood 3 announce refusal to go to Vietnam: 1966

The Fort Hood 3 publicly refuse orders for Vietnam-1966.

Booker explains why he thinks he was not disciplined for his refusal to go to Vietnam with his company.”

“So at the time I was in the Army this anti-Vietnam sentiment just began to surface in the Army. I don’t think they really knew how to deal with it. Plus the situation of the fact that soldiers were sort of touchy, they didn’t want to, at least on that level, do anything to the black solider that would sort of incite other black soldiers to take the same action.”

“After I got out of the service then they began to take a hard line…position. Then soldiers, both black and white, began to express their views more in terms of being opposed to the war in Vietnam.”[54]

Booker was honorably discharged in January 1967.[55]

School Boycott

D.C. School Superintendent Carl Hansen: 1961

D.C. school superintendent Carl Hansen in 1961.

Booker immediately thrust himself headlong into civil rights work upon his return to civilian life; rejoining ACT and Julius Hobson with whom he had corresponded during his time in the service.[56]

Hobson had not given up on driving Superintendent Hansen out of office and improving public education in the District of Columbia.

The D.C. Board of Education implemented two policies that Hobson targeted–an optional-transfer zones system and a track system that Booker had identified earlier.

The first gave residents “the option of transferring from nearby schools that were overcrowded and predominantly Negro to more distant schools that were integrated or predominantly white,” while the second placed students “in tracks or curriculum levels according to the school’s assessment of each student’s ability to learn.”[57]

Ability to learn was based on IQ tests and the recommendations of school personnel and which turned out later to be highly biased against lower socio-economic groups and against black students in particular.

If a student was placed in the “general” or “basic” track, they had no access to college preparatory courses.[58]

When Hobson’s daughter was placed in a “basic” track, he filed a class action suit against Hansen.[59]

While the suit was pending, the D.C. School Board re-appointed Hansen to another three-year term.

Booker to organize students

Booker organizer for student school boycott: 1967

The March 26, 1967 Washington Free Press lists Booker as organizer for the students.

ACT decided on a school boycott—the tactic that Hobson had been forced to abandon three years earlier by the opposition of other black leaders. Hobson appointed Booker as the organizer for student participation in the boycott.[60]

ACT held a meeting at the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Anacostia March 29, 1967 where Hobson held a boycott planning session for about 35 people.

Booker, who had six years earlier blown the whistle on the track system, led 20 participants to a meeting about the future of Shaw Junior High School to publicize the call for a May 1st boycott of classes.

Booker and his compatriots disrupted the packed meeting of 275 people that Hansen attended, passing out flyers that called for the boycott protesting the re-appointment of Hansen.[61]

School administrators retaliated by threatening students with expulsion according to student leaders. One student was prevented by police from distributing flyers at Amidon Elementary School.[62]

William Richmond, an Anacostia student who headed a newly formed student high school group charged school officials used “serious intimidation” to stop activities related to the boycott. Richmond said that “some of us who haven’t gotten our recommendations for college yet are pretty worried.”[63]

Just prior to the boycott, Hansen circulated a memo to teachers and parents “hinting that grades might be lowered if they skipped classes,” according to the Washington Post.[64]

On the day of the boycott, ACT broadcast a four-hour “Freedom School” TV program for elementary school students and held a rally at the Sylvan Theater attended by several hundred people who later picketed at Eastern High School.

School system supplied figures showed about 1,200 absences higher than normal, concentrated in the Shaw area.  Hansen celebrated the relatively low number, but his merriment was short-lived.[65]

Hobson studies landmark D. C. school ruling: 1967

Hobson studies Judge Wright’s decision with attorney Bill Higgs.

On June 19, 1967 Judge J. Skelly Wright ruled in Hobson’s favor finding that “the Superintendent of Schools and the members of the Board of Education, in the operation of the public school system here, unconstitutionally deprive the District’s Negro and poor public school children of their right to equal educational opportunity with the District’s white and more affluent public school children.”[66]

The school board declined to appeal. Hansen quit as superintendent and attempted to appeal the decision, but the courts denied the appeal. Hobson had won his greatest victory with Booker at his side.[67][68][69]

Anti-Vietnam War

Reginald Booker urges end to war in Vietnam: 1967

Reginald Booker speaking at a July 15, 1967 antiwar rally in D.C.

Shortly after the school boycott ended, the Washington Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE) held a rally on the grounds of the Washington Monument July 15, 1967 where Booker was one of the speakers.[70]

From the beginning of the antiwar movement, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and other relatively radical black organizations participated jointly in the antiwar movement with white activists.

As late as May 16, 1967, SNCC Chair Stokely Carmichael spoke at a local MOBE rally at Lincoln Memorial Temple where he told the half black, half white crowd that he was going to “build a war resistance movement or die trying.”[71]

Booker took the stage on July 15th and urged black women to have as many children as possible because “so many good black men are being killed Vietnam.”[72]

“Have them legitimately, illegitimately, any way you can have them,” he said referring to his belief in the war being genocide against black men.[73]

However, as black nationalism gained sway within the civil rights movement, more radical black groups began shunning the predominantly white anti-war movement and staging their own anti-Vietnam War protests.

Booker views on war and protests

Howard Students Confront Draft Director in Viet Protest: 1967

Howard students confront Selective Service chief Lewis Hershey in 1967.

Booker was among those who came to advocate this path and explained his thoughts in these excerpts from a 1970 interview.

“I personally think that black people should not be involved in coalitions [with] white people against the war. I think if white people in their own community want to support projects within the black community, that’s up to them. White people can take parallel action.”

“I do think it’s politically incorrect for black people not to take a position against the war. See what’s happening in the black community is that black people got caught up not working with the white man. So they don’t want to be opposed to the war because they would have been identified with working with the white man.”

“I was looking at a story in the National Observer where it said black college students…were becoming more practical. We can’t be concerned about the war ‘cause we’re still having problems at home.”

“In fact the war is based on race, and when in fact the war is designed to take off a certain segment of the unemployed black male population as well as the employed black population. This includes brothers who are coming out of college.”

“So black people got trapped, with not working with the white man they got trapped in not taking a political position against the war. I’ve heard many African brothers say man, no, we can’t work with the white man. You don’t have to worry about him, man. Let’s take a unified position against the war in the black community.”

“Now you remember when Dr. King came out against the war Roy Wilkins and these other so-called status Negroes attacked Dr. King’s position against the war. Roy Wilkins told Dr. King that [he should be] concerned about civil rights matters in the United States, and don’t worry about getting involved in international politics.”

“Dr. King could see, and he was moving along on another level of being publicly opposed to the war because of race. Because Dr. King was such a popular leader he could have attracted a mass following, not only among blacks, but among whites to oppose the war.”

“That’s one of the reasons I contend that he was killed; that he was moving toward that level. The white man saw the danger of him taking a public position against the war, knowing that if the black community being more attuned to what was going on in Asia would fall in line behind Dr King.”[74]

Antiwar actions

Panther Donald Cox at WUST: 1969

Black Panther Donald Cox speaks at the Veterans Day 1969 black antiwar rally at WUST radio station.

On April 26, 1968 Booker, a steering committee member of the Black United Front, spoke before a rally at Banneker Field by the Washington Black Anti-War Anti-Draft Union and told the crowd, “Let’s not die in Vietnam. Let’s die right here and take some these crackers with us—a drop of blood for a drop of blood, a life for a life.”

“The Viet Cong never built segregated schools or blew up churches in Birmingham, Ala., or called me a nigger. So the Viet Cong is not my enemy.”

“They’ll say a lot of this talk is revolution, but back in 1776, the white man had his revolution, and he didn’t say no prayers or sing no songs—he just took up arms,” Booker said to applause.[75][76]

The group numbering between 150-250 high school and college students then marched to the Selective Service headquarters on F Street NW.

On July 27th Booker, speaking for the Black United Front, once again took the stage with white antiwar activists—this time with Marcus Raskin of the Institute for Policy Studies and Michael Ambrose of the Federal Employees for a Democratic Society.

The event was billed as an anti-Humphrey “speak-out” in advance of the 1968 Democratic Convention and the antiwar protests that took place there.[77]Humphrey, the presumptive Democratic nominee and Richard Nixon, the presumptive Republican nominee had virtually identical positions on the Vietnam War.

Vietnam Moratoriums

Black students clash with police at White House: 1969

Black students from Coolidge H.S. clash with police near the White House during the first Moratorium.

During the Vietnam Moratorium of October 15, 1969 that involved upwards of two million people in antiwar events across the country, Booker helped organize a separate black-oriented event where he joined fellow black activists Rev. Joe Gibson and John Carter at Montgomery College in Maryland for a panel discussion on the war.[78]

He took a leading part in the D.C. chapter of the Black Coalition to End the War in Vietnam rally at WUST radio station where he spoke before 400 black people on Veterans Day 1969 just prior to the second Moratorium.[79]

Booker told the crowd that the Vietnam War is “designed to kill off unemployed black males in this country.”

“Black people are losing their lives in a senseless war in Vietnam when they should be losing their lives in Watts, Harlem, and 7th Street and Florida Avenue,” Booker continued alluding to fighting for rights at home.[80]

In May 1970 after President Richard Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia and the subsequent shooting deaths of four students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard, Booker joined Julius Hobson and Rev. Joe Gibson to urge demonstrators pouring into town to be peaceful.

They noted that the demonstrators would be predominantly white while the city was predominantly black with Hobson saying “…if you don’t want martial law, and if you don’t want black people to suffer, I would urge you to try to keep this thing nonviolent.”[81]

Niggers, Inc.

Booker confronts pro-freeway speaker: 1968

Booker, representing Niggers, Inc., confronts Colclough March 13, 1968.

Sometime in 1967, Booker formed a small group to organize black Americans in Anacostia called Niggers, Inc.

He was introduced at the July 1967 antiwar rally on the Monument grounds by Herb Kelsey, another black man and director of the Washington Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, as being from Niggers, Inc.[82]

By January 1968, the group was mentioned in the press.[83]

When Booker first began testifying at public hearings on transportation that were often conducted by white liberal officials, he seemed to take pleasure in watching their reaction when the name of his organization was announced.

It is said that he once baited Adm. O. S. Colclough, an executive committee member of the Downtown Progress business group that favored freeways; challenging Colclough to say the name of his group at a March 13, 1968 meeting.[84]

It was clearly part of Booker’s “in your face” style of confrontation politics after he was discharged from the Army.

The group probably gained more publicity than it had when it was active in the late 1960s when in 1975 it was revealed by the Rockefeller Commission that the four-member group was one of the targets of the CIA’s domestic spying and disruption campaigns of Operation Merrimack and Operation Chaos.[85][86]

Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis

Abbott hits highway hypocrisy: 1970

Sammie Abbott and Reginald Booker at a 1970 freeway hearing.

In the spring of 1967, Booker, a clerk with the General Services Administration, met Sammie Abbott, a white former labor organizer, Communist Party candidate for Congress, anti-nuclear activist and at that time an anti-freeway, pro-build Metro activist who was a founding member of an organization called the Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis (ECTC).

Bob Levey and Jane Freundel Levey, who interviewed Booker in 2000, wrote that the two met at a tenants meeting called to protest conditions.

“One night in the late 1960s, Booker went to visit a friend who lived in an apartment complex along Eastern Avenue in Prince George’s County. The friend asked Booker to go with him to a tenants’ meeting, where residents were planning a protest over living conditions.”

“Booker spoke at the meeting about the need to organize and stay organized, to be vocal and stay vocal.”

“Afterward, a short, slight man approached Booker, He had a tuft of white hair and looked a bit like Mr. Magoo. The man said, ‘I liked the way you handled yourself,’ Booker recalls. ‘He invited me to his house to meet his family.”[87]

In an interview 30 years earlier, Booker remembered meeting Abbott under different circumstances.

“I got involved in the Emergency Committee [on the Transportation Crisis] in April of 1967…I remember that because I spoke at a rally on the Monument grounds in support of Muhammed Ali; that’s when I met Sam Abbott.”

“He explained to me what the Emergency Committee was and what they were trying to do. Subsequently I attended meetings off and on.”[88]

Booker’s memory in the 1970 interview doesn’t match up the dates. The rally he spoke at occurred in July 1967, but both men have passed on, making it difficult to know which version is correct.[89]

Regardless, the two would soon become a formidable team that drove public opposition to plans for freeways that would have crisscrossed the District of Columbia, dividing predominantly black neighborhoods and condemning several thousand black-owned homes for destruction.

Booker had been forced to move as a child during the massive urban renewal (often dubbed “Negro removal” by black activists} of southwest Washington that replaced black homes with what were then luxury low and high rises and federal government buildings.[90]

Booker recalled later, “Our family had already been uprooted by something we had no control over. I wasn’t going to let it happen to others.”[91]

ECTC origins

Build Rapid Rail Transit 1965

Sammie Abbott (far right) at a 1965 ECTC protest.

Freeway plans had been on the books since the mid 1950s, but didn’t gain widespread publicity until Abbott learned of plans to run the North Central Freeway through his home.

The ECTC was formed by Abbott of Takoma Park, Simon Cain of Lamont-Riggs Citizens’ Association, Thomas and Angela Rooney of Brookland Neighborhood Association and several others in 1965 spurred by the proposal to run the North Central Freeway through their neighborhoods.

The group became outraged when they realized that other proposed freeway alignments through white neighborhoods had been largely dropped from plans, leaving only planned highways that would run mainly through black communities.[92]

The 1959 freeway plans included two inner beltways through the city, and connecting freeways that crosscut the city as well as a new bridge crossing the Potomac to bring Virginia residents into the city.

Planned freeways had names like Inner Loop Freeway, Southwest Freeway, Southeast Freeway, North Central Freeway, Northeast Freeway, Potomac Freeway, Palisades Freeway, K Street Freeway, Industrial Freeway, West Leg, North Leg, East Leg and Center Leg and Three Sisters Bridge.[93][94]

The group, unlike many “not in my backyard” freeway opponents, opposed all planned freeways and didn’t seek to simply move the alignment out of their neighborhood.

Thomas Rooney, one of the founders, testified for ECTC at a National Capital Planning Commission hearing in 1967 attended by 750 people saying, “We will not accept any freeways. They are being used as instruments of racial injustice.”[95]

Instead of freeways, ECTC pushed to build the planned Washington Metro system.[96]

Cain, a black man, was the first chair of the group with Abbott serving as publicity director.

On the legal front, the group enlisted Peter S. Craig, a highly skilled attorney and a veteran of freeway battles, as their attorney.[97]

Despite its theme of racial injustice and the involvement of several black community leaders, the group could only mobilize a predominantly white, middle income crowd at public hearings and protests.[98]

Booker chair of ECTC

Anti-freeway activist Cassell speaks at Eastern High: 1968

Booker recruited Charles Cassell as a vice chair of ECTC.

Booker recalls that when he ascended to chair of the organization, it was to bring more militant leadership.

“In February 1968 I was elected chairman of the Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis. Because it was at that time it was decided the Emergency Committee needed a different type of leadership, because the past leadership was so-called moderate leadership.”

“At that time we proceeded—to put the Emergency Committee on the map, so to speak.”[99]

Booker wasted no time. In his first public statement as chair, Booker hailed a decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals to issue a February 9, 1968 temporary injunction against all D.C’s freeway plans, including acquisition of land.

“The Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis hails this decision and will redouble its efforts to unite the citizens in this fight against unwanted freeways that the highway lobby and its political stooges want to shove down our throats,” Booker said in a release.[100]

Gregory Borchardt wrote in his thesis on the D.C. civil rights movement that the ECTC then broadened its base.

“Although Abbott remained the publicity director and an essential creative force for ECTC, Booker and he worked together to develop the message and plan the campaigns.”

“ECTC also approached Marion Barry Jr. of Pride, Inc. and Charles I. Cassell of the newly formed Black United Front to serve as vice chairmen. With more prominent black leadership, ECTC began attracting a significant number of black citizens from the communities threatened by the freeways by the late 1960s.”[101]

Dynamics of race

Booker recalled that Abbott understood the dynamics of race.

“Sam had tremendous political insight and instinct. He could build a superior organization, and he understood human nature.”

“He didn’t want people to feel that he was a white man manipulating a black man. He would always defer to me. There was one public spokesman, and that was me.”[102]

Their opponents were business interests, the appointed mayor and city council and Congress through William Natcher (D-KY) chair of the House Subcommittee on District Affairs—virtually all the white political and economic interests.

The Leveys wrote about a 1967 hearing on the East Leg of the Inner Loop  in The End of Roads:

“Abbott was quick to note that the white establishment supported every inch of the highway plan. Among those who testified in favor at the 1967 hearing were the American Automobile Association, the Greater Washington Central Labor Council, the National Capital Transportation Agency, the Federal City Council, the Washington Trucking Association and the local chapter of the Automotive Trade Association.”

“Meanwhile, the cement, steel, rubber and concrete lobbies were solidly lined up behind the proposal.”

“Abbott dubbed all of the organizations ‘stooges.” He noted none of their witnesses had black skin.”[103]

White man’s road through black man’s home

White Man’s Road Through Black Man’s Home: 1968

ECTC poster designed by Abbott with the slogan popularized by Booker.

In January 1967, Abbott used the words “a white man’s road…through black men’s homes,” in testimony before the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) on the North Central Freeway.

Abbott may have used the words first, but Booker turned them into a slogan that galvanized black opposition to new highways and put the issue in stark racial terms. Abbott, a graphic arts designer, produced the dozens of posters and flyers that featured it.[104][105]

Booker was convinced that race stood behind the decisions in a city that was governed by a presidentially appointed mayor and council and overseen directly by Congress.

“The whole freeway situation was predicated on race, economics and militarism.”

“Race because the freeway was designed to always designed to come through the black community.”

“Economics because it was designed politically and economically to destroy black communities, especially black home owners, where most black people invest most of their money into buying a home.”

“Military-wise, the freeway nationally are designed to ring the big cities with highways and freeways which makes it easier to bring troops into the big cities.”[106]

Booker was no pacifist and as the battle over freeways came closer and closer to a critical juncture, Booker echoed the language of the Black Panther Party at a hearing December 3, 1968 at Hine Junior High School at 335 8th Street SE.

After charging that the current freeway plan was racist and that the planning commission and the city council were “thieves,” Booker drew applause from the crowd of about 100 when he said, “Black people should take up arms to defend their community.”[107]

Booker and Abbott led a fierce, determined, militant, uncompromising opposition to freeways and for public transportation over the next few years involving literally hundreds of public hearings, city council meetings, protests, community meetings, press conferences and other events to galvanize public opinion.

Some of the key turning point battles included a protest of increased bus fares that morphed into a demand for public takeover of the city’s private bus company; their attempt to reclaim homes condemned for the North Central Freeway in the Brookland neighborhood; a city council meeting that erupted into a near riot when the city council moved to approve freeways; and a series of demonstrations at the site of the proposed Three Sisters Bridge.

Bus boycott and public ownership

O. Roy Chalk buys transit company in the District: 1956

O. Roy Chalk purchases the Capital Transit Co. in 1956 and renames it D.C. Transit.

The bus boycott of 1968 was a pivotal moment in D.C. public transit history and Booker and the ECTC were at the center of the storm.

Up until this point in time, transit advocates had largely confined themselves to calling for more service and lower fares on the existing privately-run D.C. Transit Co. system.

However, there had been periodic calls for public subsidy or government takeover, including calls by the advisory D.C. Citizens Council, an offer to sell by owner O. Roy Chalk himself and a study being conducted by the transit authority that was then planning to build the rail system.[108][109][110][111]

It was during this bus fare campaign the ECTC demands evolved until the number one demand was calling for a takeover of the system by Metro.[112][113]

The impetus for the protest began in August 1968 when D.C. Transit applied for an emergency bus fare cash increase from 27 cents to 30 cents—an 11 percent increase and tokens from 25 cents to 30 cents—a 20 percent increase. The proposed increase was the second in less than a year.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Commission nearly gave the increase to the company without public hearings, but elected to hold the public forums to hear “new facts.”

The company actually made two proposals, the 30 cent fare if approved without hearings and a 35 cent cash, 30 cent token and one cent transfer fee if hearings were to take place.

The Chair of the Transit Commission, George A. Avery, said at a news conference August 15, 1968 that an increase was needed because of losses in revenue due to the disturbances following the killing of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a week-long suspension of night service carried out by the transit union following the shooting death of operator John Earl Talley.[114] The company also blamed the Poor People’s Campaign’s two-months of protests.[115]

Public Hearings

Rev. Joe Gibson opposes bus fare increase: 1970

Rev. Joe Gibson at a 1970 bus fare increase press event.

The ECTC came to the first hearing at 1815 N. Ft. Myer Drive in the Rosslyn, Va. area on August 25th loaded for bear.[116] The hearing had scarcely got underway when both Booker and Abbott were ejected by police.

As Avery opened the meeting, Booker jumped up and demanded to be heard immediately. Avery told him to wait until the appropriate time.

“You listen—this is the appropriate time to hear from us. This hearing is a sham…This three member commission is racist,” Booker shouted.

The three-member commission was made up of representatives from the District, Maryland and Virginia and all were white.[117]

Booker continued that  the meeting should be held in the District of Columbia at night instead of in Virginia during the day.

Avery tried to stop Booker from speaking, but Booker continued and Avery warned him, “If you don’t want to go to jail…go out peacefully.”

But Booker refused to stop speaking saying, “You can’t decide fares for the black people of D.C.”

As Booker was hustled out by a police officer, Abbott stood up and continued where Booker left off.

“We don’t see a black sitting up there and a majority of bus riders are black.”

Avery threatened to hold Abbott in contempt, but Abbott kept talking saying, “You made up your mind in advance to give O. Roy Chalk (D.C. Transit’s owner) a fare raise.”

Abbott was then taken out.[118]

Rev. Joe Gibson, another ECTC activist who was pastor of the Nash Methodist Church in Brookland, waited his turn to speak and told the commission, “It is time for the government…to give us a say in what happens in our life.”

The Washington Post reported:

“Rejecting the idea that D.C. Transit should get its requested fare rise to 30 cents, either in cash or by token, in order to get out of the red, Mr. Gibson suggested that the privately owned bus company go out of business and let others take over.”[119]

When a second hearing was scheduled for the District Building on September 4th, the ECTC moved into action calling for a complete overhaul of the transit commission.

A flyer issued by the group called on District residents to “speak out against highway robbery by O. Roy Chalk” and called for a 15 cent cash fare, an unlimited $1.50 weekly pass and free school fares in order to restore bus ridership.

The Washington Post wrote, “The Committee’s (ECTC’s) main purpose, however, is to reform the Transit Commission by adding Negro representation from Washington and making better service and lower fares a principal aim of the agency, Abbott said.”[120]

Reginald Booker at an ECTC meeting: 1969 ca.

Reginald Booker at an ECTC meeting circa 1969.

When Booker stood and took the microphone at the hearing he said, “I’m going to be the first black person to lead the people on the bus and refuse to pay the fare.”

“I believe in a lot of action, I believe in resistance, and I believe in revolt and I believe in revolution,” he added speaking to the crowd of 350 that crowded the council chambers.

When Avery appeared to be laughing during Booker’s testimony, Booker said, “He’s laughing…We’ll deal with him on the street.”

Gibson added that he would lead a boycott and “we shall guarantee them a loss such as they have never seen before.”[121]

Booker’s and Gibson’s remarks were coupled with testimony that applauded the possibility of bankruptcy for the company, holding that would leave the door open for public takeover.[122]

Others echoed the ECTC’s militant testimony complaining of poor service, dirty buses and a lack of air-conditioning.[123]

As if Chalk could see the writing on the wall, D.C. Transit’s parent company Trans Caribbean Airways, divested itself of the company—making it an independent firm on September 5, 1968. Chalk’s predecessor, Louis Wolfson, made the same move with the old Capital Transit Company prior to be forced by Congress to sell the transit company.[124]

At the third and final hearing, D.C. Transit’s Harvey M. Spear testified that “as a private enterprise, we can’t be expected to carry the sociological and political obligations of the government.”

He further denounced the “shocking…threats and blackmail” of speakers at the previous hearings, cited financial figures on the company’s losses and urged quick approval of the fare increase.[125]

Jack Eisen, the Post’s transit beat reporter, wrote an analysis after the hearings that he saw a divide widening between the company and the transit commission on one hand and the general public on the other. He wrote, in part:

“If D.C. Transit is losing money, as its uncontested figures show, that’s plain tough luck, the refrain ran; let it continue to lose until it is forced out of business and a public authority takes over to run the buses as a public service.”

“There is plenty of respectable support for the idea that buses should be publicly owned  and subsidized to keep fares low. Some even hold that buses should be free.”

“But a wide gulf separates this theory from reality. There is nothing in sight to suggest that Congress will provide money for subsidies. Without them even a public bus line would have to raise fares.”

Congress rejected public takeover

Brookland operators on first day of strike: 1955

Congress rejected a public takeover of D.C. buses during the 2-month 1955 strike. Shown here is Brookland Division on the first day of the walkout..

Congress had previously rejected public ownership during the two-month 1955 strike by the transit union, instead revoking Louis Wolfson’s franchise and requiring a sale where Chalk ended up buying the company.[126][127]

Eisen pointed to one flaw in the system—the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Commission.

“It is squeezed…by the law under which it operates, which says it must consider traffic, patronage, costs and profits, but omits any mention of public opinion.”[128]

Avery, as chair of the commission, sought relief and wrote a letter to Mayor Walter Washington and city council chair John Hechinger appealing for a public subsidy to forestall fare increases.

He wrote that when rising costs push fares “to levels which are inconsistent with sound public policy then a portion of operating the system should be assumed by the community at large.”[129]

A fare increase was granted by the commission October 29, 1968 on a temporary basis.

The approved increase lowered slightly D.C. Transit’s request—30 cent cash fare, but kept a discount for tokens at $1.05 for four tokens. Maryland, interstate, and special route fares were also increased.

The commission approved the increases on a “no-profit” basis because of a pending decision on the so-called Bebchick suits. Bebchick, the attorney for a number of civic groups, sued the commission for approving prior fare increases that provided D.C. Transit with excessive profits. The appeals court ruled in Bebchick’s favor, but a Supreme Court appeal was pending and put the decision on excess profits on hold.[130][131]

Abbott denounced the commission for acting in “obscene haste” on the increase and pointed out that if Chalk dropped his appeal in Bebchick suit and re-paid excess profits, the fare increase could have been avoided.[132]

Bus boycott and demand for public takeover

Riders let buses go by; wait for alternative rides: 1968

Bus riders wait for private cars to pick them up during the 1968 bus boycott.

The ECTC planned their boycott for December 2nd and for the first time, the demand for public ownership of the bus system was front and center.

Booker told a boycott meeting of about 65 people at Nash United Methodist Church that the demand is for public ownership of the transit system “for the riding public and not for profit.”

Booker went on to say that “black people are going to determine their own destiny in terms of D.C. Transit by any means necessary. It has been the extreme people, the militant people of the world who have made the gains.”

The question of who will control the bus system—a private company or public ownership, “rests with we the people, said Booker. “In warfare, you either win or you lose, you either kill or be killed.”[133]

Like a successful 1966 boycott led by Marion Barry and SNCC in D.C. that halted a fare increase, the boycott centered on the H Street-Benning Road NE corridor where alternative transportation would be provided, but the call was also for a city-wide boycott.[134][135][136]

The slogan for the week of the transit action was “Protest the spending of hundreds of millions of dollars for unwanted freeways for the few—and nothing for mass transit for the many.”

The boycott slogan itself was a simple, “Erase Chalk”—a demand to end the private ownership by O. Roy Chalk.

The other demands were codified as:

  1. Free bus rides for all school children “the same way they do in suburbia.”
  2. Abolition of the scrip system because it forces poor people to take long rides to redeem the scrip.
  3. Return to a $1.50 weekly pass with unlimited rides.
  4. Abolition of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Commission because it is racist with no black members.

Day of the boycott

Alternate transportation during D.C. bus boycott: 1968

An auto with the “hitchhikers thumb” in the windshield carries bus boycotters along H Street NE.

On the day of the boycott, only 40 of about 200 private vehicles that were scheduled to provide alternative service were available in the Benning corridor—cutting the boycott’s effectiveness as riders waited for private vehicles, but ultimately had to give up and take the bus.[137][138]

Rev. Gibson, the ECTC member who chaired the boycott committee, said the during the afternoon of the boycott, “I know we made a dent in him (O. Roy Chalk).”[139]

Most areas were unaffected by the boycott but the bus company conceded that “transit drivers who work in the Benning Road area every day report that the load was lighter,” according to Thomas Trimmer, the company’s transportation director.[140]

However, the main victory in the effort was solidifying around the major demand—public takeover of the private bus company.

In December 1968, fares were raised again—the third time in a year.[141]

By March 1970, transit riders were plagued with deteriorating service due to mechanical problems. More than 100 were regularly out of service on any given day–sometimes rising to as high as 125–resulting in scheduled buses being cut. Only 80 buses could be crippled on any given day to avoid cutting bus trips.[142]

1970 refusal to pay full fare

Hobson arrested in bus fare increase protest: 1970

Julius Hobson is arrested for refusing to pay the full bus fare in 1970.

On July 11, 1970, another fare protest took place as the commission raised fares from 32 cents to 40 cents. This time Edell Lydia (later Kwame Afoh) chaired a group opposed to the hike and campaigned to have riders pay only 25 cents of the 40 cent fare.

At least 16 prominent supporters of the fare protest were arrested including Julius Hobson, Marion Barry, Rev. Joe Gibson and Sam Abbott.

The coalition estimated its more than half of the bus riders on the H Street-Benning Road corridor paid less than the full fare, although these figures were disputed by the company.[143]

Hundreds march against bus fare increase: 1970

Part of the crowd that marched to the Capitol during the 1970 bus fare protests.

Days later on July 14th, Rev. Walter Fauntroy; Hobson, Booker; and James Coates, chair of the D.C. Board of Education; led a march of more than 250 people without a permit from Lincoln Park to the east gate of the U.S. capitol where more than 500 rallied, protesting the fare increase and calling for public takeover.[144]

The Black United Front and others sued the transit commission for fare increase charging the commission granted excess profits to D.C. Transit in a suit similar to Bebchick’s previous legal efforts.

At the time, the U.S. Senate had approved a takeover bill and the House was considering legislation.[145]

By October 14, 1972, the U.S. House of Representatives reversed itself and approved a Senate measure to authorize the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to take over the four private bus companies operating in the Washington area.[146]

Metro takes over the buses

 President Richard M. Nixon signed the bill days later–ending 110 years of private ownership of transit in the city. On January 14, 1973 Metro acquired the D.C. Transit and the former WV&M system in Arlington.[147] The next month on February 4th, Metro took over the former AB&W garages in Alexandria and Arlington and the former WMA garage on Southern Avenue in Maryland.[148]

As a footnote, the so-called Bebchick suits were ultimately successful producing an award worth over $8 million and vindicating the ECTC’s claims of the transit commission permitting excess profits for the D.C. Transit system.[149]

The public takeover was a resounding victory for Booker and the ECTC that adopted the demand for public takeover in the course of the fight over the 1968 fare increase.

While it had been raised in earlier years by others, when the ECTC adopted it, it galvanized public transit advocates outside their own circle around a simple and easily understood demand.

The ECTC ultimately rejected other possible paths such as lobbying for a congressional subsidy, even though precedent had been set through a subsidy for school children’s fares[150] and abandoned their previous demands of providing more power to  the Washington Area Transit Commission and diversifying its membership. In doing so, they chose the path that produced the greatest opportunity for public input.

Booker and the ECTC can be given credit for being the spearhead responsible for the creation of the region-wide publicly-owned, non-profit Metrobus system.

North Central and Brookland homes

Transit Committee Rallies to Renovate Homes: 1969

Reginald Booker speaks from the porch of a Brookland home he intends to reclaim.

Perhaps their most successful protest in terms of direct results was an attempt to reclaim 69 homes in the Brookland section of the city in 1969 that had been condemned for the North Central Freeway, construction of which had been blocked for a year by a court injunction.[151]

In a letter to Mayor Walter E. Washington, Booker wrote:

“We can only conclude, after 18 months, that the city will not meet its responsibility to the community where these 69 homes lie in shameful and wasteful deterioration. We can no longer permit the irresponsible decay of this attractive residential community…”

“Therefore, citizens will address this urgent issue by removing the boarding from these decaying residences on June 21, 1969.”[152]

On the appointed day, about 100 people mobilized by ECTC showed up in front of a block of houses on 10th and Franklin Street NE.

Booker gave a speech from the porch of a vandalized house accusing the District government of a “brazen attempt to break up black peoples’ political power because black home ownership represents black political power in this community.”

Reginald Booker Placed Under Arrest at Brookland Home: 1969

Booker is led out of the Brookland home and arrested by D.C. police.

Following his speech, Booker took a crowbar and pried off the plywood in front of television cameras and news photographers. A number of people entered the home with Booker and attempted to begin rehabilitation of the home. They were followed by D.C. police who arrested Booker and four others for illegal entry.

Abbott was also later arrested as he tried to enter the paddy wagon to join the others.[153]

The stark images created intense political pressure on the city and a few days later Mayor Washington announced the city would rehabilitate the houses and invited ECTC to help find occupants.

ECTC had won an immediate battle, but also part of a larger war. The return of the homes to the community slashed the throat of the North Central Freeway, though it would take a bit longer for It to finally die.

Their victory, however, was followed immediately by another crisis.

D.C. Council approves freeways

Stop the North Central Freeway 1969 # 1

Protesters disrupt the Aug. 9, 1968 city council meeting where chair Gilbert Hahn intends to take a vote supporting the planned freeways. Booker is standing, third from left.

Rep. William Natcher (D-Ky.), House Appropriations Committee chair withheld funds to build the subway and demanded that construction begin on the Three Sisters Bridge before he would release the rail money. Natcher did this despite a court order to the contrary and a vote of the appointed D.C. Council to abandon the project.

The D.C. City Council reversed itself and voted on August 9, 1969 to comply with the Federal Highway Act of 1968, giving in to Natcher and effectively approving the Three Sisters Bridge, the North Central Freeway and other freeway portions in order to obtain Metrorail funding.[154]

The Leveys say that the action had the approval of the Nixon Administration and wrote:

“The [city] council meeting that night was described as a ‘riot’ by the Evening Star, a ‘melee’ by the Washington Post. Fistfights broke out. Chairs were thrown. An ashtray whizzed past the ear of Council Chairman Gilbert Hahn Jr. Fourteen people were arrested.”[155] Hahn claimed the ashtray hit him.[156]

Clash with police in council chambers: 1969

A melee erupts as Chair Gilbert Hahn orders the room cleared prior to approving the freeways.

Hahn had begun the meeting, but was quickly shouted down by the crowd that demanded their speakers be heard as was customary at the beginning of council meetings. After numerous attempts to regain control, Hahn ordered the room cleared of everyone except council members, staff and security.

Hahn then conducted the vote which went 6-2 to comply with Natcher’s demands.[157]

Booker, then living on the 1900 block of Savannah Street SE, and Dennis Livingston, of D.C. Newsreel, were charged with felony assault for their tussle with guards and police while the others were charged with disorderly conduct.,[158][159][160]

In the aftermath of the hearing the ECTC prepared for the next stage of battle by first sharpening their attack and raising the level of vitriol directed against city officials.

Borchardt wrote in his thesis:

“They criticized the city’s leaders for selling out District residents and giving in to the blackmail and empty promises of ‘Congressional overlords.’ ‘The D.C. ‘Government’ now stands naked as a sham,’ an ECTC flyer alleged.”[161]

Booker later wrote in an ECTC flyer:

‘Since last June when ECTC started to publish the sins of the city’s colonial government–pointing out how our puppet mayor and puppet city council were helping to run White men’s roads through Black men’s homes – the spiteful and petty little men who govern this great city of ours have lodged some 33 criminal charges against us.”[162]

Climax at 3 Sisters Bridge

Smash the 3-Sisters Bridge: 1969

A poster calls for a rally to ‘smash’ the 3-Sisters Bridge.

The ECTC campaign against freeways would climax in a seemingly unlikely location—the proposed Three Sisters Bridge connecting Arlington with Georgetown just north of the existing Key Bridge.

Much of Booker’s and ECTC fire had been directed at planned roads through black neighborhoods and the Three Sisters Bridge was not located in any residential neighborhood and in a nearly lily-white, wealthy area of town.

Besides their general opposition to freeways, stopping the bridge meant stopping the North Leg that continued to remain in freeway plans despite the city’s verbal opposition to that alignment.

Booker consistently pointed out that the planned North Leg was to connect with the planned bridge and run through the U Street-Florida Avenue corridor—the historic Black Broadway and an overwhelming black neighborhood at that time. Booker viewed the bridge as the key to halting freeway construction.[163]

At a September 13, 1969 press conference Booker declared “war” on the District government and stated that “every tactic in the book” would be used to block the building of the freeway along U Street – T Street corridor.

“Any struggle up here will be fought on the issue of black nationalism,” he continued.[164]

3 Sisters Bridge confrontations

Protesters delay work on 3 Sisters Bridge: 1969

Students stage a sit-in at the Three Sisters Bridge site.

Students of the Vietnam War era at George Washington, American and Georgetown universities were attracted to Booker and Abbott’s militant opposition to freeways and strident attacks on white supremacy and formed a group D.C. Student Committee on the Transportation Crisis (DCSCTC).

The student group was strongly influenced by the more radical elements of the recently fractured Students for Democratic Society and the Yippies.[165]

As the beginning of construction of the Three Sisters Bridge loomed, students occupied the three islands that comprised the “Sisters.”

Battle of the Three Sisters Bridge: 1969

A bloodied student protester is arrested at the bridge site by police.

Beginning on October 10, 1969 and continuing for the next two months, the student group and adults opposed to bridge staged rallies, civil disobedience, marches and pickets that sometimes briefly halted the construction work.

Some of the protests used civil disobedience where several hundred were arrested. A few protests erupted into clashes with police.

Booker led perhaps the largest demonstration against the bridge when he headed up a 75-car caravan “Stop the Freeway Parade” through the city that featured baton-twirling youths and that culminated in a rally of about 500 people at the bridge site October 19th.[166]

At another rally on the campus of George Washington University on October 22nd, Booker told the crowd of 200 that students could create “conditions that make it impossible” to build the bridge.

“The bridge is going to be smashed,” Booker said in prophetic words–though probably not in the way he envisioned.[167]

Abbott echoed Booker’s use of Black Panther slogans during a speech to a crowd of 500 people at Georgetown University November 16, 1969—the day after a large anti-Vietnam War march.

By any means necessary

Abbott blasts D.C. freeway construction: 1967

Sammie Abbott at a 1967 freeway hearing.

The Washington Post wrote,

“Sammie Abbott, publicity chairman of the anti-freeway Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis, said “any means necessary” should be used to stop construction of the bridge, but he added that he would draw the line at any action that would tend to “split the black and white communities.”[168]

After the rally, several hundred students blocked traffic access to Key Bridge, at times clashing with police in the streets of Georgetown.

Freeway opponents conducted their own referendum on the bridge when the D.C. Board of Elections refused to place the question on the ballot by placing citizens at most polling places in the city with paper “yes” or “no” ballots that was conducted at the same time as the city’s school board election.

The ECTC demonstrated the success of their tactics in turning public opinion against the bridge when The Washington Post reported that with 47 precincts counted, 11,945 were against the Three Sisters Bridge while 5,459 favored it.[169]

While Booker and the ECTC were using confrontation politics to turn public opinion against freeways, Craig was fighting on the legal front. Borchardt said in his thesis:

“Peter Craig…manipulated the court system to continually thwart the highway lobby’s efforts to commence construction of the highway system.”

“By making powerful allies, employing creative legal arguments, and consistently winning judicial injunctions to stop highway construction, Craig led a parallel anti-freeway crusade in the courtroom.”[170]

The End of the Bridge

Call for 3-Sisters Bridge celebration: 1971

Celebration of another court victory on the 3-Sisters Bridge in 1971.

On August 3, 1970 Judge Sirica announced his decision, holding that…

“The court finds that the present design of the bridge is so substantially different from that proposed in 1964 that the public should be given an opportunity to present their views on the project as presently planned.”

“Last but not least, the cost of the present project is estimated at $20 million as compared with an estimate of $6 million in 1964.”

Sirica also ruled that no Federal-aid highway funds could be used for preliminary construction work on the bridge until tests took place to determine whether the design was structurally sound.[171]

With Natcher holding on to subway construction funds and the bridge on judicial hold, political pressure grew on Congress to release the subway funds so that at least one transportation project could move forward in the city.

In December 1971, the House overrode Natcher and voted to release the District of Columbia ‘s Metro construction funds.

Subsequent legislation allowed states to spend urban interstate funds on mass transit system. The District of Columbia was one of the first jurisdictions to take advantage of the new laws, canceling the North Central Freeway and Three Sisters Bridge and increasing funding for the planned Washington Metro system.[172]

In June 1972 Booker’s prophesy came true when Hurricane Agnes swept away the piers that had been constructed for the Three Sisters Bridge, leaving the three small islands intact, but no trace of the planned bridge.[173]

While courtroom battles, occasional protests and lobbying would continue until 1977, the freeway and bridge plans were effectively dead. Metrorail opened its first segment in 1976, completing the system in 2004 with an additional  line in Virginia where the first segment opened in 2014.

Victory

Freeway opponents picket mayor’s home: 1968

Picketing appointed Mayor Walter Washington’s home in 1968.

Perhaps even more so than the public acquisition of the private bus companies, it was an almost unbelievable victory spearheaded by the tireless Booker, Abbott, the rest of the ECTC and Craig on shoestring budgets against adversaries where there was no local elected government or congressional representation to put pressure on.

Booker reflected back in his interview with the Leveys that he became involved back in 1967 as a moral issue and that meticulous preparation for each phase in the battle and unyielding resolve were keys to victory.

“I couldn’t imagine why District officials would allow this. I had a responsibility even as one person to oppose it. What motivated me was that it was a moral question of right and wrong.”

The Leveys said Booker told them that, “to a large degree, the protesters were victorious because they planned carefully.”

The Leveys wrote, “From 1968 to 1972, ECTC conducted more than 75 street protests. It was able to draw on the ranks of anti-Vietnam demonstrators (many of them local college students ) for manpower.”

“As a result, almost no ECTC demonstration was smaller than 50 persons, and all were carefully biracial. That assured television and newspaper coverage and suggested a relentless determination that Booker believes may have worn opponents down.”[174]

Construction workers task force

Booker: hiring plan an ‘insult’ to the black community: 1970

Booker speaks at the Labor Department denouncing the “Washington Plan.”

Booker scaled back his work with ECTC in early 1970, taking on the role of chair of the Washington Area Construction Industry Task Force, although he continued to serve as chair of ECTC.[175]

The Task Force, one of many organized by the Urban League to confront discrimination in the workplace, seemed like an unlikely fit for Booker.

Booker, generally seen as a firebrand within the black community, was joining with more conservative members of the task force that included civil rights organizations such as the NAACP and the Urban League, minority contractors, black business organizations and individuals.[176]

The task force sought to dramatically increase the number of black people working in the construction trades. Since the training and hiring on commercial and government construction was done primarily through the craft unions, this meant taking on organized labor as well.

The existing task force members must have thought that the confrontational tactics of ECTC may work for them as well.

Protest at Labor Department

Booker had his “coming out” when he staged a demonstration in front of the Labor Department on Constitution Ave. May 1, 1970 demanding 70-80 percent black workers on the Metro subway construction project. He was joined by his ECTC partner Abbott.

Booker pointed out to news reporters that 70 percent of the District’s population was black at that time while more than 40 people circled in front of the building.

The Labor Department was then in the process of developing a “Washington Plan” for minority hiring on all federally funded construction projects in the area.

The Department had earlier held hearings on developing the Washington Plan that Booker called a “sham,” because the task force was not allowed to question the witnesses.

Booker said the Labor Department had refused to take their demands seriously and promised to be back.

“This is just the beginning. Next time we’ll be back with 500 people…we want you to know we’re serious,” Booker told Labor Department officials during the demonstration.[177]

When the Washington Plan was announced, it set quotas of between 25 and 40 percent minority hiring for 11 skilled construction trades before the end of 1974 and lifted a freeze on Metro construction that had been in place because of the lack of black and other workers of color.[178]

Devoid of promise

Booker denounces Labor Department hiring plan: 1970

Plan is “devoid of promise.”

Booker immediately denounced the plan as “devoid of promise” and “wholly unacceptable” at a June 4, 1970 press conference at the Labor Department.

Specifically, the task force charged that the plan was diluted by including the predominantly white suburbs of Virginia and Maryland,

“It serves little purpose to offer an unemployed but eligible black construction worker residing in D.C. a job in Reston, Va. or some other remote construction site when in his own city the overwhelming majority of jobs will continue to go to whites,” the task force wrote in a letter to Secretary of Labor George P. Schultz.

The task force also blasted the Labor Department for excluding a number of crafts from the plan, including carpenters and operating engineers; for low quotas on unions like the sheet metal workers, for “discrimination committed over the years;” for “escape clauses” that make the plan unenforceable; and for not addressing the “restrictive” bonding and insurance requirements for federal contracts that are out of reach for most minority contractors.[179]

Booker explained in a 1970 interview that the task force was seeking an immediate overhaul of the whole union-sponsored apprenticeship program in order to rectify past and current discrimination.

Scrap apprenticeship programs

“We’re saying there’s no such thing as a minority hiring plan because politically we’re the majority of population numerically and otherwise [in the District of Columbia].“So we say our plan revolves around three things.”

“Number one, that we say that the government should scrap all apprenticeship programs and have specifically on the job training. Because if you have an unskilled black worker on the street, take him off the street and put him on a project and train him. The same way white immigrants got off ships and came here with no skills and now they’re owning and controlling construction industries.”

“Our plan also says that the jobs in Washington should be given out on the basis of percentage of blacks in the population; starting on every craft level. I mean the electricians, pipe fitters, steam fitters, etc., etc. This is the heart of our plan.”

“Now the government’s plan that they issued—we spoke to blacks having 80 to 90 percent of all the jobs on all construction projects with private or federal construction. The government’s plan speaks of 30 to 40 percent on a graduated scale over the years.”

“Strangely enough the government’s plan rewards the unions and the crafts that have practiced the most discrimination, with the least number of blacks being employed. They get to employ the least number of blacks.”

“On a legal level, we’re at the point of deciding whether or not to file suit against the federal government, which will probably happen in weeks to come, because even the government, as far as we can ascertain, has not lived up to its own plan. You can go now on the five biggest federal projects and they haven’t lived up to their plan.”[180]

Marxism and the black-white divide

Karl-Marx

Karl Marx circa 1870.

Booker, having studied Marx and incorporating a lot of Marxism in his outlook, felt that–contrary to Marxist beliefs–that black and white workers could never unite.

He viewed Marx as writing from and about Europe where there were not significant numbers of black workers at that time and thus he did not take into account contradictions between black and white workers.

“There cannot be coalitions between blacks and whites, because they have not solved the question of race,” Booker said.

“That’s why there can be no coming together of black and white workers because when everybody refers to Marx—when Marx wrote his dissertations on capitalism, he wrote it from a vantage point, at the time he wrote it in England, of looking at working class whites, both employed and unemployed.”

“He doesn’t speak to the issue of black workers—of black and white workers united. He just says workers unite. That ain’t gonna unite black and white workers.”

“It really boils down to the question of whether this is a struggle of race along class lines, as opposed to blacks and whites against all blacks and whites who are exploiting; or whether it’s a race struggle; black against white.”

“…during the civil rights movement I was involved with working with white workers, and they don’t see their plight. They don’t see themselves cooperating with blacks. White workers have been told that the black man is the cause of the fact that you don’t have a job; they’re the cause of all your ills..”

“I think that white people can educate white workers…It’s probably possible in their own community overall…could be educated about their situation in terms of the job, but they’re not going to be educated to the extent that it overcomes their racism. That’s what prevents uniting black and white workers.”[181]

Black and white workers can’t unite

White workers bar blacks from testifying: 1969

In 1969, Chicago white craft union workers bar blacks from testifying at a federal hearing.

Booker went further in response to an interview question and ruled out the possibility that black and white workers could ever unite.

“I’m saying under no circumstances will white workers ever see their interest with black workers, because of the fact at this particular time in this country the white workers are being organized by the government to move against the black community.”

“See this is why, for example, you had these hard hat marches [by construction workers in New York and elsewhere in favor of the Vietnam War]. This is the government’s fascist army and this Honor America Day is just an organizing tool for the federal government, to organize themselves against the black community. See the white workers interest, he feels himself being directly threatened by the black working man.”[182]

Community hearing

Community hearing told of construction job bias: 1970

Booker organized a community hearing to gain backing for sweeping changes.

Before the Labor Department released its “Washington Plan,” Booker pulled together a May 18, 1970 community hearing on discrimination in the construction industry that took testimony from groups and individuals on discrimination and solutions for the problem of black people getting skilled jobs in the industry.

Booker charged that unemployment among black laborers was “astronomical” while white laborers were brought in from as far as West Virginia and Pennsylvania.

Construction Trades, Inc. chief Cordell Shelton told the group that bonding procedures effectively bar minority contractors, that existing training programs are useless and none employ blacks people as trainers or instructors. The panel then made its recommendations to the Labor Department.[183]

Booker followed up with another press conference held June 25, 1970 where he again attempted to ramp up the pressure on the federal government.

“The only thing the federal government understands is force and violence” and that soon “physical action” will be taken against construction projects that don’t meet task force goals.[184]

In November 1970 Booker was back in the news demanding that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority revise its bonding and insurance requirements after a black trucking company failed to get an award despite being the low bidder. Metro agreed to study the requirements, but made no other commitment.[185]

The task force blasted President Richard Nixon’s suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act that guaranteed a “prevailing wage”—which at that time meant a union wage—on federal construction projects.

Booker said the suspension was a “racist blow” since most black construction workers were excluded from unions and would bear the brunt of the lower wages as non-union workers.[186]

But after a year Booker left the task force for another Urban League initiated task force–perhaps his tactics proving too confrontational for the coalition’s members.

Booker proved correct

Booker proved correct in his criticism of federal and Metro hiring plans.

The Washington Post reported in November 1975, a year after the Washington Plan hiring goals were to have been met, that black skilled workers still composed a small percentage of the construction crafts.

They ranged from 8.6 percent of elevator constructors to a high of 38.9 percent of operating engineers. However, even those figures are misleading because most minority workers were concentrated among trainees and apprentices and not among the highest paid journeymen.[187]

It didn’t get much better 10 years after the Washington Plan was put into effect. None of the craft unions met hiring goals. Only an average of 10 percent of all journeymen across all construction craft unions were from a minority group.

As Booker predicted, the federal government did not enforce the plan. The District’s mayor’s office found that more than 60 percent of all reviewed building sites in the city did not meet hiring guidelines, but only two of 1,000 contractors investigated on site were barred from doing federally assisted construction which was the ultimate penalty for non-compliance.[188]

GUARD

HUD employees protest white supremacy: 1970

Black employees at HUD begin a series of protests Oct. 9, 1970.

While heading the construction task force, Booker became involved with another task force advocating for black workers in October 1970 when he helped lead protests of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) workers against discrimination within the agency.

The Government Employees United Against Racial Discrimination (GUARD) task force at the agency, HUD Employees Task Force Against Racism, called for an end to “institutional racism” and developed three demands:

  • Upgrade employees in the comptrollers division
  • Training at government expense
  • Transfer of all comptroller division supervisors who were on duty in April 1970 when the group first charged discrimination.

The group found Secretary of HUD George Romney (former presidential candidate, former governor of Michigan, father of presidential candidate and current Utah U.S. Senator Mitt Romney) unresponsive to demands and called a protest October 9, 1970.

Led by Booker, Leonard Ball (an Urban League employee assigned to GUARD), and HUD task force leader Ronald Wallace, GUARD called a sit in outside of Romney’s office where 300 workers waited seven hours to present their demands to Romney.[189]

Confrontation with Romney

George Romney 1964 RNC 02746u (cropped1)

George Romney in 1964.

When Romney emerged from his office and saw Wallace, he told him “Get back to work” and headed for the elevator.

When the elevator didn’t immediately arrive, Romney sprinted down 10 flights of stairs with the 300 employees following behind attempting to present their demands along with a petition that 600 workers had signed.

While Romney was descending the stairs, the three GUARD representatives made repeated attempts to give Romney their written demands, but Romney refused to take them.

When Romney got to his waiting limo, Ball asked him when he was going to respond to the group’s previous letter. Romney called out “None of your business.”

Once again Ball tried to shove the petition and demand letter into Romney’s hands. Instead of taking the papers, Romney shoved Ball away from the car and shouted, “Get away from the car,” slamming the door after which his driver put his foot to the floor to escape the crowd spilling out of the building.[190][191]

Romney’s information office later denied reporters’ accounts saying that “Romney said he got on the elevator and they wouldn’t let the doors close. He fought his way out and went down the stairs. They followed him…shouting obscenities.”

“He got in the car and this man Ball wouldn’t let him close the door…and he was in real trouble. Romney was holding this man out and trying to get the door shut.”[192]

The group had earlier staged a rally inside the HUD conference room attended by about 350 workers where Booker took the microphone usually used by Romney and blasted HUD discrimination.

“Here comes someone from West Virginia with a 9th grade education, wearing cheap clothes, and they get a higher grade job. Then here comes a black person, high school education, all dressed up in mod clothes, the latest styles, and they get a grade 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5—the nigger grades…” Booker said.

About 443 of the employees in the 810 employee comptroller’s division were black—but most were concentrated in lower pay grades.[193]

Hitting at “token” black people in the agency, Booker continued:

“He’s got a bush, and he looks good and he tells you to cool it and don’t rebel because he knows how you feel.”

“How in the hell can he tell you how it feels when he’s got a GS-18 and he’s eating in the executive cafeteria while you’re downstairs eating hotdogs.”

Protests continue

Protests of racism continue at HUD: 1970

Protests against white supremacist practices at HUD continued into the spring of 1971.

Protests continued October 12th when about 200 workers staged a sit-in outside the personnel office where they demanded to see their records. By the end of the day, most were able to review their records.[194][195]

Meanwhile, HUD employee protest leaders Ron Wallace and Anne Hagar set up a meeting the same day where Romney addressed several hundred workers in the L’Enfant Plaza theater where he admitted a slow response to discrimination saying the department “hasn’t been as effective as it needed to have been” in dealing with bias.

“I will admit there have been legitimate grounds for complains. But we have taken steps and will take more to see that a true equal opportunity program is established. But we can only do it in an orderly manner.”

“From now on every employee will be made aware of our [training] programs, and all vacancies will be clearly advertised.”[196]

The following day, dissatisfied with Romney’s response, another sit-in was conducted by about 100 employees where Booker told them federal workers from around the city would join them for a demonstration on October 19th and promised to escalate tactics by organizing a work slowdown.[197]

On October 15th about 150 workers protested outside the HUD building before going to the cafeteria where they heard Booker tell them that on Monday, they needed to be “ready to fight” and that black employees are not going to tolerate any more “mistreatment from supervisors.”[198]

Protest continued October with a GUARD city-wide rally at HUD October 19th[199]and finally on October 29th HUD responded granting many of the task force’s demands.

The group, which had expanded their demands to 16 points, had HUD grant 12 of them and announced the promotion of 42 employees in the comptroller’s department by November 15th with a review pending on another 200 workers.

HUD refused to transfer the supervisors in the comptrollers department, upgrade all employees below grade 10 and establish a majority black panel to study promotions.[200]

An employee spokesperson told The Washington Post that most of the solutions were “acceptable” but that at least three needed more clarification, particularly one where the group was calling for amnesty for all employees involved in the three weeks of protests.[201]

But the protesting HUD employees quickly found out that the agreement was not what it seemed and 103 employees were docked one day of pay for the October 12th sit-in. The employees immediately appealed the discipline.[202]

Booker president of GUARD

Booker denounces freeways: 1968

Reginald Booker in 1968

In April 1971, Booker was chosen as president of GUARD–the city wide task force and took a paid position with Urban Law Institute—an organization that assisted GUARD with legal help.[203]

By then GUARD had expanded to 16 federal agencies and two District of Columbia Departments—sanitation and fire–and had about 1,500 dues paying members. About 1,100 of those were federal employees.

GUARD was organized by the Urban League in early 1970 with Robert White as its president. White was the local president of the National Alliance of Postal and Federal Employees, the historic black postal union formed when the initial unions wouldn’t permit black people to join. When White was elected national president of NAPFE, Booker took the helm of GUARD.

Phillip Shandler wrote in his Washington Star Federal Spotlight column that “Booker has brought to GUARD a pungent style of leadership sharpened by several years of fighting freeways that threatened to displace black homes in the District.”

“Booker’s rhetoric is important in appealing to younger blacks not turned on by older union and civil rights leaders, says Leonard Ball, the GUARD coordinator on the staff of the Washington Urban League.”

“The GUARD task forces create and sustain pressure on agencies to upgrade blacks—either in direct response to GUARD demands or in negotiations with the union, Ball says.”[204]

Shandler reported that while few unions pressed discrimination vigorously, GUARD had good relations with the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) at the Office of Economic Opportunity, the Census Bureau, and the Departments of Health, Education and Welfare and Housing and Urban Development.[205]

Shortly after Booker took the helm of GUARD, the HUD task force staged a four-hour demonstration of about 160 employees May 13, 1971 outside the offices of Lester Condon, assistant secretary for administration. They were seeking an affirmative action plan that HUD officials had been promised to be ready the previous week.

Condon responded similar to Romney and refused to meet with the demonstrators telling them to get back to work, but the protesters refused.

Condon followed up by issuing one-day suspension notices to about 160 workers and five-day suspension notices to four of the leaders.[206][207]

Booker responded that the agency is violating something more important than a personnel regulation—the human spirit of its minority employees in the interview with Philip Shandler.[208]

EEOC rules in employees’ favor

EEO finds ‘pattern or practice of discrimination’ at HUD: 1971

HUD found guilty of racist practices–Oct. 1971.

In October, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a decision on the original HUD suspensions for the October 13, 1970 sit-in and found a “historic pattern or practice of discrimination” that dated back to the agencies that preceded the formation of HUD.

While the findings were only recommendations, appeals examiner Julia P. Cooper recommended that discipline be set aside.

She further found that black employees were immobile in the lowest grade levels while whites moved ahead; that the department brought in black workers at the lowest hiring levels despite their experience or education; neglected to, concealed knowledge of or denied training opportunities to black workers; penalized those who complained of discrimination, and permitted white supervisors who committed these acts to continue in their positions for years.

Cooper said in her finding that testimony of the 88 witnesses “paints a picture of a waste of human potential—one totally out of focus with the trend of current law.”[209]

Further she found that HUD management made no changes until after the protests occurred.

“Other plans or minor changes were discussed or announced but it was not until the latter part of 1970, after the October 13th event here in question, that positive action to ameliorate the problems materialized,” she said.[210]

On the issue of discipline, Cooper found that that the lost pay or forced leave for participating in the protest was taken “under questionable circumstances and without fair warning and equitable application.”[211]

Cooper cited as examples of blatant discrimination a black female “of 28 years of service who reached the Grade 4 level after 18 years as a Grade 3” and Grade 5 after 10 years as a Grade 4.

Cooper cited another case of “a female with almost 30 years of government service who said she had trained many a white person, and they had gone on,” but she was not permitted to promote to supervisor.

Black workers with less service time were also affected according to Cooper. A black female with two years of college, two years of accounting, training in programming and clerical status was employed as a Grade 2 keypunch operator.

Cooper found that whites who were friendly with black workers were treated similarly where such “offending” whites received the discrimination usually reserved for black workers.[212]

Ronald Wallace, the chair of the HUD Task Force Against Racism, said his group was largely satisfied, but would continue to press “to get rid of racist supervisors.”[213]

However, Romney quickly denied the findings saying that his record “speaks for itself…”

“The percentage of minority citizens in our Washington offices has increased from 31.6 percent in 1969 to 40.5 percent at the present time.”

“The percentage of minority employees in grades 7 and above has increased from 14.3 percent in 1969 to 19.6 percent at the present time,” Romney said, perhaps not realizing he was touting incremental progress.[214]

Ironically it was Romney’s staff that initiated the hearing by notifying the Civil Service Commission of the October 1970 allegations against them. The Commission then notified EEO.[215]

The findings, however, vindicated GUARD, the HUD task force and Booker’s confrontational tactics.

Other GUARD work

Calvin Rolark, founder of United Black Fund: 1970 ca.

Calvin Rolark circa 1970.

Shortly after taking over as president of GUARD in 1971, Booker toured federal departments and agencies to rally black workers to fight against discrimination.

At a rally held in the Agriculture Department auditorium in June 1971, Booker told workers, “Don’t call that honkey boss ‘mister’ if he ain’t willing to give you the same courtesy.”

“And get his address—he’s got yours. We may have to visit him someday.”

Shandler reported that the audience “cheered appreciatively.”[216]

Booker boosted the United Black Fund (UBF) in 1971, which was only started the previous year, by pledging GUARD would be the “collecting arm” of the UBF.

The UBF was started by Calvin Rolark, a civil rights activist and publisher of the Washington Informer, in 1969 after he charged that the United Givers Fund was discriminating against black organizations.[217]

The UBF had only raised $6,000 the previous year, but in 1971 raised nearly $50,000 due in part to Booker’s drive among GUARD affiliates and a decision by the District government to permit payroll deductions.[218][219]

In August 1971, Booker denounced President Richard Nixon’s wage freeze and his pledge to reduce the government work force by five percent.

Booker said that black workers faced a “triple burden” under the freeze where wages would be frozen, they would be the first and perhaps only workers to be laid off since they were concentrated in the lower federal grades and that black workers would not be promoted and would be forced to fill in for other workers without additional pay.

Booker then led demonstrations at various departments and agencies against the freeze.[220]

The EEO hearing examiner’s findings on HUD promoted a rash of complaints to the D.C. Delegate to Congress Walter Fauntroy and he in turn held hearings on federal government discrimination.[221]

While Booker had by then moved on[222], GUARD mobilized task force affiliates to testify at the week-long hearings in September 1972 where task force members from the Government Accounting Office, Health Education and Welfare, Department of Agriculture and Department of Transportation, Commerce Department, and Walter Reed among others.[223][224][225][226]

As a result of the hearings Fauntroy sought congressional approval to give EEO the power to issue “cease and desist” orders against federal agencies instead of their advisory recommendations.[227]

MLK assassination ‘riots’

America on fire after King assassination: 1968

The District of Columbia is in flames after King is assassinated.

While Booker was engaged in the ECTC, the construction task force, and GUARD, he remained broadly active and often took a leading role in many different rights struggles through the late 1960s and through the 1970s.

He participated in street actions in the city following the murder of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in April 1968 and gave his thoughts in a May 1, 1968 hearing of the appointed city council at Eastern High School[228] on Rehabilitation of District of Columbia Areas Damaged by Civil Disorders that was later incorporated into congressional testimony on the issue.

Booker started off calling the disturbances a “revolution” and defended the property destruction and looting.

“The burning, the devastation, you can call it riots, you can call it looting. I know what black people call it and I know what I call it.”

“Any time oppressed people are so denied, and so oppressed, and the channels of the so-called usual mechanisms of dealing with these ills, if they cannot solve the problems, then black people and all other people have the right to burn and bring destruction if that alleviates their misery.”

“Does it take burning? Does it take looting? Of course, I know the people who were looting, they were only taking back what was theirs all the time.”

“I know they were taking back what was theirs because when the rebellion broke out, I was right out there in the street with my people.”

“Now, a whole lot of those hypocritical white folks, they said, ‘well, look they even burned down some of their own people so it couldn’t have been racial. They were just out to steal something.’”

“How can you steal from a crook?”

“It was pointed out recently, for example, that Safeway, on the day that welfare recipients receive checks, raise their prices.”

“Recently the Washington Post ran a series of stories on certain credit merchants on 7th Street, on how they exploit black people. How can you buy a TV that is worth $50 and end up paying $300-plus for it, and then if you don’t make all the payments it is repossessed and the man sells it over about 10 times again?”

Booker expounds on solutions

Howard students demonstrate after King’s murder: 1968

Howard students demonstrate the day after King’s murder.

Booker also called for radical change and called for a moratorium on re-building until the devastated areas could be rebuilt with black input and with black cooperative ownership.[229]

In the 1970 interview, Booker further explained his views on the prospects for black economic progress, holding that economic freedom for black people in the United States could only come through integrating a U.S. black economy with a unified African economy.

“In the first place, I am opposed to capitalism. The reason that I am opposed to capitalism, is because capitalism is based on the concept of so-called free enterprise, every man for himself.”

“It is based on—wealth for a few elite group of people and suffering for the masses of people—black people. I think the term black capitalism is a political term designed to slow down the thrusts of the black struggle. It is designed to sort of get a certain segment of black people into the so-called American mainstream.”

“If anybody understands capitalism you have to have—in order to be a capitalist you must own and control the means of production and distribution, and black people don’t own, control nor do they manufacture any goods. So according to the definition of economics that doesn’t make us black capitalist regardless of what the Nixon administration tells us.”

“I’ve heard a lot of talk about cooperatives and different economic ventures that’s really—as far as I can say—it’s really not the answer because cooperatives and things of this nature are still dependent upon the much larger white economic community.”

“I see as the only solution…unless we can own and control some means of production and manufacturing and distribution in our own community, we are still going to be tied to the white man’s economic system and exploited. That’s the root of it in terms of economics.”[230]

However Booker didn’t see the possibility of doing that solely within the United States and looked toward a broader, self-sustaining pan-African economy that black people in this country would be a part of as the solution.

Pan Africanism

MLK Jr. Assassination, 7th Street Damage: 1968 #2

7th & T Streets NW in April 1968. Booker opposed the Shaw Urban Renewal Plan as a land grab by whites.

“[In Africa] they’re not economically free, and a lot of the African nations aren’t politically free. Because the same black people have been trained at Oxford and those other universities to administer the colonies are still there.”

“If in Africa, if black people completely controlled the African continent, and relate what’s happening on the African continent here within the United States on an economic, military and political level in terms of actually working that the situation here could be changed.”

“But I don’t think unless the African continent is free economically, militarily and politically black people in this country are not going to be free.”

“As Malcolm X said, the revolution is fought over ownership and control of the land. We don’t have that within the United States.”[231]

Booker also made several specific proposals at the hearing on rebuilding after the King “riots.”

“I am asking that the District of Columbia City Council and the black members specifically, raise the question as to why the National Capital Housing Authority is the District of Columbia’s greatest slum lord?

“Why must we continue on with the usual concept of public housing by compounding all black people in the same area, and call it public housing, when in fact it is a concentration camp.

“I was reading in the paper recently where a police official admitted that in the police department recruitment efforts, very few black people were recruited. Well, I know one reason why very few black people were recruited and I am sure the black members are well aware, no black man wants to be put in the position of shooting one of his people, the so-called looting and rioting.”

But [in] this overall situation discriminatory practices in the police department in terms of promotions, in terms of everything else should be investigated.”[232]

When an urban renewal plan in response to the King disturbances was presented for the Shaw neighborhood in January 1969, it was generally applauded by business groups.[233]

However, while the plan didn’t call for massive relocation of black families and demolition of huge swaths like the SW urban renewal of the 1950s when Booker’s family was forced to move, it did call for the relocation of far more low income black families than it was replacing with low income housing in Shaw.[234]

The Washington Post reported that “R. H. Booker, speaking for the Black United Front, called land ownership in Shaw the key to ‘black revolution’ and urged residents to ‘take up arms’ to protect their property.”[235]

Black United Front

Carmichael announces return to D.C. – 1967

Shortly after this December 1967 speech at Howard University, Stokely Carmichael convened a United Black Front in the city.

On January 9, 1968 black power advocate Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) called together more than 100 black leaders in the city to establish the Black United Front (BUF) designed to speak with one voice on African American affairs in the District.[236]

Carmichael had just returned from an international trip and had announced he intended to settle in the city.[237][238]

Most local black leaders were interested in the concept and Booker was quickly elevated to the steering committee[239] and at one point served as chair of the BUF.[240]

However Carl Moultrie president of the local NAACP chapter was told by the national organization to stay clear after attending one meeting and Sterling Tucker of the Urban League was told to hold off on any organizational affiliation.

The national organization briefly relented and  Tucker accepted a position on the steering committee before being barred by Urban League altogether. Tucker stopped attending meeting in July 1968 and was eventually expelled from the organization for deliberate non-participation.[241][242][243][244]

Formation of the BUF

Sterling Tucker of the D.C. Urban League: 1970

Sterling Tucker of the D.C. Urban League in 1970.

Booker talks about the formation of the BUF in a 1970 interview and concludes that powerful white forces attempted to split the organization.

“Stokely Carmichael which I met Stokely when he first started attending Howard several years ago [1961]. As you know he worked very actively in SNCC, or the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee. They had a local action group at Howard University. It was called NAG, the Non-Violent Action Group.”

“So, you see, at that time in Washington [1968] you had a lot of different black groups, and they were involved and at various times and for whatever reasons attacking each other’s positions.”

“So when Carmichael came back from his world tour he organized what was called Black United Front, and it implied just that. Because it contained all black people in Washington of every political spectrum, economic [spectrum]—literally involved in the leadership of the Black United Front.”

“You have people like Sterling Tucker, Channing Phillips, Reverend Walter Fauntroy, David Eaton and Julius Hobson, myself, who are initially in the leadership of the front. In term they were on the steering committee.”

“See at that time the basis behind forming the Black United Front was to keep down political in-fighting in the black community, and let the black community speak with one united voice about whatever we wanted.”

“It succeeded for a while in terms of having it grow a spectrum of black people, but I think the established black organizations began to put pressure on their respective representatives.

“Like Sterling Tucker from the Urban League pulled out or was forced out; Carl Moultrie…from the NAACP pulled out or was forced out. These so-called established Negroes began to pull back.”

“Because, you see, then the white man, through his propaganda meeting [media?] began to ask questions of how could these so-called established Negroes sit in a room with Stokely Carmichael?”

“Once again using those same tactics of divide and conquer not realizing that whatever—whether you’re Roy Wilkins or Stokely Carmichael, you’re still black.”[245]

Booker also talked about the effectiveness of the BUF during that period of time, finding it the most strident advocate in the black community.

“The Black United Front invariably speaks for all the black people in Washington, D.C. You know, whether or not black people want—some black people don’t want to be identified with the Black United Front publicly or being a part of its membership, they still support the Black United Front.”

“It’s true the Black United Front at this point is the loudest thing out in the black community that speaks for the black community. It speaks through the aspirations of black people.”[246]

Police Shootings

Carmichael denounces killer cops: 1968

Stokely Carmichael denounces the D.C. police shooting death of Elijah Bennett in October 1968.

In one of his first actions as a member of the steering committee of the BUF, Booker led a protest of 50 people at the home of Mayor Walter Washington July 15, 1968 demanding three white officers be fired for the shooting death of Theodore Lawson by D.C. police.

Lawson was the 17th person killed by District police in the previous 18 months, of whom six were shot in the back. Another was killed point blank by a police shotgun that “accidentally went off” during questioning.

Lawson was shot while driving away after being questioned by police. They claimed Lawson tried to run them over while witnesses said the police were well clear of the auto.

Those returning from the Booker-led demonstration also staged an impromptu protest of a non-fatal police shooting near 14th & U Streets NW and returned the following day with a picket line in front of the Safeway on 14th Street where Lawson was shot.[247]

Another police shooting occurred in October 1968 whe 22-year-old Elijah Bennett who was slain by a police officer after being stopped for a jaywalking violation at 14th and & Streets NW. Following speeches in front of the New School for Afro American Thought, the crowd that numbered perhaps 200 marched to the intersection of 14th and T Streets where they engaged in jaywalking en masse.

Joined by a growing crowd, some threw bricks and bottles–breaking windows and clashing with police. Police dispersed the crowd by midnight.

The BUF followed up with demands for an elected “Citizen Selection and Review Board” in each police precinct. The board would appoint the precinct captain and officers, set standards for behavior and hear citizens’ complaints.

They also called for a second committee composed of the chair of all precinct boards that would recruit and hire all new police officers and act as a trial board for police accused of misconduct.[248]

Legislation was introduced in the city council to expand the existing precinct advisory boards duties, but to leave appointed representatives, drawing Booker’s ire at a hearing held November 25, 1968.[249]

The effort ultimately produced no major changes as police continued to be the sole body investigating and taking action, if any, on complaints despite a mayor’s complaint review board.[250]

Wilson appointed police chief

Mayor swears in Jerry Wilson as police chief: 1969

Mayor Walter Washington swears in Jerry Wilson as D.C. police chief in 1969.

Mayor Walter Washington decided to appoint Jerry Wilson as police chief and made an announcement to that effect on July 9, 1969.[251]

Wilson was well-known for leading assaults on protesters and was the first officer to fire tear gas on 14th Street after police cleared Resurrection City in 1968 and at Howard University student protests in 1969.[252]

He was also in charge of the police units that moved to quell disturbances in the city after the death of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. where tear gas and mass arrests were used.[253]

During Washington’s announcement, Booker, speaking for the BUF, continually interrupted the mayor shouting out repeatedly, “Mr. Mayor, I have a question.”

When Washington finally told Booker he could ask one question, Booker said:

“I want to know how you had the audacity to appoint this person who in the Washington community was the first to shoot teargas and was the first to shoot his gun—how could you foist this man on the black community?”

Washington responded quickly, “The appointment is made.”

Senate District Committee

Joseph d tydings

Senator Joseph Tydings pushed the D.C. Crime Bill that became a model for mass incarceration.

When U.S. Senator Alan Bible (D.-Nevada) retired, U.S. Senator Joseph Tydings (D-Md.) ascended to chair the Senate District Committee that oversaw the city’s affairs through appropriations and legislation for that side of Congress.

Booker, along with 15 other community leaders, signed a letter blasting Tydings as a tool of the “lily-white suburbs” and “temperamentally unsuited to the objective where the perilous and desperate needs of the inner city poor living in the growing slums of the areas are concerned…”[254]

Tydings was given the post by Senate leadership anyway, but the letter’s warnings quickly proved correct.

Senator Tydings immediately shepherded President Richard Nixon’s D.C. Crime Bill through the Senate[255] that provided for “no-knock” police raids, “preventive detention” for suspects charged with violent crimes, provided for a “three strike” rule where someone convicted of three felonies would be sentenced to life in prison, increased prison time for other offenses and permitted 16 and 17-year-olds to be tried as adults for certain felonies.[256]

The D.C. Crime Bill provided a model for similar legislation enacted nationally and in localities across the country that resulted in mass incarceration, including a far disproportionate number of black people, in the United States. In 1970 the total number of U.S. prisoners was about 200,000. By 2010 it was 1.6 million—far outstripping population growth.[257]

Police shoot Gregory Coleman

Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba: 1960

Booker read a letter by Patrice Lumumba at Coleman’s funeral.

Booker remained active in protesting police brutality and criminal justice abuses through the rest of the decade, organizing protests in August 1972 in the wake of D.C. police officer Charles Pender shooting 16-year-old Gregory Coleman in the back as he rode away on a bicycle that had been planted by police.[258][259]

Booker read a letter written by slain black leader of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba, at Coleman’s memorial service.

“This letter embodies the hopes and aspirations of black people. When we walk out of the building, it could be all of us. The only criterion for what happened to Gregory L. Coleman is that he is black.”

“It is not just officer Pender who is to blame, but the whole police system. Chief Jerry Wilson is to blame and so is Mayor Walter Washington, because he has the power to remove these people and he has not. We should think about removing him,” Booker said.[260]

In September 1972, Booker and others organized a citizens tribunal to probe the Coleman shooting where a 17-member panel heard Lancelot Coleman, the youth’s father say, “as long as Nixon runs the city…and we have no voice, no home rule…it will go on and on.”

Booker, representing Government Employees United Against Racial Discrimination (GUARD), testified before the panel and blasted a proposal by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments to coordinate information among area police departments and use sophisticated equipment for surveillance.[261]

Pender was charged with manslaughter and other lesser charges and after two trials was acquitted of all charges in 1976.[262]

Subsequent brutality work

‘Antagonist to white power structure’ Charles Cassell: 1972

Charles Cassell, along with Booker, called for disarming security guards in retail stores.

Booker declared in July 1973 that “all private security guards in all retail establishments must be disarmed” in the wake of a fatal shooting by a security guard. Booker and Charles Cassell called for the District to immediately pass a law prohibiting guards from carrying weapons.[263]

In November 1973, Booker called on Mayor Washington to appoint a citizens panel to investigate the police slaying of 44-year-old Lucille Morgan and a grand jury investigation as well.

Morgan was shot after she allegedly lunged at a police officer with a pair of scissors following an unspecified disturbance at a grocery store. Booker was speaking on behalf of the Coalition of Black People United for Prison Justice.

In November 1976, after a prisoner was beaten by marshals and left for approximately 20 minutes in his cell died before being checked on, Booker called for a second grand jury investigation after the first failed to call key witnesses or examine all the evidence.

Speaking as chair of the Coalition of Black People United for Justice, Booker on November 14, 1976, said that the initial investigation was a “cover-up” and continued, “We have new evidence showing that Curtis Hoston was murdered.”

Booker continued, “We know that beating of prisoners by marshals is routine. In this case they just happened to kill someone.”

The coalition presented Paul Gray, who was being held on a traffic charge at the time of Hoston’s death, to news reporters. Gray said Hoston was handcuffed behind his back “when they stomped him, when they threw him down the stairs and when they threw him against a post.”

One of the marshals kicked Hoston “in the head” after he had been placed unconscious in his cell and that Hoston was left for 25 minutes before anyone checked on him.[264]

Gray was not called as a witness before the grand jury.

Booker at a press briefing November 29, 1976 provided a list of new witnesses and called Hoston’s death, “a vicious act of murder committed under the shield of the law.”[265]

A second grand jury called new witnesses, but again cleared the marshals of wrongdoing.[266]

Fauntroy for council chair

D.C. civil rights activist Rev. Walter Fauntroy: 1971

Rev. Walter Fauntroy in 1971.

Booker was involved in many other varied aspects of black liberation and civil rights work through the years.

Continuing his confrontational style on January 23, 1969, as a Black United Front representative, he occupied the D.C. city council’s chairman’s seat while other BUF members filled the other council seats.

When city council chair John Hechinger entered the room to convene a hearing on Shaw urban renewal, Booker convened his own meeting demanding that appointed city council member Walter Fauntroy be made chair of the council.

Hechinger quickly left the room and Fauntroy entered persuading Booker and the others to leave their seats.[267]

Fauntroy, a BUF member and vice chair of the council, never made chairman. He was not re-appointed by President Nixon to the then presidentially selected council.[268]

King holiday

Call for King holiday: 1969

A 1969 “Don’t Work” poster seeking to make April 4th, the day of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,’s assassination, a holiday.

A rally in Malcolm X Park sponsored by the SCLC and the Metropolitan Community Aid Council (along with 3 other rallies at other parks) was held April 4, 1969 marking the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s slaying.

Booker addressed the crowd and urging them to put aside a debate over tactics in advancing black liberation after a group of young men seized the microphone and called for revolution.

“We should not stand here in an open forum and talk about the revolutionary struggle. If you’re talking about a revolutionary struggle you’re talking about an armed struggle.

Booker continued that with all the “FBI, CIA and other undercover agents” around “it doesn’t make sense to discuss the tactics of revolution in an open park—and let’s don’t fool ourselves brothers, that’s what all this talking is about.”

“Let’s get on with the program.”

The regular program then resumed.[269][270]

A follow-up April 17thmeeting at the District building sponsored by the Free Peoples Council drew 200 people that called for making April 4th a national holiday honoring Dr. King.

The early call for a holiday was for it to be celebrated on the date of his death rather than the date of his birth. Booker told the crowd that the only way black people can get the holiday is “to take it.”[271]

Seizure of Howard University

Howard students abandon building takeovers: 1969

Howard students end their occupation of Douglass Hall in 1970.

Howard University students escalated their protests that had been intermittently going on for almost two years in May 1969 and seized most buildings on the campus and held an effective class boycott calling for more student say over curriculum, student discipline, integrating the school with the community and general campus affairs.

Booker played the role of mediator, talking to both students and city officials in an attempt to avert a bloodbath.

After Howard obtained an injunction against the occupying students, more than 100 U.S. Marshals swept the campus arresting 20 students.

The city coordinated the sweep from a command center where Mayor Washington, Police Chief John Layton and Deputy U.S. Attorney Richard G. Kleindienst directed authorities.

Booker and Rev. Joe Gibson entered Douglass Hall as the marshals broke down the barricades and met alone with 16 students locked in a third floor room. They marched out with Booker unhandcuffed and raising their fists in black power salutes as they walked to the detention bus.

A crowd gathered around the bus and began battling marshals with rocks and bottles—later doing the same with D.C. police.[272] [273] [274]

Black Panther Party

Black Panthers seek white D.C. allies: 1969

A Black Panther flyer advertising actions in the D.C. area in the wake of the Chicago police murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark.

In December 1969 after the police murder of Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and member Mark Clark, rallies were held around the country to protest the police and FBI’s targeting of the group.

At least three separate rallies were held in Washington, D.C. including one December 21st at All Souls Church where Booker told the interracial crowd of 200 that black people “stand on the threshold of genocide.”

“Any black man in America in 1969 who does not possess a gun is not intelligent,” Booker said.

“The first task of black people is to collectively arm ourselves for self-defense [because] Nixon, the House of Thieves (Representatives), and the dirty dozen (Nixon’s cabinet) has declared war on us.”[275]

“Anyone who advocates social change stands to be killed because we are all revolutionaries” he continued.

The meeting also called for raising funds to establish a free breakfast for children program in conjunction with the Black Panthers who had not yet established a chapter in the city.[276]

Booker believed in defending the Panthers against attacks, but didn’t agree with their analysis.

“I support the Black Panthers because they are black people [but] I think an ideology which is based on class struggle is incorrect for the black community. I think an ideology based on the fact that our struggle is a race struggle is the correct position.”

Booker conceded there is a struggle within the black community involving class, but held that all black people have a common bond against white supremacy—and that is primary.

“You have this class antagonism within the black community based on economics…Now if two black people are sitting in a room and one has a PhD and one has a fifth grade education and we both walk out the door to face the line of white policemen armed with shotguns, they gonna shoot us both,” Booker said in a 1970 interview.[277]

Other activism

Public Domain: Nixon with Mayor Walter Washington by Jack E. Knightlinger, February 1973 (NARA)

President Nixon congratulates Walter Washington at his swearing in as appointed Mayor of the city in 1973.

Booker was part of a number of other rights actions through the years including testifying against a parking plan in April 1969 where he charged, “The parking bill is part and parcel of the freeway struggle and the urban renewal struggle which is the reclaiming of land for white America and the displacing of black people.”[278]

He was part of a June 1970 effort to urge President Nixon to appoint a member of a minority group to the Federal Communications Commission. Booker was a member of the local chapter of the Black Efforts for Soul in Television that sent a letter to Nixon.[279]

In August of the same year he denounced the appointed mayor and council when Home Rule bills for the District were being considered saying that Mayor Washington was “simply placed there to act as a buffer against angry blacks.”

“In that job, he has conducted himself commendably. But putting in people like the mayor only serves to temporarily forestall the revolution.”

“He does not represent the interests of the masses. He was put there by the White House and the Board of Trade,” Booker continued.”[280]

In September 1970, Marion Barry, Booker, Julius Hobson and the Rev. David Eaton led a march by 80 people to three embassies (French, Italian and Turkish) that they lambasted for importing drugs into the black community.[281][282]

Also in September 1970, he blasted the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority for “white supremacy and racism” among its white collar employees. He charged that black people were concentrated in clerical jobs where few were in managerial positions.[283]

He was involved in an effort in early 1971 to bring the first Ali-Frazier fight to RFK stadium for $5 per seat (instead of $15 charged in other commercial venues) in an attempt to provide a low cost event and keep black dollars in the black community. The effort was ultimately unsuccessful for what was later dubbed “The Fight of the Century.”[284]

In April of 1973, Booker was involved in the first Black Assembly in the District and spoke to the gathering that was an offshoot of the national Black Assembly held in 1972 in Gary, Indiana.[285]

Booker joined an effort in 1974 to change the D.C. Charter. He was a member of the group OPEN—Organization for Political Equality Now—headed by Charles Cassell.

The group made three main criticism of the charter: presidential appointment of city judges, presidential authority to take over the city police in an “emergency,” and the prohibition against a commuter tax.[286]

Booker was one of the leaders of three days of demonstrations by Federal City College students in 1974 protesting a $1 million cut in the school’s budget by the city council.

Booker led a demonstration of more than 100 students to the D.C. Council chambers where he had been promised a meeting of the council to hear students concerns. However councilmembers did not show up and Chair John Nevius called off the meeting.

“The verdict of the people at FCC is that they (council members) pulled a Watergate,” said Booker.[287]

Barbara Sizemore

Educator Barbara Sizemore: 1970 ca.

Barbara Sizemore opposed standardized testing as biased against black children.

In 1975, Booker, who always held education close to his heart, joined the effort to protest the impending firing of school superintendent Barbara Sizemore. The activists were led by an impromptu coalition of the Black United Front, the Black Assembly and RAP, Inc., among others and headed up by Washington Informer publisher Calvin Rolark.

They charged that the closed hearings of the school board were an attempt by the white powers to remove Sizemore..[288]

Sizemore was the first black woman to head a major school system when she was appointed superintendent in Washington, D.C., from 1973 to 1975. She was ultimately fired for abolishing standardized tests. Sizemore was an opponent of standardized tests, but when they became entrenched she urged teaching students the analysis, synthesis and inference skills needed to pass them.[289]

At a city council hearing on police intelligence operations in July 1975, Booker charged that Project Progress, a federally funded community relations project, engaged in spying by monitoring political demonstrations during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Booker went on to say that the members received military training, carried weapons and that he personally witnessed Project Progress workers acting as provocateurs, throwing rocks at U.S. Marshals during the May 1969 campus takeover by students at Howard University.

John Staggers, who was head of the program, admitted that Project Progress workers attended an Army camp, but denied military training. He also admitted that the workers attended meetings of dissident groups, but denied they passed the information on to police. He also admitted they were at Howard during the disturbances, but said they were there to act as a buffer and denied they threw any rocks.

Booker said his information came from sources in the Office of Economic Opportunity that funded the program..

In 1976 Metro held hearings on terminating bus service at Anacostia Station and forcing people to ride the subway to come across the Anacostia River thereby increasing their fares and travel times.

Booker, representing the Black United Front, joined with dozens of other community activists to oppose the plan.[290]

Marion Barry

Future mayors confer at freeway hearing: 1968

ECTC vice chair Marion Barry confers with Sammie Abbott during a D.C. Council freeway hearing in 1968.

When Marion Barry was running the first time for mayor of the city in 1978 and was denounced by some of his former activist colleagues, Booker came to his defense.

“Marion has been able to do what few other grassroots political activists have done. He has made the transition from street activism to electoral politics. Some people criticize him and say he’s sold out, but he’s just changed his tactics and strategies. He has a view from the outside and the inside,” Booker told the Washington Star.[291]

Representing the Black United Front again, Booker in April 1978 blasted a proposed rate increase by Pepco, joining other community activists at a hearing.

Booker testified, “We all had these same issues in 1976. Citizens shouldn’t have to be technical experts…we pay the commissioners to be the experts.”

“The commission is not going to respond to us today because we didn’t put them there. They respond to the pressure of those (elected officials) who answer to commercial and utility interests,” Booker continued.[292]

Booker’s reported and unreported activities is much longer and wider than described here, but aforementioned give an overview of the breadth and depth of his involvement in civil rights and black liberation struggles from the mid 1950s through the end of the 1970s.

Electoral Efforts

Hobson seeks D.C. Delegate post: 1971

Julius Hobson told Booker he would never win “Man of the Year” for his uncompromising militant activism.

Booker quoted Julius Hobson as once having told him, “Reginald, you will never win Man of the Year Award for what you’re doing.”

Hobson’s prediction proved accurate. Booker tried to enter politics like other activist contemporaries of his such as Marion Barry, Charles Cassell, Hobson, Sammie Abbott, Douglas Moore, Hilda Mason and Walter Fauntroy who all won local offices at one point or another.

However his radical, uncompromising approach did not serve him well in electoral politics.

While transportation, employment and police brutality comprised most of his aggressive activism, he never forgot his initial experiences in the D.C. education system as a student thrown into the “general” track or his early efforts to change the school system for the better.

He first sought to run for D.C. school board in 1968 from Ward 8. However his friend Albert Whitaker, who was supposed to deliver the nominating petitions before the board of elections deadline, failed to show before the board’s doors were locked.

At a hearing September 24, 1968, Whitaker testified he had car trouble on the Suitland Parkway that prevented him from arriving on time. The board of elections denied Booker a spot on the ballot.[293]

This was at the height of Booker’s prominence as he was in the middle of both the bus boycott and the freeway fight and it was an open seat. It was probably his best chance winning an election, but fate turned another direction.

Booker was expected to run a strong race in 1969 from Ward 8 against the incumbent James Coates and said he was “90 percent sure” he would run.[294]

“Mr. Coates is a middle class minister who is unrepresentative of an area where most of the people are poor.” Ward 8 covered far southeast and southwest, including Anacostia and Congress Heights where most of the city’s public housing projects were and still are located.[295]

Booker predicted he would “bury Coates” in the election.[296]

However Booker did not file for this election. “Booker said yesterday [September 21, 1969] he decided ‘at the last minute’ that his commitments to ECTC and other groups would not allow him to run,” wrote the Washington Post.[297]

In 1971, Booker joined the effort to elect Marion Barry to the school board in Barry’s first electoral effort.[298] Barry won the seat by a 10,000 vote margin over incumbent Anita Allen[299] and was selected as chair of the board when it met in 1972.

In 1976, Booker ran as a write-in candidate for city council against Rev. Jerry Moore, but his vote totals were so low they were not reported with the election results.[300][301]

Booker runs for school board

Booker’s last run for school board: 1994

Booker’s last run for school board got him the most votes but the same result.

Booker took a run at school board again, this time in 1979 in Ward 1 while he was living at 2120 16th Street NW.[302] In that election incumbent Frank Smith was running with Marion Barry’s support and there were a number of other challengers.

Booker took aim at the school system “for producing high school graduates who, fundamentally, have no skills.”

The Washington Star reported, “Booker said he would like to have the curriculum re-examined and to have basic subjects such as reading, writing , speech and mathematics emphasized.”

“The school system has all resources it needs, but it needs aggressive leadership,” Booker added.[303]

Booker finished in last place of the five candidates in the balloting behind winner Frank Smith. Smith won with 1,782 votes while Booker polled only 141.[304]

Booker took one more shot at school board in 1994, this time in Ward 2 and won the largest number of votes in his electoral efforts through the years.

The Washington Post wrote that “R. H Booker, a staff member at the nonprofit United Black Fund Inc., said he is running because his 14-year-old daughter attends Jefferson Junior High and he wants ‘to see all of the schools equal in terms of money spent, facilities, teachers, materials.’”

“Booker said the first task the board should tackle is educating parents about their rights and how the board operates. He said that the school system’s payroll is ‘bloated’ and that the board should consider eliminating positions that are not relevant to classroom instruction.”[305]

Booker again finished last, this time in eighth place with 415 votes compared to winner Ann Wilcox’s 4,619.[306]

Views on women

Black liberation leader Gwen Patton: 1980 ca.

Black liberation leader Gwen Patton critiqued male supremacy among some male black nationalists.

Booker viewed the white, often well-off women who regularly spoke for the women’s liberation movement at the time as irrelevant to the black community. He further dismissed black women’s efforts and saw any uplifting of black women as downgrading black men—a view that was not uncommon among male black nationalist activists of the era.

“I think the woman’s liberation movement is a phenomenon among middle class white women who want to do what they want to do.”

“The women’s liberation movement doesn’t relate to the black community. Because a black woman’s problems, or ills, result from her oppression, and discrimination and the economic lynching of the black male; which places the black woman in a situation in some cases of having to take care of her family, if she’s on public subsidy where the man has to leave the house in order for her to get the money.”

“Or in a lot of instances there are black women who make more money than their husbands because of the fact that the white man sees it feasible, number one, he can try to use the black woman for his own personal purposes.

“That’s why I can notice, for example, in the federal government where most of the black women who are secretaries keeps the black woman right next to the white man. Then where for an example, in the federal government, some of the top positions that are held by black women, which keeps the black males down. In private industry it’s the same way.”[307]

Moynihan’s theories on the black family

DanielPatrickMoynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that the black family was “pathologically” matriarchal that in turn caused black male ineffectiveness.

Gwen Patton, a rights activist and black liberation leader of the same generation as Booker, critiqued this viewpoint of some male black nationalists—finding that it originated with Daniel Moynihan, a white sociologist who held reactionary views on black families and later became a U.S. Senator.

Patton also did work in the District of Columbia, including working with Mary Treadwell at Pride, Inc. During an interview with Against the Current published in its September-October 2008 issue, Patton said:

“I had the Black Women’s Committee incorporated — I knew this was important for tax-exempt status. [The Black Women’s Liberation Committee, formed by women in SNCC, was a forerunner of the later Third World Women’s Alliance (TWWA) — eds.]”

“Early on, black women and black men were on a par. I was the first Student Body President elected at Tuskegee since it had become a co-ed school….I didn’t see all this division.”

“But Moynihan called black women Amazons and said we castrated our men. Some of our men bought into that, and then we saw the beginning of all this heavily male-dominated cultural nationalism.”

“I began to talk about the need to have a women’s perspective. There’s a terrific concept, which was formulated by SNCC’s Fran Beal — women’s “triple jeopardy” in confronting racism, sexism and class. This wasn’t in “reaction” to anything — in fact we discussed that, and reactive politics didn’t accomplish anything.”[308]

While there is not a record of Booker changing his views after 1970, he would have had a difficult time reconciling them with the black women who took leading roles within GUARD while he was president of that organization.

Booker was fighting side-by-side with black women to obtain higher pay, open up more professional jobs for women and to get rid of white supervisors who were biased against them for being black and a woman.

CIA, FBI & D.C. police spying

CIA, FBI, D.C. police surveillance of Reginald H. Booker: 1968-72

The 1975 Rockefeller Commission report on CIA activities in the U.S. revealed that Booker’s Niggers, Inc. was under surveillance.

When Rockefeller Report on CIA domestic activities was released in June 1975, buried within it on page 154 was an obscure reference to “Niggers, Inc.”—the small, four-member group that Reginald Booker led in 1968.

It turned out that Booker and the group were the subject of the CIA’s “Operation Chaos” that tracked dissidents in the United States, but had a particular focus on the Washington, D.C. area and was run through the CIA’s Office of Security.[309]

Though ostensibly concerned with the security of CIA agents and installations, the “’assets’ reported regularly, usually in longhand. The reports were not confined to matters relating to intended demonstrations at government installations.”

‘They included details of the size and makeup of the groups and the names and attitudes of their leaders and speakers.”

“In some instances, the agency identified leaders or speakers at a meeting by photographing their automobiles and checking registration records. In other cases, it followed them home in order to identify them through the city directory. Photographs were also taken at several major demonstrations in the Washington area and at protest activities of the White House.”

“Assets were instructed to include within their reports the details of meetings attended, including the names of the speakers and the gist of their speeches, any threatening remarks against United States government leaders, and an evaluation of attitudes, trends, and possible developments within the organization.”[310]

Other D.C. groups targeted

Women reject HUAC, march on White House: 1962

Women’s Strike for Peace, shown marching in 1962, was among D.C. groups target by. the CIA.

Other local groups targeted included the Mayday Tribe, Women’s Strike for Peace, the Washington Peace Center, the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam, The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the New School of Afro American Thought, the Washington Ethical Society, The Black Panthers, American Humanist Association, The War Resisters League, the Black United Front, Urban League, Washington Mobilization for Peace, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, and the Nation of Islam.

The spying by the CIA began in late 1967 and continued through 1972, although intelligence gathering was turned over to the District of Columbia police in December 1968 who continued to forward reports to the CIA.

Booker’s group was first added to the list of organizations to track in August of 1968. A minimum of 12 agents, and often more, tracked the activities of groups and individuals in the District of Columbia.[311]

In 1975, the Senate “Church Committee” also investigated FBI, CIA and NSA surveillance of American citizens and further information was revealed on domestic spying activities and disruption activities in the Washington, D.C. area.

Lawsuit against D.C. police and FBI agents

Reginald Booker Arrested for Fixing Up Brookland Home: 1969

Booker is frisked when he arrested for ‘liberating’ a home in Brookland during the North Central Freeway actions.

In July of 1976 seven individuals and two organizations sued the five FBI executives in charge of a widespread spying and disruption program here and nine city police officers that they identified.

Those suing were Booker; Hobson (and his wife Tina Hobson after he passed);  Rev. David Eaton, pastor of All Souls Church; Arthur Waskow of the Institute for Policy Studies; Sammie Abbott who was by then mayor of Takoma Park; Abraham Bloom, a longtime local peace activist; and Richard Pollock, a freelance writer. The organizations were the Women’s Strike for Peace and the Washington Peace Center.

It represented the first political action damage claim for invasion of privacy from the Vietnam era.[312]

During the discovery phase, the few FBI documents released showed that Abbott, Booker and the ECTC were under surveillance at George Washington University, city council chambers, 14th and & U Streets NW and at the Three Sisters Bridge site, among other places.

A Booker speech at George Washington University during the Three Sisters Bridge demonstrations October 22, 1969 was included in the documents.

Booker began the speech, “Before we get started…I would like to acknowledge the presence of FBI agents and undercover people…Report back to the Nixon people that the bridge will be smashed.”

The documents showed that Booker was listed in the FBI’s “agitator index” and “rabble-rouser index.”

When the case went to trail in 1981, there was testimony and evidence presented that the FBI and D.C. police went far beyond surveillance.

Seeking to drive a wedge between black activists and the peace movement, the FBI created a flyer from the BUF demanding reparations from a peace group sponsoring a demonstration asking for $1 per demonstrator for “safe conduct” in the city and then issued a racist “response leaflet” showing monkeys and bananas saying “Give them bananas.”

Booker testified that while working for the Black United Front a man working as his aide was identified as an undercover D.C. police officer.

Sammie Abbott testified that while speaking at a rally near the Three Sisters Bridge he warned the crowd that police and undercover agents were prepared for any confrontation and attempted to warn the crowd against marching on the bridge site.

He testified someone in the crowd shouted “sellout” and “coward.” A confrontation between police and demonstrators later occurred, resulting in a number of arrests. Abbott testified the heckler matched the description of an undercover D.C. police officer.[313]

The suit sought $1.8 million in damages.[314] After 25 hours of deliberation the jury agreed with the plaintiffs that federal agents and police had not only spied, but circulated deliberately false information and attempted to instigate violence in order to discredit them and their political activities.

The jury found most of the defendants had violated the rights of most of those who sued and awarded a total of $711,937.50 in damages on December 23, 1981.

The total was split up among the defendants in varying amounts, depending upon how much damage the jury thought the defendants did to each plaintiff. Booker was awarded about $80,000.[315][316]

Personal life

Booker turns his back on council ‘criminals’: 1968

In 1968 Booker turns his back on the D.C. Council and says, “I’m going to face the people—not some of those criminals who sit on the city council.”

Booker lived in various places throughout the city and appears to have lived in each quadrant for at least part of his life.

He paid a personal price for his activism. While working at the General Services Administration, he was told to quit his job or be fired.

The Leveys wrote:

“One day, after he referred to the D.C. Council on television as ‘President Johnson’s ranch hands,’ Booker was called into the office of the GSA administrator.”

“He was told that his picture would henceforth be posted in the GSA security office so guards would know who he was. He was criticized for ‘embarrassing the president.’ The administrator, Lawson B. Nott Jr., suggested that Booker might be ‘happier elsewhere.’”[317]

Booker resigned.

After he learned of FBI officials and the District of Columbia police officers spying on him and conducting provocative actions infringing in his First Amendment rights, he told The Washington Star newspaper that the authorities made his personal life more challenging in those days.

He said that friends started to shun him because of FBI questioning, that agents questioned his girlfriends and neighbors, and that the surveillance caused him difficulties landing a job and getting good credit.[318]

He worked at various jobs including construction, the General Services Administration, the Youth Division of the United Planning Organization, the Urban Law Institute, and the Black United Fund as well as working as an independent contractor on employment law. He completed at least three years at the University of the District of Columbia majoring in economics.[319][320][321]

Booker had three children: Jaha Booker, Jamal Booker and Daniel Gayden.

Reginald H. Booker died at age 74 on July 19, 2015.[322]

Discussion

Kwame Afoh and Reginald Booker at bus protest: 1970

Edell Lydia Jr. (later Kwame Afoh) and Reginald Booker at a 1970 bus fare protest press conference.

Reginald H. Booker was a unique black nationalist who had a direct impact across racial lines through the anti-Vietnam War movement and his lasting work with the ECTC that resulted in a public transportation system that is superior to most in the U.S. and that continues to define the District of Columbia today.

The fights he waged through CORE to improve District of Columbia education, with the Black United Front against police brutality, and with the construction task force to increase the number of black workers in the trades were on the right side of justice, but are unfortunately still unresolved today.

His early warnings against urban renewal that displaces working class black people went unheeded, and has over time resulted in an increasingly unaffordable city for the laboring class, low level professionals and for those who seek to raise a family.

While issues of discrimination and bias are still more widespread than they should be in the federal government, his work with GUARD produced tangible results in making gains for black workers in the public sector.

Women’s rights

He was not a perfect person–no more than any of us are. His views on women were lamentable. He was right that much of the media representations of “women’s liberation” in the late 1960s dealt with upper class white women.

But he attributes the oppression of black women to the subjugation of the black man and finds that a situation where a black woman makes more money than a black male unsavory.

For all his analysis of white supremacy, he somewhat surprisingly missed the discrimination that affects black women directly. While he noted the debilitating effects of the “man in the house” rule he fails to note many other aspects where white, male supremacy both oppressed and exploited black women.

A few that he doesn’t speak to that were front and center issues of the time included the ability of black women to move into traditionally male jobs, women’s pay compared to men, affordable day care and pre-K, abortion rights, pension rights, women’s inequality within the family–all of which hit black women hard. And that doesn’t mention the black women that played leadership roles in movements for social change.

Solution to black oppression

Announce construction of new black capital city: 1971

Imari Obadele (center) at a Republic of New Africa press conference in 1971.

The question of how to guarantee black rights in the United States has vexed black revolutionaries for a long time.

The Communist Party of the 1920s and early 30s and the later Republic of New Africa led by Imari Obadele argued that a black nation should be established in a geographic area that spanned parts of five states in the southern United States.

Marcus Garvey argued that black people should ultimately return to Africa and give up on the U.S. Garvey sold shares in his companies to raise black capital for black enterprises in the U.S. and vehemently opposed socialists and communists. Others before Garvey attempted re-settlement in Liberia.

Booker and many of his pan-Africanist contemporaries did not advocate this, but instead held a view that African economic and political unity, under an afro-socialist system, held the best promise for black people in America because an economic system based in Africa could be extended into predominantly black areas in the United States thereby freeing black people from white economic domination.

Marxists of various stripes advocate socialism to overcome capitalist exploitation and oppression and have generally upheld some version of self-determination or community control in the black communities in the U.S. However, they don’t see self-determination as meaningful under capitalism, don’t see a separate land-based nation within the United States as a workable solution and don’t believe that a pan-Africanist economic system extending into the U.S. is feasible.

Role of whites

Activist Reginald Booker: 1968

Booker testifying in 1968

While not compromising on his nationalist and pan-Africanist views, It seems later in life Booker reconsidered some of his more strident rhetoric about those whites supporting black liberation and about the issue of working with whites in coalition.

Booker’s experience with white workers at the time of his 1970 interview was largely confined to his experience with workers in the building trades—the most conservative elements within the labor movement. However, his experience at GUARD where a number of white workers and government union locals supported black demands may have modified his views.[323][324]

During his 1971 interview with Shandler during his time at GUARD, Booker drew a distinction between the “honkies” who suppressed black people and those who supported the cause of black liberation. “Polarization between the races would be debilitating,” he said.[325]

When he was interviewed by the Leveys in 2000, he recognized the strength of black and white people working together in coalition, each based on their own interest, pursuing a common goal when he reflected back on his work with the ECTC.

“The whole theory was to appeal to homeowners, no matter what race they were. Our movement was unique. It was black and whites in a common effort, an integrated group, working in their own interests. That was the significant thing. It was an issue that united people.”[326]

Courts vs. Activism

There is often a false divide between the use of courts, lobbying, elections or activism to achieve a social goal. But Booker’s experience in the ECTC points to a different conclusion. Despite oaths and teaching that judges must uphold the law and not allow other considerations to come into their decisions, there’s often quite a bit of latitude within the law and public opinion plays a large role in determining what ruling a judge will make. The example of the ECTC’s confrontational tactics turning public opinion against new freeways in the District can be seen as the impetus behind much of the courts’ decisions to halt freeway work in the city–a lesson that contemporary activists should pay attention to.

Characterizations of Booker

The few descriptions of Booker are more patronizing than complimentary. Gilbert Hahn, an attorney active in the Board of Trade, an appointed chair of the D.C. Council and a frequent target of Booker’s ire over the freeway issue called him a “very nice African American man.”[327]

Hahn’s description reeks of white supremacy, belittles Booker and discounts his conviction. Booker was an intelligent, tenacious, forceful, in-your-face, unrelenting, passionate advocate for African Americans and cannot be simply dismissed as “nice.”

The Leveys paint a sympathetic picture of Booker and include an anecdote about Booker dining in Abbott’s home and the two going out for ice cream.

While the anecdote is undoubtedly true, it paints the same picture of Booker as “nice” in a more subtle way because the Levey’s long Washington Post article “The End of Roads” includes only hints of Booker’s revolutionary core.[328]

Ranking among local black leaders

Rights leader Davidson named to D.C. real estate board: 1963

Eugene Davidson of the New Negro Alliance and the NAACP in a 1963 image.

When considering his place among the most effective black activist leaders in the District of Columbia in the 20th Century who never held elected office in the city, Mary Church Terrell (though she did serve on the appointed school board) would probably have to rank first.

But Booker should rank alongside Francis Grimke, an early D.C. NAACP leader; Rev. William Jernagin, whose rights leadership in the city began at the turn of the last century with the National Race Congress and didn’t end until 50 years later; John P. Davis, the executive secretary of the National Negro Congress who took an active role in District affairs against police brutality and for integrating the defense industry and schools; Marie Richardson Harris, a labor organizer who became the first black woman to hold a full time position in a national labor union and later served as executive secretary of the local National Negro Congress, Oliver Palmer who led 5,000 overwhelmingly black cafeteria workers out of poverty to living wages with health insurance and retirement benefits; Gardner Bishop, who led a student strike for better schools for black children in 1947 and was the force behind the 1954 Bolling v. Sharpe decision that ended legal segregation of District public schools; and Eugene Davidson who headed both the New Negro Alliance of the 1930s and 40s and the D.C. NAACP of the 1950s.

Scant Recognition

New city council member Hilda Mason with husband: 1977

Hilda Mason and her husband Charles upon her election to the city council in 1977.

Booker didn’t expect public adulation for his work and when he reflected back, he was happy with his choices.

“I’m personally satisfied. I saw this as my social responsibility. It was just a natural thing for me to do,” said Booker to the Leveys.[329]

The Leveys wrote:

“On the day that the U Street-Cardozo subway station opened in 1991, D.C. Councilmember Hilda Mason invited Booker to attend a ceremony. She asked him to stand. She told the small crowd that Booker had been a leader to bring the subway to Washington. There was brief applause, but nothing more.”

“It is the only public recognition Reginald Booker has ever received.”[330]

Author’s Notes

I decided to write this when I looked for Reginald Booker’s obituary and couldn’t find one, nor any write up anywhere except the short ones in our photo descriptions on the Washington Area Spark Flickr site, a recent brief one at an online tour, African American Civil Rights, D.C. Historic Sites, and a mention of his death on the Trip Within the Beltway blog about a year after he passed.

It made me angry that no one recognized his greatness. I didn’t really know him, although I saw him speak once or twice in my early activist days–and he was larger than life then.

But somehow we had forgotten him and he died in obscurity. I hope that others will explore his rich life deeper than I have. He is deserving of far more accolades than I can ever give him.

About the Author

The author was an activist for 50 years in the Washington, D.C. area.  He attended the University of Maryland, 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

Footnotes

[1] Interview with Reginald H. Booker, Robert Wright, July 24, 1970, Ralph Bunche Oral History Collection, Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, Washington, D.C.

[2] The Insane Highway Plan That Would Have Bulldozed DC’s Most Charming Neighborhoods, Harry Jaffe, Washingtonian, October 21, 2015, HTTPS://WWW.WASHINGTONIAN.COM/2015/10/21/THE-INSANE-HIGHWAY-PLAN-THAT-WOULD-HAVE-BULLDOZED-WASHINGTON-DCS-MOST-CHARMING-NEIGHBORHOODS/, accessed January 2, 2020.

[3] Op. Cit., Interview.

[4] Hearings on Integration in Public Education Programs, Committee on Education and Labor, March 1962, Government Printing Office, 1962.,

[5] Op. Cit., Interview

[6] Civil Rights Tour: Protest – Reginald Booker, Anti-freeway activist, https://historicsites.dcpreservation.org/items/show/996, accessed January 2, 2020

[7] Op. Cit., Interview

[8] Op Cit., Interview

[9] Swift Backs Expected to Pace Roosevelt, The Washington Star, September 11, 1959, page D4.

[10] Op. Cit., Hearings on Integration in Public Education Programs.

[11] Chastisement in Public Schools is Endorsed at Board Hearing, Susanna McBee, The Washington Post, April 9, 1963, page B-1.

[12] Op. Cit,, Interview

[13] Just Another Southern Town, Joan Quigley, Oxford University Press, 2016.

[14] Op. Cit, Interview

[15] Group demands change, Edward Peeks, The Afro American, May 13, 1961, page 20.

[16] DC CORE issues guide in ‘selective buying’ bid, The Afro American, December 22, 1962, page 16.

[17] CORE keeps marching in merit hiring drive, The Afro American, March 17, 1962, page 8.

[18] Hahn Stores Reach Pact with CORE, Jean White, The Washington Post, July 30, 1961, page B-1.

[19] CORE Battles D.C. Job Bias, New Pittsburgh Courier, December 8, 1962, page 23.,

[20] Clerics with CORE in store boycott, Edward Peeks, The Afro American, February 3, 1962, page 20.

[21] Op. Cit., Interview.

[22] Black doctors fight hospital discrimination: 1960, Washington Area Spark,https://www.flickr.com/photos/washington_area_spark/49230008013/in/photolist-2i1hEeB, accessed January 3, 2020.

[23] Hospital Settles Racial Dispute, The Washington Post, June 19, 1964, page B-1.

[24] 7 Arrested In Sit-In At Hospital, The Washington Post, June 15, 1964, page B-1.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Op cit., Hospital Settles Racial Dispute.

[27] Op. cit. Interview.

[28] Race Policy Agreement Set at Casualty Hospital, The Washington Post, July 17, 1964, page B2

[29] Columbia Ends Racial Barriers, The Washington Post, June 25, 1964, page D20.

[30] D.C. School boycott Set, The Baltimore Sun, March 9, 1964, page 9.

[31] 11 Negro Leaders Hit School boycott Plan, The Washington Post, March 11, 1964, page C-1.

[32] School Head Meets with Core Chief, The Washington Post, March 24, 1964, page B1.

[33] Hobson Expelled by National Core, The Washington Post, June 21, 1964, page A6.

[34] Op. Cit., Interview.

[35] Rights Leaders Form New Group, The Baltimore Sun, April 17, 1964, page 48.

[36] Op. Cit., Interview.

[37] Op. Cit., Interview

[38] Op. Cit., Interview.

[39] Op. Cit., D.C. School Boycott Set.

[40] DARE Pickets Bank Here in Jobs Protest, The Washington Post, August 17, 1963, page C4.

[41] DARE Stalls Eviction of Family of 8, The Washington Post, October 19m, 1963, page D13.

[42] Civil Liberties Battle Mother’s Welfare Rights, The Evening Star, October 29, 1963, page A-8.

[43] Ibid.

[44] Negroes Urge Rent Strikes, The Washington Post, January 20, 1964, page A7.

[45] District Building March Demands Home Rule, The Evening Star, February 1, 1964, page A-5.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Op. Cit., Interview.

[49] Op. Cit., Interview.

[50] Op. Cit., Interview.

[51] Op. Cit., Interview.

[52] Op. Cit., Interview.

[53] Op. Cit., Interview.

[54] Op. Cit., Interview.

[55] Op. Cit., Interview.

[56] Op. Cit., Interview.

[57] Hobson v. Hansen: The De Facto Limits on Judicial Power, Beatrice A. Moulton, Stanford Law Review 20 (1968): 1252, accessed January 3, 2i020.

[58] Hobson v. Hansen, 269 F. Supp. 401 (D.D.C. 1967), Justia US Law, https://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/269/401/1800940/, retrieved January 2, 2020.

[59] Julius Hobson Sr. Dies, Cynthia Gorney, The Washington Post, March 24, 1977.

[60] May Day Boycott Scheduled for D.C., The Washington Free Press, March 26, 1967, page 5.

[61] Shaw School Site Debated, The Washington Star, March 29, 1967, page C-1.

[62] Boycott Supporters Claim Intimidation by School Officials, The Washington Post, April 28, 1967, page B-1.

[63] Hansen, Critics Poised for D.C. School Boycott, The Washington Post, April 30, 1967, page A-1.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Attendance Cut Slightly in School Boycott Here, Susan Filson, The Washington Post, May 2, 1967, page A1.

[66] Op. Cit., Hobson v. Hansen.

[67] “Wright Edict Upheld on All Major Points,” Thomas W. Lippman, The Washington Post, January 22, 1969

[68] “Wright Lets Foes Fight His Ruling.” David Jewell, The Washington Post, February 20, 1968.

[69] The Courts and Social Policy, Donald L. Horowitz, (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 1977), page 115.

[70] Ali Still a Champ at Rally, Willard Clopton Jr., The Washington Post, July 16, 1967, page A11.

[71] Antiwar walk with Stokely Carmichael flyer: 1967, Washington Area Spark, https://flic.kr/p/2ejrz9e, accessed January 3, 2020.

[72] Op. Cit., Ali Still a Champ at Rally.

[73] Ibid.

[74] Op. Cit., Interview.

[75] Negroes Protest War at Capital Draft Site, The Baltimore Sun, April 27, 1968, page A-2.

[76] 150 Demonstrators March on District Draft Offices, Paul W. Valentine, The Washington Post, April 27, 1968, page B-2.

[77] Anti-Humphrey Rally Today, The Washington Free Press, July 27, 1968, page 6.

[78] Moratorium Activities for D.C. Area Listed, The Washington Post, October 15, 1969, page A12.

[79] U.S. Is Planning Other Wars, SCLC Leaders Tell D.C. Rally, Michael Anders, The Washington Star, November 12, 1969, page B-1.

[80] Vietnam War Denounced by Blacks, Ivan Brandon, The Washington Post, November 12, 1969, page A-7.

[81] White House Cordoned, Paul W. Valentine, The Washington Post, May 7, 1970, page A-1.

[82] Memorandum for: Chief, SR Staff – Subject Project Merrimack, Central Intelligence Agency, August 8, 1967, http://www.aavw.org/special_features/govdocs_cia_abstract01_full.html, accessed January 4, 2020.

[83] National Hotline, Diggs Dalrooth, Chicago Daily Defender, January 20, 1968, page 2.

[84] Booker confronts pro-freeway speaker: 1968, Washington Area Spark Flickr, https://flic.kr/p/2iiTdfR, retrieved January 26, 2020.

[85] Commission Rejects Any suspicion of CIA Involvement in JFK Death, Thomas O’Toole, The Washington Post, June 11, 1975, page 1.

[86] Foes of Freeway Dogged by FBI Activist Charges, Alan Frank, The Washington Post, April 4, 1977, page D-14.

[87] End of the Roads, Bob Levey and Jane Freundel Levey, The Washington Post, Nov. 26, 2000, page SMB 10.

[88] Op. Cit., Interview.

[89] Op. Cit., Ali Still a Champ at Rally.

[90] Op. Cit., The End of Roads.

[91] Op. Cit., Civil Rights Tour: Protest – Reginald Booker, Anti-freeway activist.

[92] Op. Cit. End of the Roads.

[93] The D.C. Freeway Revolt and the coming of Metro, Richard F. Weingroff, Federal Highway Administration, https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/highwayhistory/dcrevolt/, retrieved January 4, 2020.

[94] Op. Cit. End of the Roads.

[95] Making D.C. Democracy’s Capital: Local Activism, the ‘Federal State’, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C., Gregory M. Borchardt, Doctor of Philosophy  dissertation, George Washington University, August 31, 2013, pp 212-214.

[96] Ibid.

[97] Ibid..

[98] Ibid.

[99] Op. Cit., Interview.

[100] Court Blocks All D.C. Action On 4 Freeways, Lee Flor, The Washington Star, February 10, 1968, page A-3.

[101] Op. Cit., Making D.C. Democracy’s Capital: Local Activism, the ‘Federal State’, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.

[102] Op. Cit., The End of Roads.

[103] Op. Cit., The End of Roads.

[104] Op. Cit., The End of Roads.

[105] Op. Cit., Making D.C. Democracy’s Capital: Local Activism, the ‘Federal State’, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.

[106] Op. Cit., Interview.

[107] Fauntroy Seeks ‘Out’ On Freeways Order, Roberta Horning and Lee Flor, The Washington Star, December 4, 1968, page D-4.

[108] Public Control of Transit Eyed, The Washington Post, June 8, 1968, page B-2.

[109] D.C. Heads’ Letter on Transit Seizure, The Washington Post, July 19, 1955, page A-9.

[110] Citizens Council Asks City to Purchase D.C. Transit, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, December 17, 1966, page C-1.

[111] Area Board Urged to Buy D.C. Transit, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, June 21, 1968, page A-1.

[112] Bus Protesters See Rigged ‘Fare Game,’ Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, September 7, 1968, page B-1.

[113] After 25 Years of Building, Metro Nears the Finish Line, Stephen C. Fehr, The Washington Post, September 23, 1995, page B-1.

[114] New Bus Fare Rise Is Expected Soon, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, August 16k,1968, page A-1.

[115] Bus Fare Hearing Ejects Two Critics, Roberta Hornig, The Washington Star, August 26, 1968, page A-2.

[116] Ibid.

[117] Two Ejected at Hearing on Bus Fares, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, August 27, 1968, page B-1.

[118]Op. Cit., Bus Fare Hearing Ejects Two Critics.

[119] Op. Cit., Two Ejected at Hearing on Bus Fares.

[120] Foes of Fare Hike Plan for Bus Hearing, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, September 3, 1968, page B-2.

[121] Militant Action Threatened if Bus Fares Rise, Lee Flor, The Washington Star, September 5, 1968, page B-1.

[122] Op. Cit., Bus Protesters See Rigged ‘Fare Game.

[123] Op. Cit., Militant Action Threatened if Bus Fares Rise.

[124] D.C. Transit to Drop Tie to Its Parent Firm, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, September 6, 1968, page B-1.

[125] Hearings End on D.C. Transit Bid for Fare Rise, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, September 14, 1968, page D-30.

[126] Op. Cit., D.C. Heads’ Letter on Transit Seizure.

[127] President Signs Curb on Wolfson, Alvin Schuster, The New York Times, August 15, 1955, page 34.

[128] Op. Cit., Bus Protesters See Rigged ‘Fare Game.

[129] Avery Hits Bus Firm For Refusal to Cut Its Fare Demands, The Washington Post, October 26, 1968, page B-1.

[130] Bus Fares Go Up Thursday; Cost of Tokens is Higher Now, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, October 30, 1968, Page A-1.

[131] Bus Showdown: Boycott, Fare Rise, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, November 30, 1968, page A 14.

[132] Op. Cit., Bus Fares Go Up Thursday; Cost of Tokens is Higher Now.

[133] D.C. Boycott Plan Aims at Full Takeover, Chris Wright, The Washington Star, November 12, 1968, page B-2.

[134] SNCC Claims Bus Boycott Was a 90 Per Cent Success, Richard Corrigan, The Washington Post, January 25, 1966, page C-1.

[135] Further Local Boycotts Are Considered by SNCC, The Washington Post, January 28, 1966, page C-1.

[136] Op. Cit., D.C. Boycott Plan Aims at Full Takeover.

[137] Bus Boycott Response Is Less Than Expected, George Davis, The Washington Post, December 3, 1968, page C-1.

[138] Impact of Bus Boycott Described as Not Heavy, Lee Flor, The Washington Star, December 2, 1968, page B-3.

[139] Ibid.

[140] Op. Cit. Bus Boycott Response Is Less Than Expected.

[141] D.C. Transit Fare Raised to 30 Cents, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, December 24, 1968, page A-1.

[142] Bus Service is Near Normal, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, March 31, 1970, page C-1.

[143] Fares Go Up, But Protesters Continue fight. The Washington Post, July 11, 1970, page A-4.

[144] Bus Fare Protests Directed at Capitol Hill, Walter Taylor, The Washington Star, July 15, 1970, page B-1.

[145] Bus Fare Protests Directed at Capitol Hill, Stephen Green, The Washington Star, July 15, 1970, page B-1.

[146] D.C. Bus Bill Is Approved, Goes to Nixon.

[147] No Fanfare Marks Bus Line takeover, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, Jan 14, 1973, Page A-6.

[148] AB&W and WMA Become Metrobus Divisions today, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, February 4, 1973, page M-1.

[149] Court Puts Land Deal in Limbo, Lisa Fine, The Washington Post, June 23, 1997, page MD-18.

[150] School Fare Subsidy: Margin of Profit, Jack Eisen, The Washington Post, November 3, 1970, page A-9.

[151] Op. Cit., Making D.C. Democracy’s Capital: Local Activism, the ‘Federal State’, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.

[152] Freeway Protesters to ‘Reclaim’ Houses, Richard E. Prince, The Washington Post, June 18, 1969, page C-2.

[153] House is ‘Reopened’ in Freeway Protest, Phillip D. Carter, The Washington Post, Jun. 22, 1969, page D=1.

[154] Op. Cit., The End of Roads.

[155] Op. Cit., The End of Roads.

[156] Notebook of an Amateur Politician and How He Began the D.C. Subway, Gilbert Hahn, Lexington Books, New York, 1985.

[157] Op. Cit., Making D.C. Democracy’s Capital: Local Activism, the ‘Federal State’, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.

[158] “Fists Fly at Voting on Roads: Bridge Foes Erupt as City Bows to Hill,” Jack Eisen and Ina Moore, The Washington Post, Aug. 10, 1969, page A-1.

[159] Congressional Record – House, September 18, 1969, page 47.

[160] ECTC Plans New Actions, Quicksilver Times, January 19, 1970, page 7.

[161] Op. Cit., Making D.C. Democracy’s Capital: Local Activism, the ‘Federal State’, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.,

[162] Ibid.

[163] Defeat of Freeway Claimed by Group, The Washington Post, November 11, 1969;

[164] Booker Calls for War on Freeways, The Washington Post, September 14, 1969, page A-20.

[165] ECTC Plans New Actions, Quicksilver Times, January 19, 1970, page 7.

[166] Bridge Foes State Biggest Protest, The Washington Star, October 20, 1969, page B-1.

[167] Bridge Protests Dwindle Again, The Washington Star, October 23, 1969, B-2.

[168] Police, Militants Skirmish, The Washington Post, November 17, 1969, page B-1.

[169] D.C. Voters Oppose Bridge in Poll, Paul W. Valentine, The Washington Post, November 5, 1969, page A-12.

[170] Op. Cit. Making D.C. Democracy’s Capital: Local Activism, the ‘Federal State’, and the Struggle for Civil Rights in Washington, D.C.

[171] Ibid.

[172] Ibid.

[173] The Great Society Subway, Zachary M. Schrag, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

[174] Op. Cit., The End of Roads.

[175] Freeway Foes Join Jobs for Blacks Drive, Stephen Green, The Washington Star, May 2, 1970, page A-20.

[176] Government to Enforce Hiring Plan, Timothy S. Robinson, The Washington Post, June 10, 1978.

[177] Op. Cit., Freeway Foes Join Jobs for Blacks Drive.

[178] U.S. Sets Quotas for Area Jobs, Leonard Downie Jr., The Washington Post, June 2, 1970, page A1.

[179] Blacks Group Denounces Washington Plan on Jobs, Eugene L. Meyer, The Washington Post, June 5, 1970, page C-1.

[180] Op. Cit., Interview.

[181] Op. Cit., Interview.

[182] Op. Cit., Interview.

[183] Equal Jobs Plan Urged for District, The Washington Post, May 19, 1970, page C-5.

[184] Warning Hurled, The Washington Post, June 26, 1970, page C-3.

[185] Black Firms Win Metro Contracts, The Washington Post, November 13, 1970, page C-2.

[186] Black Group Hits Building Pay Decision, The Washington Star, March 1, 1971, page B-4.

[187] Building Trade Unions Still Lag in Fair Hiring, Paul Valentine, The Washington Post, November 3, 1975, page A-21.

[188] 10-Year Effort Fails to Alter Racial Ratio In The Trades, Courtland Milloy Jr., The Washington Post,, March 10, 1981, page A-1.

[189] Employees Are Outrun by Romney, Joseph D. Whitaker, The Washington Post, October 10, 1970, page B-1.

[190] HUD Black Group in Sit-In Chases Romney to His Car, Leon Coates and Harvey Kabaker, The Washington Star, October 10, 1970, page A-18.

[191] Op. Cit., Employees Are Outrun by Romney.

[192] HUD’s  Romney runs away from anti-bias petition, The Afro American, October 17, 1970, page 1.

[193] HUD Gives Promotions to 42 Aides, Joseph D. Whitaker, The Washington Post, October 29, 1970, page B-5.

[194] Black Employees Protest at HUD, The Washington Star, October 14, 1970, page C-4.

[195] Employee Protests Heard by Romney, Alex Ward, The Washington Post, October 13, 1970, page B-1.

[196] Ibid.

[197] Black Employees Protest at HUD, The Washington Star, October 14, 1970, page C-4.

[198] Protest Charging HUD Bias Continues, The Washington Post, October 16 1970k page D-2.

[199] Protest Rally Slated at HUD, The Washington Star, October 16, 1970, page B-4.

[200] Black Employees of HUD Granted Most Demands, Jackie Truscott, The Washington Star, October 29, 1970 B-4.

[201] Op. Cit., HUD Gives Promotions to 42 Aides.

[202] Racist Policy in Personnel at HUD Cited, Nick Kotz, The Washington Post, October 22, 1971, page A-1.

[203] Black Workers Unite to Press Their Cause, Phillip Shandler, The Washington Star, June 6, 1971 page A-2.

[204] Op. Cit., Black Workers Unite to Press Their Cause.

[205] Ibid.

[206] 160 Black HUD Employees Face Suspension for Protesting, Eugene L. Meyer, The Washington Post, May 27, 1971, page A-5.

[207] HUD May Suspend 156 For Protesting at Work, The Washington Star, May 27, 1971, page B-4.

[208] Op. Cit., Black Workers Unite to Press Their Cause.

[209] H.U.D. Is Charged With Racial Bias, Paul Delaney, The New York Times, October 22, 1971, page 11.

[210] Ibid.

[211] Ibid.

[212] Op. Cit., HUD Discriminates New Study Finds.

[213] Op. Cit., H.U.D. Is Charged With Racial Bias.

[214] HUD is Free of Race Bias, Romney Says, Associated Press, The Washington Post, October 23, 1971, page A-5.

[215] Op. Cit., H.U.D. Is Charged With Racial Bias.

[216] Op. Cit., Black Workers Unite to Press their Cause.

[217] Contributions Drive is Launched by UBF, The Washington Post, September 2, 1971, page C-2.

[218] United Black Fund Gives $30,000 to Agencies, The Washington Post, May 25, 1972, page B-2.

[219] Op. Cit., Contributions Drive is Launched by UBF.

[220] Black Workers Ask Exemption of Freeze, Bay State Banner, August 26, 1971, page 5.

[221] Fauntroy Slates Bias Probe, Walter Taylor, The Washington Star, September 10, 1972, page D-6.

[222] HEW Job Spur Plans Assailed at Hearing, Kiki Levathes, The Washington Star, September 22, 1972, page B-5.

[223] Citizens’ Advocate Charges GAO Bias in Job Practices, Claudia Levy, The Washington Post, September 21, 1972, page C-2.

[224] Lag in Curing HEW Job Bias Cited, Claudia Levy, The Washington Post, September 22, 1972, page C-6.

[225] Op. Cit., HEW Job Spur Plans Assailed at Hearing.

[226] Fauntroy Studies Testimony on Federal Bias, The Washington Star, September 24, 1972, page B-4.

[227] Cease and Desist, The Washington Star, September 22, 1972, page A-6.

[228] Hearings Held on Rebuilding D.C.,, Irvin Ray, The Hilltop, May 3, 1968k page 3.

[229] Rehabilitation of District of Columbia Areas Damaged by Civil Disorders, Hearings before the Subcommittee on Business and Commerce,  Government Printing Office, 1968.

[230] Op. Cit., Interview.

[231] Op. Cit., Interview.

[232] Op. Cit., Rehabilitation of District of Columbia Areas Damaged by Civil Disorders, Hearings before the Subcommittee on Business and Commerce.

[233] Citizen Groups Endorse Urban Renewal Plans, The Washington Post, January 23, 1969, page B-9.

[234] Shaw Stalled In Two Areas, Eugene L. Meyer and J. Y. Smith, The Washington Post, February 23, 1972, page C-1.

[235] Op. Cit., Citizen Groups Endorse Urban Renewal Plans.

[236] D.C. Negro Leaders Work to Maintain Uneasy Coalition, Robert C. Maynard, The Washington Post, January 12, 1968, page B-1.

[237] Op. Cit., Interview.

[238] 100 Rights Leaders Attend Carmichael Meeting on Unity,” Paul Hathaway, The Washington Star, January 10, 1968, page C-1.

[239] Op. Cit., Interview.

[240] Radical Chic of Yesteryear Stays in Fashion for Barry, Robert Pear, The Washington Star, page A-8.

[241] Op. Cit., D.C. Negro Leaders Work to Maintain Uneasy Coalition.

[242] Urban League Wary of Black United Front,, Robert Maynard, The Washington Post, January 18, 1968, page A-1.

[243] Black Front Says Tucker Was Ousted, Robert Hinton, The Washington Post, February 18, 1969, page C-1.

[244] Young Gives Qualified Okay to Carmichael’s United Front, Paul Hathaway, The Washington Star, January 12, 1968, page B-3.

[245] Op. Cit., Interview.

[246] Op. Cit., Interview.

[247] Police Probing Shooting Are Confronted by 100, The Washington Star, July 16, 1968, page B-1.

[248] Black Front Presents Police Control Plan, Robert G. Kaiser, The Washington Post, October 18, 1968, page B-1.

[249] Fight Disrupts Police Control Hearing, Chris Wright, The Washington Star, November 26, 1968, page B-1.

[250] Police-Community Relations Still A Major Problem in D.C., Peter Braestrup, The Washington Post, November 12, 1969, page C-1.

[251] Wilson Picked to Head Police, Is Challenged, The Washington Star, July 8, 1969, page A-1.

[252] Wilson Favored for Position, Stephen D. Issacs, The Washington Post, July 5, 1969, page D-1.

[253] Wilson Leads in Race for Police Chief, John Matthews, The Washington Star, July 4, 1969, page A-4.

[254] Immer Group Zeros in on Tydings, William Grigg, The Washington Star, January 11, 1969, page A-22.

[255] Democrats Believe Tydings May Be In Trouble, Martha Angle, The Washington Star, July 28, 1970, page A-1.

[256] Nixon signs stiff D.C. crime bill, The Afro American, August 8, 1970, page 19.

[257] The History of Mass Incarceration, James Cullen, The Brennan Center for Justice, July 20, 2018, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/history-mass-incarceration, retrieved January 9, 2020.

[258] Youth’s Friends Consider Suing Police, Louise Lague, The Washington Star, August 21, 1972, Page B-4.

[259] Slaying of Youth on Bicycle: ‘It Was Like a Nightmare,’ B. D. Colen, The Washington Post, August 15, 1972.

[260] Op. Cit., Youth’s Friends Consider Suing Police.

[261] Black Group’s Tribunal Probes Boy’s Shooting, Lurma Rackley, The Washington Star, September 24, 1972, page B-7.

[262] Pender Cleared in Bike Slaying, Stephen Green, The Washington Post, January 28, 1976, page B-1.

[263] Metro Notebook, District, The Washington Star, July 2, 1973, page 25.

[264] New Probe of Court Death Asked, Calvin Zon, The Washington Star, November 14, 1976, page D-2.

[265] Death Probe May Reopen, Silbert Says, Jacqueline Bolder, The Washington Star, November 30, 1976, page D-1.

[266] Probe of Prisoner’s Death Again Clears U.S. Marshals, The Washington Post, January 14, 1977, page C-20.

[267] BUF Usurps Council Seats at Hearing, Vincent Cohen, The Washington Post, January 24, 1969, page A-18.

[268]Fauntroy Sees Gains From Council Service, Irma Moore, The Washington Post, February 24, 1969, page B-1.

[269]Memorial Rallies Urge Rededication to King’s Dream, The Washington Post, April 5, 1969, page A-10.

[270] Solemn Rallies and Services Honor Memory of Dr. King, John Matthews and Barry Kolb, The Washington Star, April 5 1969, page A-1.

[271] Citizens Weigh Dr. King Holiday, The Washington Star, April 17, 1969, page B-4.

[272] 20 Arrested at Howard As Campus Siege Ends, C. Gerald Fraser, The New York Times, May 10, 1969 page 14.

[273] Howard U. Campus Cleared, The Washington Post, May 10, 1969, page A-1.

[274] Boycott Cripples Howard U., The Washington Star, May 7, 1969, Page A-1.

[275] D.C. Activists Are Marked, Pro-Panther Rally is Told, Michael Anders, December 22, 1969, The Washington Star, page B-1.

[276] Black Panthers ‘Suppression’ Protested, The Washington Post, December 22, 1969, page B-2.

[277] Op. Cit., Interview.

[278] Council to Step Into Parking Jam: Solution is Still Down the Road, Eugene L. Meyer, The Washington Post, April 5, 1970.

[279] Bid Black Named Member of FCC, The New York Amsterdam News, June 6, 1970 page 23.

[280] District Mayor-Council Set Up Held not Bad but Not Enough, Richard E. Prince, The Washington. Post, August 9, 1970 page D-1.

[281] Drug Foes Stage Protest, Aaron Latham and B. D. Colen, The Washington Post, September 10, 1970, page B-1.

[282] D.C. Drug Protest Hits Offices of 3 Nations, The Washington Star, September 10, 1970, page B-4.

[283] Racism Charged to Subway Unit, The Washington Star, September 22, 1970, page B-4.

[284] Franchise attempt fails; Ali/Frazier fight still $$, Danny Simms, The Hilltop, February 19, 1971, page 1.

[285] Black Assembly Meets, Corrie M. Anders, The Washington Star, April 29, 1973, page B-6.

[286] Charter Foes Press their Fight, Lynn Dunson, The Washington Star, April 14, 1974, page B-1.

[287] Council Fails to Meet with City College Students, The Washington Star, May 11, 1974, page A-6.

[288] Tactics of 60s Revived, Paul W. Valentine, The Washington Post, May 6, 1975, page C-1.

[289] Barbara Sizemore: Advocate for Disadvantaged Students in Public Schools, Ervin Dyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 28, 2004, https://www.post-gazette.com/news/obituaries/2004/07/28/Obituary-Barbara-Sizemore-Advocate-for-disadvantaged-students-in-public-schools/stories/200407280153, retrieved January 13, 2020.

[290] City Aide Scores Plan to Halt Bus Routes at Metro Stops, Jack Eisner, The Washington Post, November 5, 1976, page C-4.

[291] Radical Chic of Yesterday Stays in Fashion for Barry, Robert Pear, The Washington Star, September 6, 1978, page A-8.

[292] Pepco Rate Rise Request Draws Fire at Hearing, Joanna Omang, The Washington Post, April 23, 1978, page B-2.

[293] Booker Bid Rejected in School Race, The Washington Post, September 25, 1968, page F-1.

[294] Coates Decides to Seek School Board Re-election, The Washington Star, September 16, 1969, page B-1.

[295] Booker Plans to Run for School Board, The Washington Star, July 27, 1969, page E-5.

[296] Op. Di5., Coates Decides to Seek School Board Re-election.

[297] D.C. Elections Board to Push Voter Registration, Richard E. Prince, The Washington Post, September 22, 1969, page C-2.

[298] Barry Expected to Seek D.C. School Board Seat, Lynn Dunson, The Washington Star, August 22, 1971, page B-3.

[299] Mrs. Allen, Allies Lose D.C. Vote, Richard E. Prince, The Washington Post, November 3, 1971, page A-1.

[300] D.C. Will Try Out 36 New Voting Machines Nov. 2, Philip Shandler, The Washington Star, October 17, 1976l, page B-4.

[301] Maryland, Virginia, D.C. Election Charts, The Washington Post, November 3, 1976, page A-18.

[302] District Voters Guide, The Washington Post, November 1, 1979, page DC A-1.

[303] Ward One School Board Race Takes Several Directions, The Washington Star, October 22, 1979, page B-1.

[304] District School Board Elections, The Washington Post, November 8, 1979, page C-2.

[305] Without Hall, Race is Wide Open: 8 Seek War 2 Seat on School Board, Valerie Strauss, The Washington Post, October 27, 1994, page J-2.

[306] Local Races; District, The Washington Post, November 10, 1994, page C-12.

[307] Op. Cit., Interview.

[308] Interview with Gwen Patton, Against the Current, September-October 2008.

[309] Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States, U.S. Government Printing Office, June 1975.

[310] Op. Cit., Report to the President by the Commission on CIA Activities Within the United States.

[311] Ibid.

[312] Jury Weighs 1.8 Million Damage Claim by 7 Activists in Capital, Ben A. Franklin, The New York Times, December 18, 1981, page A-32.

[313] D.C. Jury Hears Activists’ ’76 Suit on Rights Issue, Laura Kiernan, The Washington Post, December 13, 1981, page B-1.

[314] Op. Cit., Jury Weighs 1.8 Million Damage Claim by 7 Activists in Capital.

[315] Jury Awards $711,937.50 to Demonstrators, Laura A. Kiernan, The Washington Post, December 24, 1981, page A-1.

[316] Hobson v. Wilson, 556 F. Supp. 1157, (D.D.C. 1982), District Judge Louis Oberdorfer, United State3s Court of the District of Columbia, June 1, 1982,

[317] Op. Cit., The End of Roads.

[318] Foes of Freeway Dogged by FBI, Activist Charges, Allan Frank, The Washington Star, April 4, 1977, page D-14.

[319] Op. Cit., The End of Roads

[320] Op. Cit., Ward 2.

[321] Op. Cit., Black Workers Unite to Press Their Cause.

[322] Reginald Harvey Booker, Legacy.com, https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/name/reginald-booker-obituary?pid=175367734, retrieved January 16, 2020.

[323] Op. Cit., Black Workers Unite to Press Their Cause.

[324] Op. Cit., H.U.D. Discriminates New Study Finds.

[325] Op. Cit., Black Workers Unite to Press Their Cause.

[326] Op. Cit., The End of Roads.

[327] The Notebook of an Amateur Politician, Gilbert Hahn, Lexington Books, Lanham, Md., 2002.

[328] Op. Cit., The End of Roads.

[329] Op. Cit., The End of Roads.

[330] Op. Cit., The End of Roads.

Observations at a 1965 Md. Klan rally

28 Oct

The Ku Klux Klan held a large rally at the farm of George Boyle in Rising Sun, Md. November 6, 1965, in part to honor fallen Klan members. One was Dan Burros, a New York Klan leader who took his own life after a New York Times article on Klan activities in their state revealed he was Jewish. Mae Rankin attended the rally and wrote of her personal observations that resonate today as white supremacy again tries to enter the mainstream.

Klan cross blazes is Rising Sun, Md in 1965

Klan cross blazes is Rising Sun, Md in 1965

by Mae Rankin

[Originally published in the Afro American newspaper, Nov. 27, 1965]

I am really not the adventurous type, but I have a certain amount of intellectual curiosity about people and what makes them tick.

This curiosity gave me the courage to “step where angels fear to tread” and visit a certain peaceful cow pasture in Rising Sun, Md., on the evening of Nov. 6.

Rising Sun is a small town, not far from the Pennsylvania line. On the streets pleasant people greet one another in a cordial manner as they shop in the few, scattered stores.

When we stopped at the gasoline station to check the exact location of our ultimate destination, the attendant gave us directions in a friendly way.

The sky was overcast that night. It was chilly. There was an unknown something that made me feel tight and cold. It was fear, real fear.

Arriving at the rally

I shivered in spite of the friendly faces and jokes from the platform. This was a large crowd, almost two thousand people, listening receptively to the speakers.

As I looked around and observed the crowd—teenagers, young parents with small children, middle-aged men and women—I found it difficult to believe that this was a Klan rally.

But there it was, right in front of me—the large cross with the petroleum soaked canvass wound around it. And there they were—the Klansmen and Klanswomen in their unmistakable robes, which they wore with pride.

They mixed with the crowd, distributing their official publication, The Fiery Cross.’ Published by the United Klans of America, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Md. Klan honors fallen Jewish leader

Md. Klan honors fallen Jewish leader at Rising Sun rally

The speakers, visiting Klan leaders from nearby states, were presented on a  wooden platform, decorated with two black wreaths.

Underneath one was the name, Dan Burros, and under the other, Matt Murphy.

The flags were also conspicuous—American and Confederate.

Ralph E. Pryor Jr., Grand Dragon of the Delaware Klan; Roy Frankhowser, Pennsylvania Grand Dragon, and Frank Rotella, King Kleagle of the New Jersey Klan, were the principal speakers.

Vernon Naimaster of Essex, acting Grand Dragon of Maryland, said, “I’m the bus driver they were talking about.” He was referring to news releases which had stated that he was an employee of the Baltimore Transit Company.

Naimaster did not wear the Klan garb, but he was dressed in his Sunday best and seemed proud to be on this platform.

Pryor presented the various speakers. He is a former policeman, in his thirties, who said that he had worked with the Vice Squad in Wilmington.

A strong Klan

Call for an anti-Klan rally in Maryland: 1971

A flyer from a 1971 anti-Klan rally in Rising Sun, Md.

He spoke with an air of authority when he quoted the alleged ‘startling statistics—regarding the number of white women raped by colored men there. There was no question in his mind as to how this critical situation should be handled.

“The only answer is to organize a strong Klan,” he thundered.

“That’s right, that’s right,” the crowd echoed.

The visiting Klan leaders were unanimous in their hatred of President Johnson. They were furious because they were being ‘unjustly’ investigated by Washington.

Said one speaker angrily, “See this ring on my finger?” He held up his hand dramatically and paused…

“In Washington they want to know who gave it to me. Well I won’t tell them, It’s none of their business. I’ll tell you. It was my mother,” he screamed. The audience was silently sympathetic.

I looked at the audience. Teenagers were everywhere; groups of young men with hard, tight faces. Yes this was definitely their cup of tea. Hate, hate. You get points for that.

Send in leaky boat

Entrance to Town of Rising Sun, MD: 2012

The town of Rising Sun in 2012.

One speaker suggested that the only way to solve the “N__ah problem,” was to send all the “N__ahs” back to Africa…in a leaky boat.

According to another authoritative Klansman, all Jews were Communists.

Arthur Spingarn, former head of the NAACP, was feeding money from the Jews to the colored people in order to weaken America from within so that the ‘commies’ could take over. Marvin Rich of CORE, was also mentioned in this context.

The Klan leader from New York had a very special and confidential message for the audience. He had worked for the Welfare Department during the day, but the Klan had his unquestioned loyalty at night. He had been dismissed from his job, he said, and was suing for his loss of income.

Welfare Cadillacs

He sounded most convincing when he told the audience about the colored people who would drive up to the Welfare Department in their Cadillac to collect their welfare checks.

There was only one difference of opinion. One speaker stated that Daniel Burros, the New York Klansman who shot himself, was framed! Another leader stated that ‘Dan Burros was not a Jew. But for some unknown reason his parents were married in a synagogue.

“He [Burros] wanted to protect the Klan, so he shot himself, twice. That took courage. He was a white martyr, for the white race.”

Cross burning

At this point, the audience was reminded that part of the rally was to be a memorial to the Klan members who had died this year.

Md. rally salutes fallen Klansmen: 1965

Salute to fallen Klansmen

“Get away from the cross, we don’t want anyone to get burned.”

“Now, if it was a N____, that would be alright someone shouted.”

“Amen, amen,” echoed the audience.

By now all eyes were focused on the giant cross.

To most Christians this is a symbol of the brotherhood of man; to this audience it was a symbol of hatred and terror.

I shuddered, sick inside. The sky was still overcast. Now came the slow, dull sound of taps. I could barely see the long-barreled rifle which startled me as it was fired upward into the darkness.

Suddenly, the cross was in flames….

The men who applauded, “Amen, Amen,” looked like men you would meet in Anytown, USA. They wore casual flannel shirts, work pants, some wore work caps.

The women mostly working men’s wives, were dressed informally. They all listened intently. They applauded loud and long when “white womanhood” and the “purity of our white race” was reaffirmed from the platform.

The speakers were almost religious in their intensity. As they repeated one after the other that race-mixing was evil; this was mongrelization of the pure American race; that the Klan had the only answer—there echoed again loud and fervent, “Amen, Amen.”


For another personal experience, one confronting the Klan, see https://washingtonareaspark.com/2013/01/02/standing-against-the-maryland-klan-1971-a-personal-memory/

For more information and related images, see https://flic.kr/s/aHsjDhRPzT

This account was originally published in the Afro American newspaper November 27, 1965. Images have been added to give the account context.

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

Raging civil rights struggle leads to union victories: Cambridge MD 1963

31 May
Gloria Richardson: 1964 ca # 2

Gloria Richardson, leader of the Cambridge movement, 1963-64.

By Daniel Hardin

In the midst of ongoing fist fights, rock throwing and gun battles between white segregationists and African American seeking civil rights in 1963 Cambridge, Maryland, there was an astonishing phenomenon.

White workers sought black leadership to aid the struggle to organize and strengthen interracial unions in the town.

 Cambridge Struggle Breaks Mold

The Cambridge, Maryland. civil rights struggle from 1963-67 involved the longest occupation by armed forces of a U.S. town since Reconstruction and presents a far different narrative than that of the Civil Rights movement taught in schoolbooks today.

Early on, the leadership deviated from other concurrent civil rights struggles for legal equality by taking up social justice demands such as good jobs, housing, schools and health care. It was also different because it was an indigenous struggle to the town as opposed to one orchestrated by national rights leaders.

The leadership of the Cambridge Non-Violent Action Committee (CNAC) also did not reject armed self-defense. CNAC, which affiliated with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was the only chapter led by adults and probably the only one whose principal strategist was a woman.

Much has been written about Cambridge elsewhere and a good blow-by-blow account can be found in Civil War on Race Street by Peter B. Levy.

However, less well-known is how in the midst of violent racial clashes between African Americans and whites in the town, white and black workers united behind the local civil rights leaders in their long quest to form labor unions there.

Background

Frederick Douglas: 1870 ca.

Frederick Douglas, abolitionist leader in the 19th century, was enslaved near Cambridge.

Cambridge, located on the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, was the trading center for the plantations that surrounded the area. The abolitionist and political leader Frederick Douglas was born on a plantation about 25 miles north of there. The underground railroad conductor Harriet Tubman was born about 10 miles south of Cambridge.

During most of the first half of the twentieth century, the Phillips Packing Company (a vegetable processing and packinghouse) dominated the town and surrounding farms that provided produce for the plant.

Harriett Tubman: 1911

Harriet Tubman, abolitionist, underground railroad conductor, and rights advocate, also escaped slavery near Cambridge.

Although Maryland is a border state, the economic and social relations were more akin to the Deep South. Racial segregation and prejudice were intense and poverty among both black and white workers was prevalent.

A promising interracial attempt at achieving economic justice began in 1937 when several thousand workers staged a strike at Phillips to form an interracial labor union in the midst of Jim Crow Cambridge.

The strike was defeated by owner Albanus Phillips who set up a company union to ward off the left-leaning CIO union.

A ten-year campaign by the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing & Allied Workers, CIO followed, but also ended in defeat. The union lost a close representation election supervised by the federal government in 1947 in the midst of accusations of communist leadership against the national cannery union.

Union Business Cambridge Strike 1937 – Hi-Res

1937 Phillips Packing Company strike.

Phillips’ company union became the hiring hall for nearly all the plants in Cambridge. Workers were screened for any independent union sympathies. Phillips remained a source of employment for black workers who generally had lower paying and less desirable jobs than white workers until the company’s decline in the mid to late 1950s.

Cambridge Movement Starts

By 1962 the Civil Rights movement was picking up steam around the country and an initial movement by students attempted to desegregate public facilities in Cambridge, a town of about 11,000 people at that time of whom about one-third were African American.

The initial protests were through peaceful picketing and sit-ins. A number of white racists attacked demonstrators but police often arrested the protesters.

These tactics produced few results until 1963 when a woman from a prominent black family in town, Gloria Richardson, was chosen to head up the movement and CNAC.

One of the first things Richardson did was conduct a survey of the black community to help determine priorities. Data were collected door-to-door and analyzed by faculty at Swarthmore College. In a 1994 interview by Peter Szabo, Richardson recalled,

I forget now which was first. What it ultimately meant to us was that we were going to have to attack the whole thing [effects of segregation] at one time-the housing, the health, because it made very little difference. I think maybe health may have come first and housing second, and schools, but it wasn’t that much difference when those compilations came back.

Demand Equality, Jobs & Freedom in Cambridge MD: 1963

1963 Cambridge MD picket line demanding jobs, equality and freedom.

Much to the chagrin of established black leaders, Richardson changed the focus of the protests to demand both economic and social equality—targeting discrimination in employment, poor wages, inferior schools and health care and segregated facilities.

As more militant tactics–such as a boycott of white owned businesses—and new demands were employed, white resistance also increased.

Two 15-year-old students, Dwight Cromwell and Dinez White, were arrested for praying outside a segregated facility. Both were sentenced to indeterminate sentences in a juvenile facility—meaning they could be held for up to six years.

The sentences outraged the black community and increasingly large marches were held that were in turn met by white mobs. State troopers were present, but mostly sided with the white demonstrators.

Armed Self-Defense

At this point, the philosophy of non-violent resistance moved to a philosophy of armed self-defense of the black community in Cambridge. Herbert St. Clair, a prominent African American businessman active in the movement said, according to Peter Levy,

We are not going to initiate violence. But if we are attacked, we are not going to turn the other cheek.

On June 13, 1963 another mass civil rights march was held, this time with armed black men protecting the demonstrators and setting up a perimeter around the black community.

The following night fighting broke out between whites and blacks that included an exchange of gunshots and several people were wounded. Some white businesses were set on fire and when police attempted to enter the black ward, they were driven back by rocks and gunshots fired into the air.

Gloria Richardson: 1964 ca # 1

Gloria Richardson in an undated photograph.

Gloria Richardson noted in 1994,

There were some people at SNCC that [saw non-violence] really, almost as a religion, and that whole Gandhi concept. I never saw it as that. I saw it as a tactic, because certainly you couldn’t start out picking up guns running out in the street or you’d be slaughtered.

But, to create as much chaos as you could with it [non-violence], and if violence was perpetuated against you, that as long as there wasn’t a demonstration going on, you had the right to defend yourself.

It was the men that protected the community, and had to lay out in those fields with guns all night. They understood exactly what was going on and so did the women. Those men that thought they could be non-violent enough to go in the marches did. Those that didn’t did other things.

Cambridge Protester Helped from Scene of Beating: 1963

One of six youths beaten by whites during a sit-in is helped away from the scene.

The administration of Gov. Milliard J. Tawes offered a plan of gradual desegregation that was rejected by CNAC. Tawes then sent in the National Guard for three weeks.

Following withdrawal of the Guard, CNAC resumed protests. On July 12th, a mob of whites attacked a half-dozen protesters sitting in at a restaurant. A brawl ensued as black residents fought back. Later that night a white mob attacked another civil rights march.

When night riders attempted to enter black neighborhoods, they were met with gunfire and shots were exchanged. Twelve white people were wounded by gunfire and some white owned-stores were set on fire.

Cambridge Rally Against Indeterminate Sentences: 1963

Protest in the African American section of Cambridge July, 12 1963.

The Baltimore Afro-American wrote:

For what seemed like an eternity the Second Ward [the predominantly African American area] was a replica of the Old West as men and boys of all ages roamed the streets, stood in the shadows, and leaned out of windows with their weapons in full view.

Gov. Tawes sent the National Guard back in, and they remained for almost two years—the longest occupation of any community since the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. Civil rights activists staging protests were seized and sent to the Pikesville, Maryland Armory 90 miles away for “protective custody.”

 Human Rights, Not White Rights

Guard Moves On Cambridge Rights Protest: 1964

Guard moves to break up protest demanding jobs and aid to low income families February 1964.

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy brokered a settlement whereby CNAC would suspend protests in return for an end to segregation in public accommodations, desegregation of public schools, construction of public housing, and implementation of a jobs program funded by the Federal government. Kennedy also worked to free Dwight Cromwell and Dinez White after three months in the juvenile prison.

The agreement broke down almost immediately when the all-white Dorchester Business and Citizens Association filed referendum petitions to overturn the agreement.

CNAC leader Gloria Richardson took a principled, but controversial stance, when she announced that CNAC would not take part in the referendum. She said, according to Theoharis and Woodard,

A first-class citizen does not beg for freedom. A first-class citizen does not plead to the white power structure to give him something that the whites have no power to give or take away. Human rights are human rights, not white rights.

In October 1963, the racists won the referendum. In the end the white segregationists had bought nine months of continued legal segregation before the passage of the federal 1964 Civil Rights Act.

 Unity from Below

Preventive Detention for Cambridge Rights Protesters: 1964

Cambridge protesters under preventive detention at the Pikesville Armory in February 1964.

The civil rights campaign and the vote had unanticipated effects that threatened the power structure in town in new ways. Poor and working class whites began to seek out civil rights leaders for help.

After the vote failed to end segregation, African American Congressman from New York Adam Clayton Powell arranged for food and other supplies to be delivered to Cambridge.

Richardson remembered in 1994,

The people [authorities] in Cambridge refused to distribute [the food], so the [National] Guard distributed it.

At that time what happened is white folks started calling us on the telephone telling us that they were on welfare and they needed food, but they [racist leaders] had told them that if they went out and got any of that food, or if they saw them on the lines, they were either gonna fire them or take them off welfare or whatever… and that they couldn’t come, and what could they do?

CNAC proceeded to get cars and loaded them up with food … and went and took the food to them. Subsequently, I think they finally got enough nerve to begin to come out.

 Interracial Union Organizing

Gloria Richardson brushes off National Guard: 1963

Gloria Richardson unfazed by National Guard during Cambridge civil rights protests.

The fight over segregation also led to the victories in union organizing that had failed in the decade 1937-1947. Richardson related in the 1994 interview,

What had happened was we had gone to a couple of meetings over on the other side of town where union organizers had come down from New York, and we had gone in to fight for black folk. And then when we got there, we ended up fighting for them all, because while there were some black folks in there to stand up and voice their complaints, the white folks would stand but they would come up and just go, ‘Would you tell me about that [the civil rights struggle] …?’

You know, it was weird, it was mind boggling. So then everybody stood up and said, ‘She’s gonna stay.’ So, it’s really very strange because we also were fighting these other things that probably most of them, I would assume most of them, didn’t want to go on, in terms of desegregation.

But that was because black and white people both needed more money and needed a union rather than each of them fighting for the other’s job…. They were working together and they had to come out to the black community in order to meet [at the black Rod & Gun Club]. That was the meat packers union…

The United Packing House Workers of America drive at the Coastal Foods plant (the successor company to Phillips Packing Co.) was successful with the support of CNAC.

Leadership Intertwined

Peter Levy noted how the union leadership and the struggle for civil rights were intertwined.

Leroy Banks spearheaded the organizing campaign inside the Coastal Foods Plant and was subsequently elected head of the local. His wife, Marva Banks, served as CNAC’s first treasurer.

CNAC leader Enez Grubb’s relatives had a history of labor activism dating back to the Phillips plant.

Grubb’s own father quit working at the Phillips Packing Company during World War II because the company union treated German prisoners of war who worked in the plants better than it treated native blacks.

Women Strikers in Cambridge Md.: 1937 – Hi-Res

Some activists had relatives who had been active during the 1937 strike at Phillips.

Still others had relatives who had been active in the 1937 strike at Phillips.

George Cephas had been killed during the 1937 uprising. Gilbert Cephas beame a leader in the local union. Still other civil rights and student activists found work with the UPWA.

“All the Way with UPWA” became a slogan for activists. Civil rights volunteers worked the picket lines during the campaign, helping to convince migratory workers not to cross the picket lines.

After the winning drive at Coastal food, District 6 of the UPWA invited Richardson to their convention in New York City where she was greeted with renditions of civil rights songs. In return, Richardson gave a unequivocal pro-union speech, according to Levy.

Proclaiming that a revived labor movement was one of the keys to uplifting workers, especially African Americans, she [Richardson] pledged her continued cooperation with the union.

The unionization of Coastal was followed with successful campaigns at Maryland Tuna and Chun King.

The UPWA drive aggravated the differences between white “moderates” and CNAC. Those whites, mainly medium and large business owners, saw Cambridge’s non-union status as a boon to businesses. Some prominent African American in town were not happy with the unionization drives either. However, both black and white workers overwhelmingly supported UPWA’s drive for higher wages that in turn addressed issues of inequality.

White Garment Workers Stand with CNAC

Maryland Tuna Plant: 1955 ca. #1

The production line of Maryland Tuna Co. in 1955. The civil rights struggle in Cambridge, Md. led to its unionization in 1964.

In another instance, CNAC took up the plight of garment workers at the Rob Roy factory. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union had negotiated lower rates for Cambridge workers as compared to the Rob Roy facilities in New York City that were doing the same work. Richardson said, according to Faith Holseart,

The Cambridge local had both black and white members, but because of segregation, they didn’t usually meet together. But this time the black trade unionists, with support from white workers, asked us [CNAC] to come to the meetings.

For one large meeting of about two to three hundred people, ILGWU headquarters in New York sent people down who supported the wage discrepancy. In the heat of the conflict over this issue, the New York representatives red-baited me [accused of being a communist] and moved to put me out of the meeting.

When they did that, surprisingly, local white ILGWU members who in the day before civil rights demonstrations probably had been throwing stones at us, got up and said, ‘Oh, no. If she goes, all of us go.’

Richardson remembered in an interview with Joseph Mosnier that the white men in the union were afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation by white authorities in Cambridge and asked CNAC if the black men could speak for them.

CNAC representatives, relating the experiences of SNCC workers assisting a 1963 miners strike in Hazard, Kentucky, inspired the white workers to speak up.

Gloria Richardson: 1964 # 3

Gloria Richardson leading a civil rights march in Cambridge, Md in 1964.

Richardson received a visit from New York ILGWU representatives later that week at her home. She said in her interview with Holseart,

[They] told me they were going to call Jim Forman [the executive secretary of SNCC] and have him stop me from interfering with union business. I said, ‘Jim Foreman is not my boss, and he cannot tell me what to do.’

The union leaders responded, ‘Well somebody must be able to tell you, because you need to just stay out of Rob Roy. This isn’t your business.’ They went to far as to say, ‘And you better be careful.’

I replied, ‘Well you know, we are used to threats here. If you think you can get Jim Foreman to get us to stop, you go right ahead.’ I didn’t hear anything more about that from them.

In these instances, white workers were inspired by the CNAC campaign and recognized the power and leadership that it represented.

Black and white unity was achieved on this level not by Robert Kennedy’s intervention, but by the recognition by white workers that the black struggle for freedom represented new power that could benefit them also.

Aftermath

Following the 1962-64 protests, some federal dollars began to flow into Cambridge for parks, schools, streets, public housing and other projects. However, problems in Cambridge were not erased by the passage of civil rights legislation and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs.

Discrimination continued despite the legal end of segregation. The Cambridge economy was also continuing to slide and African Americans were faring worse in the slumping town than whites.

As protests picked up in 1967 CNAC, now named the Cambridge Black Action Federation, decided to invite H. Rap Brown (Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin) to speak on black power. Brown was chair of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and an outspoken advocate of black power who no longer believed that non-violent change was possible.

CNAC turned to Richardson who had moved to New York City with her new husband in late 1964, but still had relatives living in Cambridge. She knew Brown and invited him to speak in the town.

Brown spoke on July 24, 1967 to a crowd of several hundred people in the African American section of town.

1967 Uprising

H. ‘Rap’ Brown Speaks to Cambridge MD Crowd: 1967

H. ‘Rap’ Brown gives a speech July 24, 1967 to several hundred in Cambridge, Maryland.

Brown gave a fiery speech on black pride, a critique of U.S. white society and willingness of black people to fight for a better life.

Brown stayed in town for another hour or two and at one point escorted a young woman home along with several others. A shot was fired at Brown who was hit by a shotgun pellet, then gunfire began to be exchanged between white gunmen and black shooters.

At one point a carload of whites sped through the black section of town indiscriminately firing weapons.

Scene of the Pine Street Fire in Cambridge: 1967

Aftermatch of the Pine Street fire in Cambridge, Maryland  July 25, 1967.

In the early morning hours, someone set fire to the Pine Street Elementary School in the African American area of town. The white fire department refused to answer the call, and as a result two blocks and 20 buildings in the black section of town burned to the ground.

While the fire was burning, Richardson desperately tried to get help.

I had to end up calling his [National Guard Commander Gelsten’s] wife, who had just talked to him and everything was quiet … I had to finally tell her, ‘My daughter is there, Miss, she’s calling me, the firemen didn’t come in, the coals are flying all over,’ and she finally called him. And then somebody called me from the press and told me that the Guard was on its way….

I think it was finally some people way down, what we consider really racist part of the county, that let them have a fire truck. Because the city wouldn’t.

Throw Away the Key

Guard Arrives in Cambridge: 1967

Maryland National Guard arrives in Cambridge for the third time in four years July 25, 1967.

Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew again mobilized the National Guard and showed up in town the next day saying, “”I hope they pick him [Brown] up soon, put him away and throw away the key.”

Brown was soon charged with inciting to riot, among other charges, and ultimately arrested by the FBI on additional charges of fleeing prosecution and a weapons violation. Brown was scheduled to go to trial on the riot charge in Maryland in March 1970.

On March 9, 1970 two SNCC officials, Ralph Featherstone and William (“Che”) Payne, died on U.S. Route 1 south of Bel Air, Maryland when a bomb on the front floorboard of their car exploded, completely destroying the car and dismembering both occupants. The next night the Cambridge courthouse was bombed.

Brown disappeared for 18 months before being arrested on unrelated charges. The Cambridge “inciting to riot” charge was ultimately dropped.

Cambridge Afterwards

State Police Patrol Cambridge Streets: 1967

Maryland state police patrol Cambridge, Maryland July 25, 1967.

The five-year mass movement in Cambridge ended in the aftermath of the 1967 uprising. Federal representatives offered aid, but Agnew refused to accept it. Richardson remembered that,

Anything else that was left over from the two years or three years before-got agreement on it from Washington … Agnew stopped it. That was it. They did not control him like they did Tawes, and it fell apart at that point. … I think the [federal] government was sincere at that time, but it was just that Agnew said no. He hated Rap Brown. He hated Stokely Carmichael.

Richardson remembered that when Agnew came to town the day after the fire, he maligned all African Americans in the town.

[He said] ‘These were thugs.’ He made the mistake of standing up and calling them thugs. That’s after they’d been up all night long trying to put out the fires.

Agnew went on to further his career seeking to pit white voters against African Americans. Ironically he had initially been elected governor of Maryland when liberals flocked to him in 1964 in opposition to Democrat candidate George Mahoney’s slogan, “Your home is your castle,” a call for resistance to open housing legislation.

Agnew was chosen by Richard Nixon to be his vice-presidential candidate in 1968 and became the mouthpiece for Nixon’s “law and order” crusade against left-leaning African Americans and white antiwar activists.

The hypocrisy of the Nixon/Agnew campaign was revealed when Agnew was forced to resign the vice-presidency in 1973 because he was facing corruption charges and Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974 after his cover-up of crimes committed during the Watergate scandal.

The Pine Street neighborhood, once thriving, has never recovered. As the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries became increasingly polluted and overfished and economic changes made vegetable production less profitable, most of the packinghouses throughout Maryland closed.

While legal segregation ended, economic conditions and opportunities for the vast majority of African Americans in Cambridge improved briefly in the mid 1960s, but little over the subsequent decades.


Author’s Notes

As the Black Lives Matters movement today increasingly makes connections to economic and social repression, it opens the possibility of the movement expanding its influence by taking up the economic and social struggles much in the way Richardson’s CNAC was able to extend its influence and leadership to build more powerful organization.

Unions, besieged today with relentless attacks, have in large part stood on the sidelines of the movement against unwarranted police violence. Perhaps both movements would do well to apply some of the lessons drawn from a small Maryland town some 50 years ago.

The sources for this post include Civil War on Race Street by Peter Levy; Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Movements in America by Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard; Hands on the Freedom Plow by Faith Holseart; Transcript of H. “Rap” Brown’s 1967 Cambridge Speech by Lawrence Peskin and Dawn Almes; Oral History Project interview with Gloria Richardson with Joseph Mosnie, 2011; Maryland Historical Magazine, Fall 1994; The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun and the Baltimore Afro-American among others.


Postscript

H ‘Rap’ Brown at Press Conference: 1967

H. ‘Rap’ Brown at a press conference two days after his Cambridge speech. Bandage from  shotgun wound is visible.

Some excerpts of H. Rap Brown’s (Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin) 1967 speech in Cambridge:

On the word black:

It takes a lot of effort to love black in America. You’ve been told all your life if you’re black, you’re wrong. If you’re black, there’s something wrong with you. They tell you black cows don’t give good milk; black hens don’t lay eggs. Devil’s food cakes. You know, you put on black to go to funerals. When you put on white you go to weddings.

On taking on the white power structure:

They run around and tell you: “Don’t start no fight with the honky pecker `cause you can’t win. He outnumber you. Hell! Don’t you know they always outnumber us? David was outnumbered when he fought Goliath. He was outnumbered. Hell! Daniel in the lion’s den was outnumbered. Moses was outnumbered. All of us is outnumbered. That don’t make no difference.

FBI Wanted Poster for H. ‘Rap’ Brown: 1967

FBI wanted poster for H. Rap Brown following his Cambridge, Maryland speech in 1967.

On looting that occurs during an uprising:

He run around and he talk about black people looting. Hell, he the biggest looter in the world. He looted us from Africa. He looted America from Indians. Man can you tell me about looting? You can’t steal from a thief. This is the biggest thief going.

On President Lyndon Johnson:

Now we’re gonna talk about Lyndon Johnson. Lyndon Johnson is the greatest outlaw going. He is a two-gun cracker. He killing black folks here and he killing them in Vietnam. That’s Lyndon Johnson, your President. That’s who he is.

And they talk about how bad Hitler was. At least before Hitler burned the Jews he killed them with gas. Lyndon Johnson is throwing napalm on human beings in Vietnam. Burning them to death. He burning babies. He burning hospitals. He can’t be nothing but an outlaw.

Any time a man sends a plane full of napalm over a village of children, over school houses and blow them up and burn children, believe me, brother, the only reason he do it is because the Viet Cong is black, too.

Closing Remarks:

He’s [white man] been running around here letting them do everything they want. I mean, don’t be trying to love that honkey to death. Shoot him to death. Shoot him to death, brother. ‘Cause that’s what he’s out to do to you.

‘Do to him like he would do to you, but do it to him first.’ Like I said in the beginning, if this town don’t come ‘round, this town should be burned down. It should be burned down, brother.

They going to have to live in the same stuff I live in ’cause I ain’t going to make it no better for them. But do this brother — don’t burn up your own stuff. Don’t tear up your own stuff. Whenever you decide to fight the man, take it to his battleground.

One thing that man respects. It’s money. That’s his god. When you tear down his store, you hit his religion. You hit him right where it hurt him on Sunday. In his pocket. That’s his best friend. In his pocket. So, when you move to get him, don’t tear up your stuff, don’t tear up your brother’s store, hear?


Want to see and read more?

Images of Cambridge, MD: 1963-67

Civil Rights images in Maryland

The 1937 Phillips Packinghouse Strike

The 1938 Maryland Crab Pickers Strike


A Million & Counting…

15 Feb

[Update January 2019: We are now over four million photo views and have added some additional finding aids. Camera Roll – by date of the event or creation of the image; Photo Album Guide – by subject; and Individual people by last name.]

One million photo views and counting on our Flickr site. We’re frankly surprised at the interest in the history of the struggle for social and economic justice in the greater Washington, D.C. area.

Each photo has a short description. Groups of related photos are organized into albums. Each album–sometimes a specific event and sometimes a group of related images–have a longer description that puts the images in context. We also publish this blog for a deep dive look behind selected images.

You can see our photo stream organized by date the image was uploaded or check out individual albums. Check out our in-depth blog posts that are organized by the decade (on right of this page or simply scroll down).

Some of our most popular photo albums are:

Blacks, Whites Protest Job Losses: 1930 No. 2D.C. Protests Against Unemployment:

The first nationwide response to the Great Depression occurred March 6, 1930, including a picket line at the White House in Washington, D.C. Looking for more unemployment protests? 1935, 1937, 1940, 1973, 1977.

Harassment at Arlington, Virginia Sit-In: 1960

1960s Civil Rights Protests in the D.C. Area:

District of Columbia public accommodations were largely integrated in the mid 1950s but the surrounding suburbs remained bastions of segregation. Arlington, Rockville, Bowie, Glen Echo, Bethesda, College Park, Silver Spring were but a few of the towns that saw sit-ins, pickets and arrests demanding equality. Read a brief biography of one of these pioneers, Dion Diamond.

Klan Protests Black Minister In Camp Springs MD: 1966The Fight Against the Klan and Nazis in the D.C. area:

The Ku Klux Klan was active throughout the 1960s opposing civil rights and antiwar efforts (one person’s experience). So too was the American Nazi Party. See photos of confrontation in Arlington, Glen Echo, Mt. Ranier, Camp Springs, Frederick and Rising Sun.

March for Capital Transit Jobs: 1943 (Photo 16)The Washington, D.C. Area Transit Union:

Interest has been high in the struggle to desegregate Washington’s transit system (background story), women streetcar and bus operators during World War II (background story), and in strikes conducted by member of the Amalgamated Transit Union in 1974 and 1978. As the 100th anniversary of ATU Local 689 approaches, check back in the coming year as we post images from early efforts in 19th century to form a union and strikes in 1916, 1917, 1945, 1951 and 1955.

Increasingly Viewed

Negro Congress Pickets Bilbo: 1946

Civil Rights Struggles before 1960: 

Little known today, they helped lay the groundwork for the mass demonstrations, boycotts, sit-ins, pickets and other forms of protest that broke down the worst aspects of segregation in our area: 1922 Anti-Lynching Protest (background story), 1933 March for Scottsboro (background story), 1936 Police Brutality Protests (background story), 1940 Gone with the Wind pickets, 1941 Police Brutality Protest (background story), Integration of D.C. Theaters (background story), The Fight for Fair Employment, The Fight Against the Poll Tax, 1946 Protests Against Sen.Bilbo, 1946 Anti-Lynching Protests, the effort to Free Willie McGee and the Martinsville 7, Mary Church Terrell, the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom, among others.

U of MD Ignites: 1970 # 1

Anti-Vietnam War Demonstrations:

The movement against the Vietnam War involved hundreds of thousands of people across the country. Check out the first mass marches on D.C in 1965, The march on the Pentagon in 1967, The Counter-Inaugural in 1969 (background story), University of Md protests in 1970 (background story), 1971, 1972, Mayday protests to shut down the government in 1971 – May 1, May 2, May 3, May 4, May 5, a 1972 march on the Pentagon and 1972 rally downtown, the 1973 Counter-Inaugural and the last demonstration against the Vietnam War in D.C. in 1975. See earlier 1941 and 1958 antiwar protests.

Background

We felt there was historical gap between the internet era and the print era in the struggles for social justice.

We started by publishing photos and negatives that had been improperly stored from the 1972-1975 Montgomery Spark, Washington Area Spark and On The Move tabloid newspapers.  We followed up by researching images available from various sources including the Library of Congress, the D.C. Public Library, the National Archives and auctioned photographs. And occasionally we publish longer blog posts that give a more detailed look.

See all the images in albums or in the order they were posted.

Crazy Dion Diamond: A 1960 Rights Warrior in the Suburbs

20 Jan
Bravery at Arlington Lunch Counter: 1960

Dion Diamond sits calmly while Nazi Party chief George Lincoln Rockwell hurls racial insults at 1960 Arlington, Virginia Drug Fair sit-in. Photo by Gus Chinn, courtesy DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.


Campaign in Arlington, Virginia

Dion Diamond was one of a small interracial group that broke Jim Crow’s back in the Washington, DC suburbs in 1960.

The sit-in movement in the area began June 9, 1960 at a People’s Drug Store counter at Lee Highway and Old Dominion Drive in Arlington, Virginia.

Thirteen people, seven African American and six white, were refused service and the management closed the counter. Half the group, including 19-year-old Howard University student Diamond, then moved to the Drug Fair at 5401 Lee Highway, where they were also refused service.

However, this time a crowd of white teenagers gathered to harass the group, who had named themselves the Non-Violent Action Group (NAG). Someone alerted the American Nazi Party, headquartered nearby at 928 North Randolph Street. Lit cigarettes and other items were tossed at those sitting-in.

No arrests were made until the next day when Diamond and Laurence Henry sought service at a Howard Johnson at 4700 Lee Highway. They were arrested there for trespassing.

Victory Within Two Weeks

While business, civic and political leaders negotiated, NAG held another round of sit-ins. The demonstrations resulted in victory on June 22 when five major Arlington businesses — including People’s and Drug Fair — announced the end of their segregated practices. The next day restaurants in Alexandria followed suit, and Fairfax County did the same shortly after.

The group then turned to the Glen Echo Amusement Park in Montgomery County, Maryland, and began picketing on June 30. The picketers were faced again by American Nazi Party-organized counter-demonstrations, arrests for trespassing, and police harassment. Diamond was among those arrested.

White neighbors in the nearby community of Bannockburn joined the desegregation protestors and helped sustain the picket line through the rest of the summer.

Confidence in the Cause: Glen Echo 1960

Dion Diamond braves counter-demonstrators organized by Nazis in Glen Echo, MD in 1960. Photo: Walter Oates, courtesy of DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

Jim Crow Falls in Maryland Suburbs

The demonstrations branched out to other suburban Maryland targets that summer, including the Hi-Boy restaurant at North Washington and Frederick Street in Rockville. Hi-Boy gave in after two weeks of picketing, sit-ins and arrests.

The Hiser Theater at 7414 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda was the target of nearly 100 consecutive hours of picketing during one of the protests to mark the years that had passed since the Emancipation Proclamation.  Longtime owner John Hiser sold the theater in September and the new owners desegregated.  Picketers also targeted the Fair Lanes Bowling Alley in Hyattsville.

Glen Echo ended the 1960 season in the fall still segregated. During the off-season, however, under the cloud of lawsuits, political pressure and the threat of renewed picketing, the owners gave in and opened in 1961 as a desegregated facility.

The battle against Jim Crow at restaurants, theaters and amusement parks in Montgomery and Arlington was largely over, although sit-ins continued in Prince George’s County through 1962. Further, it wasn’t until 1966 that another group took on desegregation of housing in the Washington suburbs in an even tougher fight.

Diamond Heads South to Freedom Ride

When Diamond heard about the Trailways bus burning in the Spring of 1961 that nearly killed many in the first group of Freedom Riders in Anniston, Georgia, he quickly joined the second wave. He was arrested with others in Jackson, Mississippi for trying to integrate interstate transportation and was sent to the Mississippi State Prison in Parchman with the other riders.

Diamond served as a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) field secretary in Mississippi and Louisiana from 1961-63. He was arrested more than 30 times during his civil rights activism, most famously at Southern University in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Several Southern students had joined in local desegregation demonstrations and were expelled from the historically black college by the administration. A student strike was organized and when Diamond arrived on campus to urge the students to continue resistance, he was placed under arrest for disorderly conduct.

To Overthrow the Government of Louisiana

The charges were changed to “criminal anarchy” – attempting to overthrow the government of Louisiana. Two other SNCC workers who visited Diamond in jail were also charged with insurrection…

…with force of arms, in the Parish of East Baton Rouge feloniously did… advocate in public and in private opposition to the Government of the State of Louisiana by unlawful means and are members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an organization which is known to the offenders to advocate, teach and practice opposition to the Government of the State of Louisiana by unlawful means.

Diamond’s bail was raised to $12,000 – an enormous sum at the time. Another young activist, 20-year-old Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), led a sit-in at Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s office in Washington seeking Diamond’s release.

Bail was ultimately secured for Diamond and the criminal anarchy charges were dropped after a long fight, but Diamond did eventually serve 60 days in jail for the original disorderly conduct charge.

Diamond went back to school in the fall of 1963. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin and later received a degree from Harvard. He lives in Northwest Washington, DC.

Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) on Diamond:

Dion Diamond Freedom Rider Mugshot: 1961

Dion Diamond mug shot after Freedom Ride arrest in Jackson, Mississippi May 1961.

I had a lot of experience in jails since this time. But this one? Whoa, it was unforgettable. This one was very, very strange.

We’re in the cell, unable to get to sleep. About two o’clock in the morning we hear footsteps approaching. I turn over to see a young white cop staring at us. He’s holding a pump-action shotgun, which he loads. As he does this, he’s staring at us and cursing. Dion and I exchange glances. Now what?

“So you the two _____ ______ _____ little sons of bitches who started this, huh? Wal, tonight you some dead niggers. I’ma kill yore black _____ _____ _____.”

He cocks the gun, cursing all the while. His eyes are bloodshot and staring as he moves the gun back and forth. First on me, then on Dion.

We are frozen. Dion in one corner of the cell, me in the other. The gun swings from one to the other. The cop is ranting and cussing. I’m stiff as a board trying to watch the guy’s eyes, his trigger finger, and the yawning muzzle of the shotgun at the same time. I watch as it swings away and back over to Dion. Then I hear Dion’s mouth, I cannot believe my ears.

“Come on, you cracker so-and-so, shoot. Pull the damn trigger. Ain’t nobody scared of you. Shoot. I’m ready to die if you bad enough. Shoot, white man. Do it.”

Dion just goes off, and as I see from the corner of my eyes, he’s steadily advancing on the gun. A veritable torrent of language flowing out of his mouth, defiant, challenging, non-stop language. Talk about putting me through some changes.

One minute I’m sure I’m dead, the next I’m absolutely certain that I’ve gone out of my mind. I can’t believe Dion. I remember thinking, “F” God’s sake, Dion, shut up. Please. This man is drunk. He’s crazy. You fixing to get us killed, Dion.”

The cop stares at Dion, begins to tremble, and swings the gun back over to my corner. What could I do? Having no choice, I start up too.

“Yeah, cracker, go ahead. Pull the _____ trigger. We ready to die. Are you? Pull the trigger.”

The policeman really started to shake then. Which was, if anything, worse. Now two voices are coming at him. Silently he lowers the weapon, turns, and walks away. I sink down on my bunk, listening to the footsteps recede.

I can’t describe the range of emotions. Fear. Anger. Disbelief. Relief, then exultation, then anger again. At Dion. I will not repeat exactly what my first words to him were—in effect, Dion, you crazed so-and-so….that’s my life you messing with. You understand that your crazy self damn near got us killed?

“Me,” said Dion. “Me crazy? Negro, we alive, aint’t we? Did he pull the trigger? Boy, you should be kissing my feet for saving yo’ shiftless life. Best you never forget this, Negro. When in doubt, jes’ follow me. Always follow the kid.”

For some reason, I found myself laughing. “You de man, bro, I’ma follow you. I’ma follow you.”

Crazy-assed Dion Diamond.

–Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) on Nashville, Tennessee arrest 1961.

Excerpt from Stokely Carmichael, John Edgar Wideman & Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, “Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture),” Scribner, November, 2003.


See more photos of Dion Diamond and the Glen Echo protests


The 1969 Nixon Inauguration: Horse Manure, Rocks & a Pig

9 Jan

“Wife” of presidential candidate Pigasus after eluding police.  John Bowden, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

By Craig Simpson

It was 1969 and thousands were streaming into the nation’s capital for a Presidential Inauguration…but this time they weren’t planning on throwing confetti.

It was the height of the Vietnam War and many were coming to the first organized protest at an Inaugural ceremony in the country since a small group of unemployed workers staged a counter-parade at Franklin Pierce’s in 1853.

Instead of flowers, horse manure would be tossed at Vice President Agnew’s guests dressed in their finest gowns and tuxedos.  Rocks, tomatoes and smoke bombs would be hurled at newly sworn-in President Richard M. Nixon as his motorcade drove along Pennsylvania Avenue.

Antiwar demonstrators planned to symbolically “In-HOG-urate” a pig as president and hold their own counter-inaugural ball on the National Mall.

The Anti-Vietnam War Movement

The domestic anti-Vietnam war movement was foundering in the fall of 1968. That was a stunning turnaround, as victory had appeared to be within the grasp of war opponents only months before.

Two years of mass demonstrations against the war had peaked in October 1967, when more than 100,000 people had streamed into the Washington, DC area for a march on the Pentagon. Local protests were common on campuses and in towns across the country.

Then in January, 1968, nearly every city in the Republic of (South) Vietnam was hit by an uprising of forces of the National Liberation Front aided by military forces of the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam. A vocal minority was no longer the sole group questioning the war.

Walter Cronkite, the preeminent television news anchor of the time, said, “To say that we are closer to victory today is to believe, in the face of evidence, the optimists who have been wrong in the past…To say that we are mired in stalemate seems the only realistic, yet unsatisfactory conclusion.”

An antiwar candidate, Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-MN), entered the race for president and nearly beat the incumbent Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire primary of March 12, 1968 with the help of hundreds of college students opposed to the war. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, whom many regarded as an even stronger candidate, entered the race shortly afterwards.

On March 31, Johnson conceded, “I shall not seek, nor will I accept” the nomination for president.

1968 Election Setback

Kennedy was assassinated on the night of his California primary victory in June, 1968, and Vice President Hubert Humphrey went on to win the Democratic nomination after a Chicago convention that featured brutal suppression of antiwar demonstrations by Democratic Mayor Richard J. Daley. The Republican Party nominated Richard M. Nixon.

Johnson, Agnew & Humphrey Laugh During Inauguration: 1969

Johnson, Agnew & Humphrey share a laugh during Inaugural ceremonies. Photo: William C. Beall, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

In a matter of months, the fortunes of the antiwar movement had been reversed. The positions of Nixon and Humphrey on the war were virtually identical. The movement believed it had forced Johnson to resign only to get two candidates in favor of further continuation of the war.

On the left, Marxist groups were gaining sway, advocating revolution and the abandonment of electoral efforts. Other antiwar activists were simply discouraged.

Crisis for Antiwar Leaders

The steering committee of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam (MOBE), a broad-based coalition that had sponsored the earlier demonstration at the Pentagon and many of the protests at the Chicago Democratic Convention, met on September 14, 1968 in Washington, DC to consider the next steps.

The group made a decision to escalate tactics by calling a nationwide strike on Election Day and to “descend on Washington with the same determination that brought us to Chicago … on the Inauguration, January 20, 1969, if the Government seems set to launch another four years of war, political repression, poverty, and racism.”

Tom Hayden and Rennie Davis, both of whom were among the MOBE leaders, co-wrote for Liberation News Service, “…we believe the movement must organize an election offensive which demonstrates our refusal to accept the election choices offered and repudiates and discredits the system which imposes such choices on us.”

The attempt at a strike during the presidential election failed, with no campuses shut down and only a few relatively small demonstrations staged in major cities. In Washington, DC, over 1,000 rallied near the Lincoln Memorial and marched without a permit to Lafayette Park—attempting to implement a more confrontational approach. However, the small turnouts and limited effectiveness of these actions across the country led to more disillusionment.

MOBE Switches Up Again

After this failure, the MOBE regrouped and began to backtrack on using the politics of confrontation.

The MOBE leadership wooed other organizations that had not previously participated in MOBE activities. These groups had viewed the coalition as too radical.

As plans for the inaugural demonstration moved forward, David Dellinger, chairman of MOBE, repeatedly emphasized in public statements that the demonstration would be a “political, not a physical confrontation.”

In response, SANE (Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy), The University Christian Movement and the Universities Committee on the Problems of War and Peace agreed to participate in the counter-inaugural activities along with other pacifist groups.

The Washington Free Press, the local alternative newspaper, wrote after the event that the MOBE  “was trying to woo the right of the left, the liberal and support groups…The MOBE bet that the street people would come anyhow, if unenthusiastically.”

A significant portion of the antiwar movement was opposed to MOBE’s counter-inaugural at this point, including the national leadership of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) that voted in December against participating in the protest.   A number of other left wing groups decided to sit it out as well.

But separately, other individuals and groups were making plans to come to Washington and pursue the politics of confrontation, including guerrilla theater advocates Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, who reportedly said, “We will bring our revolutionary theater to Washington to inaugurate Pigasus, our pig, the only honest candidate…”

Preparations for Demonstration

Seeking to avoid physical confrontation, MOBE representatives entered into complicated negotiations with the government over permits.

Dave Dellinger 1969

Dave Dellinger & Rennie Davis reach permit agreements with Harry Van Cleve of the government. Photo: uncredited, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post

As the negotiations approached the start of Inaugural activities, a breakthrough was reached on January 15. The government agreed to permit the counter-demonstrators to march from the national Mall near the White House along Pennsylvania Avenue to the Supreme Court on the day before Nixon’s parade.

Congressional leaders later vetoed any use of Capitol Hill, so the ending point was changed to the national Mall near the Health, Education & Welfare (HEW) building at 3rd & Independence SW.

Erecting the Counter-Inaugural Tent: 1969

Erecting the counter-inaugural tent. Photo: uncredited, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

There were no meeting facilities available to the protestors in the city, so the MOBE demanded permission to erect a tent on the Mall to accommodate the counter-inaugural activities. Ultimately a compromise was reached on January 16, and a grassy triangular area south of the Washington Monument and west of 15th Street NW was agreed upon.

MOBE officials announced plans to protest during the Inaugural parade itself at four different locations. Dellinger reiterated, “We have no plans for civil disobedience or disorder or disruption.”

But Dellinger didn’t have the final word on the escalation of tactics as groups and individuals began making their own plans.

The Free Press urged that “All movement action should take place on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue, because on the south side there is no place to run if the ‘getting’ gets good.” They added, “On the corner of 14th & Penn. is the Nixon Headquarters. DO IT, DO IT!!…”

They further advised, “Bring a lot of eggs, tomatoes, and rotten fruit,” and, “After the parade, if you’re still up to it, you might like to see one or two other ‘points of interest’ around Washington. Check the map for locations of the Selective Service Board, FBI building, and others…”

Ms. Pigasus Arrives

On January 16, a small guerrilla theater group arrived at the outdoor Sylvan Theater on the Monument grounds, where one participant identified as Super Joel Yippie presented a live pig as “Mrs. Pigasus,” the wife of Pigasus who had been nominated for president during the Chicago convention protests.

Reception for Ms Pigasus: Counter-Inaugural 1969

Reception for Ms. Pigasus. Photo: John Bowden, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

To the delight of news reporters, the pig escaped and was chased by three police officers on horseback, two in cars and one on foot. Super Joel himself eventually caught the pig and brought her back to the stage.  Members of the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH), led a rendition of “You’re a Grand Old Flag” that went: “You’re a grand old pig, you’re a high-flying pig…you’re an emblem of the land we love.”

The protestors vowed to “In-HOG-Urate” Pigasus with Ms. Pigasus at his side at the counter-inaugural protests scheduled in a couple of days.

In an event seemingly related to the protests, a Molotov cocktail was tossed through a window of the national Selective Service headquarters at 1724 F Street NW just after midnight on January 18. Police reported that the firebombing caused “extensive damage” to the records of the headquarters of the nation’s draft board, according to the Washington Post.

Day 1: Demonstrators Stream Into Town

The first official counter-inaugural events took place on January 18th. At the Hawthorne School, located at 501 I Street SW, hundreds watched a Black Panther film, discussed labor organizing, traded tips on draft counseling, and learned the fine points of guerrilla theater at the many workshops offered.

One young woman, when asked by a Washington Post reporter why she came, replied with a mischievous smile, “to give Nixon a rousing welcome.”

Women Hit 'Distinguished Ladies': Counter-Inaugural 1969

“Distinguished Ladies” protest. Photo: unidentified, courtesy of Liberation News Service.

Later, approximately 150 women gathered at the National Gallery of Art in a demonstration sponsored by the Women’s Liberation Movement and attempted to break through police lines to enter a reception for “Distinguished Ladies” being held there. During the first attempt at confrontation politics during the weekend, the police lines held and no arrests were made.

Meanwhile, inside the reception three women who had obtained tickets handed out leaflets and gave an impromptu women’s liberation speech to a crowd that included Tricia Nixon, the president-elect’s daughter, and Randy Agnew, the vice president-elect’s daughter.

Another three hundred shouted at attendees of a “Young Americans Inaugural Salute” scheduled by the Young Republicans at the Washington Hilton hotel. A guerrilla theater group wearing white rubber Nixon masks imitated the Gestapo and tore apart and burned a rubber doll while chanting “Kill for Peace.” One man who pulled down some red, white and blue bunting at the hotel was arrested for “mutilation and desecration” of a flag and was later sentenced to 30 days in jail or a $100 fine.

Day 2: Women Reach the Breaking Point

The following day, demonstrators began gathering at the counter-inaugural tent on a cold and rainy day.  Inside the tent, the ground turned to mud.

A parade of male speakers came to the stage, broken up by an occasional folksinger like Phil Ochs, while the crowd became restless. James Johnson, one of the Fort Hood 3–a GI who had refused orders to Vietnam–was heckled. Moderator Dave Dellinger, a long-time antiwar leader, stepped to the microphone and rebuked the hecklers.

The MOBE leadership had invited Marilyn Salzman Webb as one of the official speakers who would address women’s liberation.  Webb, a veteran civil rights and antiwar activist who was a Washington, DC women’s leader, was reluctant to openly criticize the male dominated antiwar leadership.

Shulamith Firestone

Shulamith Firestone circa 1970. Photo: Michael Hardy.

Another branch within the nascent women’s movement, led by Shulamith Firestone of New York, demanded and won the right to speak to the crowd. Firestone planned to direct some of her remarks to the subjugation of women by those in the New Left.

“Perhaps the worst memory of that day was when a woman (I don’t remember who now) spoke about Women’s Liberation and was roundly booed.”

As Webb began her speech, hecklers began shouting, “take it off” and “take her off the stage and f*** her,” according to Alice Echols’ account. Webb recalled later, “It was like a riot breaking out.” When Firestone tried to speak it was worse.

Webb recalled that there were some men in the audience who were opposing the hecklers. For the women, a problem bigger than the crowd was Dellinger’s response. Rather than trying to calm the crowd as he did with the Fort Hood speaker, Dellinger told Webb to “shut Shulie up,” according to the account by Echols.

Firestone wrote a letter to the Guardian after the counter-inaugural rally that addressed the left, “There are millions of women out there desperate enough to rise…and we have more important things to do than to try to get you to come around. She added, “We’re starting our own movement.”

Webb was ostracized from the Washington, DC SDS community after her relatively mild speech.  She went on to start the feminist journal Off Our Backs with others. Webb later reflected that the events forced women to forge their own politics, but deprived them of a base, “The left could have been a base and was a base, because that’s where we all came from…” according to Echols account.

The incident highlighted the weaknesses of MOBE officials that vacillated on many issues and often exercised little or no leadership.

The Counter-Inaugural March

Not long after the women left the stage, a group of New York SDS members approached the podium and asked to speak, but were refused. Angered, they walked out and began an impromptu march.

Inside the Counter-Inaugural Tent: 1969

Rally prior to the march inside the tent. Photo: uncredited, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

“Inside the tent, the speakers were shooting their mouths off saying nothing that we hadn’t heard a thousand times before and everyone wanted to get out of there. They just wanted to go and they started going,” one participant said, according to a government report on the activities.

Hundreds joined this group and started marching along the parade route. Some later turned back and joined the main body. Others continued and finished the unscheduled march before returning to the Washington Monument, where they joined hands and danced around the Monument to “exorcise the country’s need for a perpetual hard on.”

The main march, drawing upwards of 15,000, proceeded not long after the rump group on Pennsylvania Ave. toward the Capitol. There were no incidents until protestors encountered a group of right-wing counter-demonstrators.

“The parade passed by a small group of Nazi [American Nazi Party] counter-demonstrators around 10th & Pennsylvania. They were quickly confronted by demonstrators, some of whom threw rocks and fought with the Nazis.”

The Nazis were quickly driven off.

The counter-inaugural parade was mostly festive with street theater and marching kazoo bands.  The signs and banners reflected a variety of issues with an end to the Vietnam War paramount.

Nixon as a War Criminal: Counter Inaugural 1969

Nixon as a war criminal during counter-inaugural march. Photo: uncredited, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

Abolish the Draft,” “Free Political Prisoners,” “End the War,” “Bring the Boys Home, “Don’t Eat Grapes,” “Defeat Imperialism Everywhere,” and “Victory to the Vietcong” were among the messages carried by the marchers.

A brief confrontation occurred toward the end of the march near 3rd Street, Independence Avenue and Maryland Avenue. Police attacked some demonstrators who they believed were trying to march on the Capitol.

Demonstrators responded by throwing sticks and bottles at the police before MOBE marshals formed a line between the two groups, siding with the police against the protestors in the view of many of the crowd. Police arrested fifteen during this confrontation.

Another brief scuffle occurred at the HEW building at the end of the march when some demonstrators tried to pull down an American flag in front of the building.

MOBE marshals circled the flagpole and prevented this from occurring, but several fistfights between demonstrators broke out over the issue, further underscoring differences among the demonstrators. MOBE leaders eventually convinced authorities to lower the flag since it was around 5 p.m. and getting dark anyway.

Horse Manure Thrown at Agnew’s Guests

Several thousand marchers began walking back along the Mall to the tent for the counter-inaugural ball.

“As we were trekking across the Mall back toward the tent, someone was shouting that a reception for Vice-President-elect Spiro Agnew was being held at the History and Technology Museum at 14th Street on the Mall.”

Protestors began gathering near the Mall entrance of the museum (now Museum of American History) on Madison Drive in another impromptu demonstration.

Nearly 5,000 demonstrators converged in close proximity to where guests would arrive on Washington Drive and walk down a block-long red carpet on 13th Street to the entrance of the museum. (Both streets have been converted to walking paths today, but were open to traffic at that time.)

Police on Horseback Move Anti-Agnew Protestors: 1969

Police using horses clear Agnew demonstrators. Photo: US Park Police.

Park police, using horses for the first time in a Washington demonstration, drove the protestors back from the immediate area of the museum entrance onto grassy areas on either side of 13th Street. The use of horses would prove to have mixed results.

A few firecrackers were hurled at the horses who in turn reared up and nearly threw the officers to the ground. As time went on, horses began dropping manure.

Dressed in mink and formal clothes, Agnew’s guests began arriving and contrasted sharply with the demonstrators. The guests were forced to walk a gauntlet, greeted with shouts of “fascist pig” and “imperialists.” And that was not all they were greeted with.

“…demonstrators picked up the fresh, steaming horse manure and began pelting the guests as they walked down a long red carpet that stretched from the street on up the steps of the Museum on the Mall side.”

There were only a few foot police present and there had been no further attempt to move protestors.

As the seventh couple arrived, the man smiled, probably attempting to look unconcerned at the mayhem around him. However, when a firecracker exploded near his wife’s arm, police began moving the crowd back and also making several arrests.

As objects continued to be thrown, police attempted again to move protestors back. This time they lost control and began clubbing people. The police horses trampled several protestors.

The demonstrators began fighting back with rocks and sticks and ultimately their fists.

“I witnessed an individual officer who charged wildly into the crowd chasing someone I suppose he thought was a manure thrower. He suddenly stopped and realized he was surrounded by demonstrators with no other officers around.”

Quickly the demonstrators pounced, removing his helmet, gun, badge, and nightstick and pummeling him with their fists. It seemed like an eternity before his fellow officers realized his plight and came to his rescue.”

Park Police Use Horses to Move Agnew Protestors: 1969

Horses move protestors back at Agnew reception. Photo: US Park Police.

They succeeded in clearing the area after a few minutes and afterwards Agnew’s guests could arrive with little danger of being struck by objects thrown by the crowd. The fighting was largely over and Agnew arrived at some point, skirting the protestors by entering a side door.

However, one protestor who had taken refuge in a tree during the altercation with police was repeatedly clubbed with a three-foot riot baton by a man in a police slicker and a riot helmet. The incident took place in full view of the crowd. The “policeman” was later identified as a part-time police surgeon who was not authorized to wear a police uniform.

Shortly after this incident, a deputy chief of police went alone into the crowd to investigate some small fires. A demonstrator struck him in the back of the head with an improvised wooden club. Two other officers came to his aid and helped him back to police lines.

With nightfall, the falling temperature took its toll on the demonstrators and they began to filter away. When Agnew left the reception around 6:45 pm from another door, the rest of the crowd moved to the tent for the counter-inaugural ball.

Counter-Inaugural Ball

As a light show beamed across the stage, rock bands, including Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs, and folk singer Phil Ochs entertained the crowd. Marijuana was smoked openly in the presence of the numerous undercover police officers.

Counter-Inaugural Ball: 1969

Counter-inaugural ball January 19. Photo: Geoff, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

Later in the evening a fierce debate at the tent broke out. At a meeting earlier in the evening 200 members of New York based organizations including the state SDS, Co-Aim (a group allied with Youth Against War & Fascism) and the Progressive Labor Party met and decided on a “physical confrontation with police on the following day during the Inaugural Parade.”

Co-Aim seized the headquarters of the MOBE on Vermont Avenue and another group went to the tent and took the microphone about 11 p.m. to announce a march from Franklin Park the next day at noon, urging those with “weak stomachs” to stay away.

After a long discussion between MOBE officials and the group’s representatives, a compromise was reached. MOBE would seek a permit for the group while the militant demonstrators agreed that their march, if permitted, would not be disruptive.

The permit for the ball allowed demonstrators to stay all night at the counter-inaugural, but few remained after midnight in the cold, muddy tent. The In-HOG-uration of Pigasus never actually took place and Ms. Pigasus never made another appearance either.

Day 3: Protestors Line Parade Route

The next day several hundred people gathered in Franklin Park and were joined by many others in route during a march from the park to Pennsylvania Ave.  There were several skirmishes with police and counter-demonstrators along the way that resulted in several arrests.

Nixon's # 1 War Criminal: Counter-Inaugural 1969

March from Franklin Park to Pennsylvania Avenue. Photo: uncredited, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

The group gathered at the widest point on the Inaugural Parade route between 14th and 15th Streets NW, on the north side of the avenue in front of the National Theater.  Freedom Plaza had not been constructed at that time and Pennsylvania Avenue ran closer to the theater than it does today.  Another group of about 1,000 protestors gathered on the other side of Pennsylvania Avenue closer to 15th Street, where the motorcade would make a turn.

The MOBE bought 200 tickets to the official bleacher seats on Pennsylvania Avenue and on 15th Street. Demonstrators filled those with varying signs and banners as well as flags of the insurgent Vietnamese National Liberation Front.  Still another group of several hundred gathered at 12th & Pennsylvania Ave. NW in front of the American Security Building. Individual protestors were scattered along the parade route.

“As I joined the crowd that morning, I noted that anything that could possibly be thrown had been removed from the area. In addition, the area was surrounded by men in trench coats (and also dispersed in the crowd) that were obviously undercover police of one variety or other.”

The area in front of the National Theater was the scene of intense skirmishing between police and protestors prior to the motorcade.

Police were outraged that the demonstrators were burning small American flags given out by the Boy Scouts, and would periodically reach across the steel cable barrier to grab and arrest a protestor.  One man who wrapped a small flag around his fingers and raised them in a “V” sign was later convicted for flag desecration and sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Protestors threw objects at the police, who occasionally responded by charging into the crowd.

One officer had his cap taken when he tried to tackle a demonstrator burning a flag, and a police captain was clubbed over the head when he entered the crowd alone to put out a small pile of burning flags.

Johnson, Nixon, Graham & Agnew Pray During Inaugural Ceremony: 1969

Johnson, Nixon, Rev. Billy Graham & Agnew pray at Inauguration. Photo: William C. Beall, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

The Nixon motorcade began to make its way from the Capitol, where he had been sworn in, to the White House reviewing stand, and authorities acted to ensure there would be no parade disruption.

“Approximately fifteen minutes before the parade reached the intersection which the crowd occupied, units of the C.D.U. [Civil Defense Unit – the riot squad] moved into position behind the demonstrators. Units of the Regular Army 82nd Airborne from Fort Bragg, in dress uniform, formed a line behind the police and linked arms. They carried no rifles. Two companies, totaling approximately 200 National Guardsmen, were ordered to 13th and Pennsylvania from their position behind the District Building. Wearing battle gear and carrying rifles, they lined up shoulder-to-shoulder next to the Army troops. Tension among the demonstrators mounted,” according to a government report made after the demonstration.

A police captain tore down an antiwar banner and when questioned by a MOBE attorney, he shoved his baton into the attorney’s stomach, pushing him across the cable into the demonstrators.  One city official observing the captain said, “He looked like a mad dog. He was salivating at his mouth and sweating all over.”

Rocks Thrown at President’s Limousine

Nixon was riding in a black bulletproof limousine with the top affixed and had the windows rolled down for most of the parade. As he passed the demonstrators at 12th Street, he waved to the crowd opposite the demonstrators from an open window while the windows facing the protestors were closed. However, all the windows on the car were closed as it moved toward the main body of demonstrators.

Secret Service Ducks Rocks Thrown at Nixon: Counter-Inaugural 1969

Secret Service duck rocks while one jumps on back of Nixon limousine. Photo: uncredited, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

As the Presidential car approached 14th Street, a smoke bomb was tossed seconds before the car passed. A thrown missile felled a National Guardsman. Two cans with smoke coming out were thrown at the President’s car. One landed in front of the car while the other rolled underneath.

“The motorcade sped up as it neared the intersection, and I was surprised when it was still greeted by a barrage of rocks. The Secret Service must be given credit. I didn’t see a single rock strike the car as they deftly caught them or batted them away.”

A rock did hit the side of the car and a Secret Service agent was struck near the rear of the car.  Another batted down a bottle. The official count was twelve hard objects and many softer ones such as tomatoes and tin foil.

Final Confrontation

After the Presidential car passed, the demonstrators who were gathered in front of the National Theater began moving toward the area of the White House reviewing stand by heading north on 14th Street and then west on H Street, while most other protestors at the parade dispersed.

Fighting between police and demonstrators broke out on H Street near Lafayette Park, with police clubbing demonstrators.  The fracas took place within shouting distance of the President.

As the clash continued, about 200 African American young people, drawn to the area by the commotion, joined the predominantly white protestors in the battle.

Police Grapple with Demonstrators: Counter-Inaugural 1969

CDU police grapple with demonstrators after Inaugural Parade. Photo: Geoff, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

The deputy chief of police in charge of the Civil Defense Unit (CDU–the riot squad) was in his car and was being pelted by stones and bottles. He radioed, “Mayday. These hippies should be arrested without hesitation.”

A running battle soon developed with demonstrators throwing rocks and bottles and police arresting anyone who looked like a protestor.

Police soon lost control. They beat a young woman medic who was administering first aid. A city official restrained another officer from chasing an 11-year old boy. The official then took the child to a nearby church.

Still another officer repeatedly clubbed an 18-year old woman with his nightstick.  The police surgeon who beat a demonstrator coming out of a tree the night before was back again clubbing anyone who came near him.

Demonstrators fought back with rocks, bottles and fists in running battles that frustrated police, including a contingent on scooters. Helicopters circled looking for groups of demonstrators.

As these skirmishes drew to a close, the deputy chief in charge of the CDU was told 90 arrests were made. “Not near enough, not near enough,” he replied. The counter-inaugural protests were over after three days of confrontation.

Aftermath

Following the brutal suppression of antiwar demonstrations in Chicago the previous summer, the failure of a national strike on Election Day in November, and the disillusionment with the election of a president vowing to continue the Vietnam War, the protest served notice that opposition to the war would not die.

The Washington Free Press wrote, “…it’s hard to see how things could’ve gone much better than they did at the Counter-Inauguration. Hardly anyone got hurt, we didn’t have the usual heavy financial drain of bail, fines and court costs, and we did just about what we intended.”

Antiwar Protestors Giving Kazoo to Nixon: Counter-Inaugural 1969

Giving Nixon the kazoo during counter-inaugural. Photo: uncredited, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

In the end, the injuries to police and demonstrators were minor and while some were treated at area hospitals, no one required hospitalization. Police reported a total of 119 arrests over the three-day period of the demonstrations. Authorities were also pleased because their worst fear of protestors breaking through barriers and overturning the President’s car was not realized.

Despite the weaknesses of a demonstration that was poorly organized and led and of a movement that would splinter into a hundred different tendencies, the counter-inaugural activities served to revitalize the antiwar movement and sharpen the debate over moving from passive resistance to active opposition.

Sally Lasselle of Liberation News Service wrote, “The movement did not demonstrate their grievances to him [Nixon] to ask for his help. It is up to the people to change the country. This means organizing and fighting…”

Allen Young, another correspondent of Liberation News Service wrote, “Essentially, the Washington actions sharpened the contradictions between the pacifist moral witness approach to politics and the combative anti-imperialist socialist tendency.”

Antiwar Protestors Salute Nixon: Counter-Inaugural 1969

Peace sign & middle finger as Nixon’s limo passes demonstrators reflect debate at 1969 counter-inaugural. Photo: uncredited, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

The debate among demonstrators wasn’t as simple as violence versus non-violence. It was more about whether the antiwar movement would adopt confrontation tactics on a widespread scale.

The sometimes-pointed discussion played out across the three days between those attending. According to an account by Allen Young of a communal dinner at St. Stephens Church on January 18, several speakers challenged the MOBE slogans saying, “’Peace Now’ doesn’t say anything. What we’re about is liberation.” A member of a draft resistance group responded, “This meeting sounds like a hate rally.” Mike Spiegel, a former SDS national secretary responded, “To talk about hate obscures the point. What we are is angry.”

The Washington Free Press wrote after the events, “…there are tens of millions of young people who whether the Man’s tactics are hard or soft are not taken in and are out to knock him off his perch. And whether they dug the action in person, by word of mouth or through the media, they dug it.”

The debate was largely won by those who sought an escalation of tactics, as millions joined the moratorium, a national strike against the war, on October 15, 1969, followed by a huge national demonstration in Washington, DC on November 15 of that year. In 1970, students at more than 500 campuses across the country went on strike against the war for several weeks. In 1971, thousands more streamed into Washington in an attempt to shut down the government.

Secret Service Guard Nixon Limo Against Rocks: Inauguration 1973

Nixon’s limo is again pelted with rocks at 1973 Inauguration. Photo: Liberation News Service.

Nixon began withdrawing combat troops in response to the continued shift of the US public opinion from pro-war to antiwar and the ongoing fighting by the Vietnamese. He soon entered into negotiations with his Vietnamese adversaries.

However, he increased aerial bombing, and over the Christmas holidays in 1972 he staged the largest US bombing since World War II against infrastructure in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

This was met by a demonstration involving nearly 100,000 people at his second Inauguration in January, 1973. Once again his limousine was pelted with rocks during his Inaugural Parade.

The US combat role in the war ended with the Paris Peace agreements shortly afterwards.


Author’s Notes:

The quotes that are offset in this article are from my own recollections entitled, “My Most Memorable Antiwar Demonstration” written for a reunion of University of Maryland activists in 2005.

Most other information for this article was compiled from The Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Daily News, The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Free Press, Echols’ “Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967-1975, Liberation News Service and a staff report by Joseph Sahid, et. al. for the National Commission on the Causes & Prevention of Violence.

At the time of this demonstration, I was a 17-year old high school senior and attended nearly all of the activities described. My own recollections of specific events largely parallel the National Commission on Causes and Prevention of Violence staff report with several minor differences. Liberation News Service also provides three accounts that do not differ substantially.

There were no media reports of the altercation with the American Nazi Party January 19, but two of my high school classmates were directly involved and I and other friends witnessed the end of the encounter.

There were no press reports that horse manure was thrown at arriving guests at the Agnew reception January 19. However, others who were present at the event have confirmed my recollection. The staff report relied on news media reports of “mud” being thrown.

My recollection of a police officer’s gun being taken during the confrontation at the Agnew reception on January 19 is probably wrong. I may have mistaken some other object as the officer’s gun since there were no reports of a missing service weapon.

The staff report implies that objects hurled at the President’s limousine only came from the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue near the National Theater on January 20, but objects were tossed from both sides of the street.

My recollection that no objects hit the President’s car is contradicted by the staff report that indicates that one rock struck the vehicle.

I recalled the limousine speeding up as it approached the main body of demonstrators at 14th Street and this is confirmed in a Liberation News Service account, while the staff report has the vehicle doing a steady 3-4 mph.


Craig Simpson is a former Secretary-Treasurer of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 and has a BA in labor studies from the National Labor College. He can be contacted by email at washington_area_spark@yahoo.com.


Want to see and read more?

  • See more photos related to the 1969 counter inaugural activities here:  and of the 1973 protests at the inauguration here.
  •  See many additional photos and read the staff report of the National Commission on the Causes & Prevention of Violence on the 1969 counter-inaugural activities here:
  •  For a few additional photos and several lengthy write-ups, see Liberation News Service January 23, 1969 packet at the LNS archives:

Coming soon: A link to a footnoted version of this article.

MD Marriage Equality: Over 50 Years in the Making

14 Nov

Fifty years ago sodomy laws made lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships illegal—defined by authorities at that time as sexual perversion.  LGBT individuals were routinely arrested, fired from employment from both the federal government and private employers and condemned as mentally ill by psychiatrists.

A few images from the early battles in the Washington, DC area…

White House Picket for Gay Rights: 1965

White House Picket for Gay Rights: 1965

The Mattachine Society, the first homosexual rights group in the modern era in the Washington, DC area, was formed by Franklin Kameny and Jack Nichols in August 1961. On April 17, 1965, the Mattachine Society held the first organized public demonstration for gay and lesbian rights in at the White House.

Pictured above is Ernestine Eckstein at the third White House picket sponsored by the Mattachine Society, October 23, 1965.

For some other great images of the early Mattachine Society picket lines at the US Civil Service Commission, the White House and the Pentagon and other actions, please see the Barbara Gittings & Kay Tobin Lahusen gay history papers and photographs on the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Image from Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen gay history papers and photographs.  Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen.  Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collection. Permanent link at NYPL: http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1605764

DC Gay Liberation Front 1970

Washington, DC Gay Liberation Front: 1970

This photo is undated and at an unidentified location. It is probably at an anti-Vietnam war demonstration in Washington DC in December 1970 or January 1971, judging by the clothing worn and the slogan “set the date” which was not in widespread use until late 1970.

The image was used to illustrate a Washington Star in-depth story entitled, “The New Radicals,” published January 24, 1971 about the DC Gay Liberation Front (GLF).

The article summarized the Nov. 28, 1970 demonstration at the Zephyr Bar on upper Wisconsin Avenue after four GLF members were refused service.  Several dozen GLF members and supporters came to the restaurant and staged an impromptu demonstration chanting slogans inside the restaurant.  Some minor property damage occurred and twelve GLF demonstrators were arrested, although charges were later dropped.

The Star feature story also outlined the early Nov. 1970 GLF disruption of a conference on the “psychiatric treatment of homosexuals” at Catholic University and the role GLF played in the Black Panther’s Party sponsored Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention also in Nov. 1970.

See the history of the DC GLF and GLF photos on the Rainbow History site.

Explore the many faceted history, documents and photographs of the LBGT movement in Washington at Rainbow History.

Photo by Joseph Silverman published January 24, 1971. Courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

Gay Alliance Protests US Park Police: 1972

Gay Alliance Protests US Park Police: 1972

On January 5, 1972, members of the Gay Activist Alliance staged a demonstration against US Park Police near the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington Virginia.

Police had arrested over 60 people in a wooded area of the park in the preceding five months for “obscene and indecent” acts.  The Washington Blade reported many of those detained complained they had been entrapped by the eight undercover officers assigned to conduct arrests.

A group of about 20 activists rallied at North Meade St. in Arlington, VA and marched to the memorial chanting and alluding to the entrapment by carrying signs like, “Don’t Expose Yourself, You May be Impersonating an Officer.”

Park police arrested six protesters for “demonstrating without a license.”

In that time period sodomy laws were used to jail anyone deemed guilty of “sexual perversion.” Sexual perversion was defined by police and courts to include anyone gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

This demonstration marked one the earliest open revolts against the use of police to break up activities of consensual adults in the DC area.

See the Gay Activist Alliance press release on entrapment at Iwo Jima. Explore the many faceted history, documents and photographs of the LBGT movement in Washington at the Rainbow History site here.

Photo by John Bowden. Courtesy of the DC Public Library, Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

Washington Free Press Battles Suppression 1969-70

7 Nov
Judge James H. Pugh Orders Subversion Probe: 1969

Judge Pugh’s grand jury probe of Free Press “subversion” sets off battle. Photo courtesy of DC Public Library, Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

By Craig Simpson

The Washington Free Press, an alternative newspaper of the late 1960s, published for only three years.  Its legacy was an epic clash with local authorities that ended in a blaze of glory as the tabloid’s battle against suppression gutted Maryland’s McCarthy-era anti-subversive law and helped roll back the definitions of obscenity.

Its greatest victories and defeats came after Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James H. Pugh ordered a grand jury investigation into the newspaper in March 1969 for advocating, “the destruction of the state and destruction between the schools of this county and the duly constituted law enforcement agencies thereof.”

Background

The Washington Free Press started as an intercollegiate paper but began publishing as an alternative newspaper on a two-week basis in March 1967. The issues contained New Left, Old Left, pacifist and anarchist opinions and information mixed with mysticism, advocacy of psychedelic drugs, cultural writings, artwork and poetry.

Alternative newspapers of various stripes were published in practically every sizable city and town in the country during a time when black militancy, the  “counter-culture” and anti-Vietnam war protests and were sweeping the nation.

The Free Press was sold at head shops and other sympathetic outlets, but most of the 20,000 copies each issue were sold on street corners by individuals who paid ten cents per copy to the Free Press and sold the paper for 20 cents.  Often the newspapers were advanced to sellers who were expected to repay out of their proceeds.  Both display and personal advertisements also helped finance the paper. Staff turnover was constant, the newspaper paid only a small stipend per week and most staff lived communally.

The paper began to directly challenge authorities in 1968 when a majority of the staff embraced the Youth International Party politics of cultural and political confrontation.

Newspaper More Provocative

There was always police harassment of street corner sellers and two people hawking the Free Press were arrested for selling obscene material in Rehoboth, DE in 1967, but authorities largely ignored the newspaper.

However, by 1969 the Free Press published the names, addresses and photos of alleged undercover agents, regularly used four letter words and called police pigs. They published articles on how to grow marijuana and wrote about revolution. In the process, they developed a large following among high school students.

Authorities in Montgomery County, MD began a counter-attack in February 1969 when three students were suspended at Gaithersburg High School for distributing the paper.

Police followed up by arresting David Kramer for selling the paper outside of Northwood High School a week later.  They charged Kramer with not having a permit for sales within 500 feet of a school.   However, charges were quickly dismissed against Kramer, the son of Montgomery County council member Rose Kramer, when a judge ruled that the permit requirement was aimed at food trucks and similar businesses.

Judge Pugh Orders Grand Jury Investigation

Undaunted by this legal setback, the county pressed on.  On March 3, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James H. Pugh, citing the 1949 Maryland “Ober Law,” told a grand jury it was a felony to commit “any act intended to overthrow, destroy or alter, or to assist in the overthrow, destruction or alteration of” a political subdivision of the state “by revolution, force or violence.”

He told the grand jury that if they found the Free Press had violated this law, they should, “indict the staff, publishers and printers of the paper,” according to the Washington Post.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) quickly denounced the Free Press investigation.

Pugh was already a well-known opponent of social justice advocates.  In 1960, Pugh imposed fines on five people convicted of trespassing during the picketing demanding integration of Glen Echo Amusement Park telling them, “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.”

He presided over the 1961 rape trial of James & John Giles, after impanelling an all-white jury.  The Giles brothers were accused of raping a white woman.  After they were convicted, Pugh sentenced the brothers to death. The case went to the US Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial.  After a six-year fight by their defense committee and lawyers, prosecutors dropped charges against the Giles brothers in 1967.

Pugh also sentenced a Chevy Chase bookstore owner to six months in jail in 1961 for selling a copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, telling Samuel Yudkin he had “flagrantly violated the laws of Maryland.”

When a District man came before him in 1965 for stealing $461 worth of lead bars, Pugh served notice that “the overflow of the criminal element from Washington” can expect harsh sentences.

“This court wants you to know that when criminals such as you come out here to Montgomery County, MD, you are going to be dealt with severely,” he told Eddie Terrell as he sentenced him to a 10-year prison term.

Cartoon Ruled Obscene, 6 month Jail Sentence: 1969

Free Press response to Pugh’s subversion inquiry. From page 7, March 15-31, 1969 issue.

The Free Press Raises the Ante

Free Press responded to the grand jury investigation in its March 16-30 edition by publishing a seven page attack on the judicial system that began with a relatively small caricature of Pugh masturbating while sitting behind a dais where instruments of torture hung.  The drawing was entitled “He’ Comm D’Judje” (sic).

One of the articles specifically criticized Pugh and printed his unlisted phone number and Chevy Chase address advising readers to call or visit him.

The County responded March 21 by having police seize 100 copies of the paper at an Empire Records store on Old Georgetown Road for obscenity.  Owner Jim Seward was told that the paper was “no longer approved,” according to the Washington Post.

Police Arrest Dillingham

That evening Montgomery County activist J. Brinton “Brint” Dillingham began selling the newspaper outside of the Bethesda police station after hearing of the Empire Records confiscation.  Police quickly arrested Dillingham and a 17-year old companion and charged them with possession of obscene literature.  Dillingham was released on bail and a trial date set for April 17.

The Free Press’ printer refused to run another issue and the paper scrambled to find a way to publish the paper before securing a New York print shop.  The delay and subsequent increase in cost forced the paper to publish its next issue two weeks late.

Picket Judge Pugh’s Home Over Subversion Inquiry: 1969

Demonstrators picket Judge Pugh’s home April 4, 1969 over subversion probe and obscenity arrest. Photo: Pike. Courtesy DC Public Library, Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

April 4, more than thirty demonstrators picketed Judge Pugh’s home.  Joe Forer, a longtime attorney of left-leaning defendants who also led the successful appeal of the Giles brothers’ conviction, filed suit in federal court to overturn the sections of the “Ober law” cited by Judge Pugh.

On April 7, Dillingham was tried in a courtroom packed with more than 100 supporters, including one wearing a copy of the Pugh cartoon pinned to his shirt.

During the trial, Forer introduced evidence that Phillip Roth’s best selling novel Portnoy’s Complaint containing explicit sexuality was sold at a Walden Book Store managed by Montgomery County state’s attorney William Linthicum’s wife.  Linthicum, who was prosecuting the case, stipulated that he had no intention of prosecuting the store’s proprietor.

Forer noted that he believed the only reason this case was being tried is because it lampooned a judge.

People’s Court Judge Willard J. Nalls convicted Dillingham of passing out obscenity and sentenced him to six months in jail. Nalls told Dillingham, “I don’t think you have to be an art critic or write for a newspaper to determine whether something is obscene. I think this picture falls clearly within that language.”

Dillingham Convicted of Obscenity in Free Press Case: 1969

Sister, mother & brother of Dillingham outside Bethesda court April 7, 1969. Photographer: unknown. Courtesy of DC Public Library, Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

Judge Nalls set a $5,000 bond for Dillingham prompting Forer to respond, “You’re kidding! I’ve seen murder cases where it wasn’t that high.  As Dillingham was being led away, Dillingham supporter Richard Crouch began rhythmic clapping. Nalls shouted, “You’re in contempt of court!” Dillingham supporter Michael Mage responded, “You’re in contempt of us.” Nails cited and fined both for contempt of court.

A Montgomery County Bar Association resolution condemned the Free Press and supported Judge Pugh saying they were “…outraged at the vilification of a member of our bench.“

Bar president Richard B. Latham, went on to say, “It is inconsistent for persons to flout some parts of our Constitution and then seize upon other parts of the very same Constitution for their protection.”  Forer responded, “They talk about flouting the Constitution.  My opinion is that the constitutional rights of those who publish and distributed the Free Press have been grossly flouted.”

Meanwhile nearly every jurisdiction in the Washington area began a concerted drive against the Free Press.

The Montgomery County Council passed a resolution to investigate Free Press distribution in the high schools.  Prince George’s state’s attorney Arthur “Bud” Marshall called for an injunction against Free Press distribution to anyone under 18.

On April 8, a Washington, DC Free Press salesman was arrested at 16th & K Streets NW after being stopped by police.  His crime was using obscenity when he told an officer, “Arrest me if you want to, I’m tired of this s__t.”  A Kensington youth was charged with possession of obscenity when police stopped him for a traffic violation and found two copies of the paper in his car on April 11.

The Paper Fires a Second Round

The Free Press responded with perhaps its biggest “stick in the eye” when in published its April 16-30, 1969 edition.  It placed a large, self-censored version of the Pugh cartoon on the front cover as a “connect the dots” illustration along with the admonition:

Free Press Response to Obscenity Conviction

Free Press ups the ante in their April 16-30, 1969 issue by placing Pugh cartoon on front cover.

Hey, gang! Connect the numbered dots and display your artwork at the institution of your choice. (Evaporated milk and a sponge will do the job.) The name of the game is “Subversion-Perversion”.

The District opened an investigation of the paper for operating without a corporation franchise license.  The District police carried out a court-ordered search of the newspaper office citing the Free Press publication of excerpts of documents obtained during a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) takeover of the Sino-Soviet studies offices at George Washington University.  Police found nothing.

Two more Free Press peddlers were arrested in Salisbury, MD, April 26 for distribution of obscene material.  District police arrested another two at 15th & New York Ave NW for vending without a license May 12.

Dillingham Repeatedly Arrested

Dillingham’s appeal of his obscenity conviction to Circuit Court was scheduled for June 9 where a trial by jury would take place. Dillingham operated Freedom House, a youth activities center located at 4927 Cordell Ave. in Bethesda as director of Compeers, a social action group.  Police were determined to shut Freedom House and through the landlord had obtained an eviction notice.

Police began harassment of young people in the area of Freedom House on June 3 and continued for next three nights. On June 6 police arrested 21, including Dillingham, in front of the group’s house to “forestall vandalism” and for “loud noise, profanity and general disorder.” A spontaneous demonstration outside the Bethesda police station was staged by about 50 people as word spread throughout the county.

While the arrests were taking place in Bethesda, Detective Gabriel C. Lamastra, who originally arrested Dillingham March 21, appeared before the Society of the Holy Name at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rockville. Lamastra appealed to those present to attend Dillingham’s upcoming circuit court trial and passed out copies of the Free Press that contained the caricature of Judge Pugh masturbating.  Lamastra was not arrested.

On June 7, Dillingham was arrested again when police confronted youths at a county parking garage across the street from Freedom House.  Dillingham was charged with “failure to move off public property when ordered by a police officer.” In response, 75 young people marched on the Bethesda police station.

By the end of the week, Dillingham had been charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, creating a public nuisance and making excessive noise in addition to the failure to move charge.

Dillingham Re-Tried Before Jury for Obscenity

Dillingham’s re-trial in circuit court began on June 9.  The cartoon was “a shameful and morbid interest in sex, nudity and excretion” and thereby aroused “prurient interest,” according to state witness Ralph P. Oropollo, a Kensington psychologist.

Defense witness Frank Getlein, an art critic for the Washington Star, testified that the caricature was “clearly a political attack on a political figure on the grounds that the severity of his decisions is related to a perverted sexual condition.”

Freedom House Evicted: Bethesda, MD 1969

Dillingham outside Freedom House after eviction June 26, 1969. Photo: Brig Cabe. Courtesy DC Public Library, Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

The jury began deliberations after 10 pm on June 10 and continued for nearly 5 hours.  The verdict of guilty was read at 3 am in front of several dozen Dillingham supporters who stayed through the night.  Later that morning, a court ordered Freedom House evicted.

Dillingham’s bail of $5,000 was continued and his lawyers quickly set about appealing the verdict.

The conviction and sentence drew widespread condemnation in letters to the Washington Post.  Many critics cited the disparity between Dillingham’s sentence and the June 1969 $300 fine given Prince George’s People’s Court Judge Richard E. Painter  for breaking the nose of a woman and threatening her with a revolver.

Drive Against Paper Continues

However, the verdict spurred jurisdictions in the Washington area to raise the level of their own campaigns against the paper.

On June 19, two street distributors were arrested in Arlington, VA and charged with displaying obscene literature for a cartoon contained in the Free Press by Robert Crumb that was then being displayed in an exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

The following day, Fairfax, VA police arrested the owner of Discount Variety store after a police officer bought the paper.  Billy Morrow was charged with distributing obscene literature.

District police arrested Brian Neville that evening at 2nd and Pennsylvania Ave SE after he sold two copies of the paper to a detective.  Neville was also held on distribution of obscenity charges with a $1,000 bond.

On June 23, Prince George’s County police raided a College Park, MD store, seized 300 copies of the Free Press plus a “Wanted” poster of Jesus Christ.  Lawrence Woodruff, owner of the Joint Possession, and a 17-year old employee were charged with selling obscene literature.  Woodruff was also told he may be charged with “blasphemy.”

June 24, Alexandria, VA ordered police officers to arrest Free Press distributors.  According to the Washington Post, police went to two stores where they believed the paper was sold but came up empty as the owners told them they no longer carried the paper due to legal concerns.

By July, the ACLU filed several suits in federal court to enjoin police in the Washington area from “harassing, intimidating, persecuting and attempting to suppress the publication” of the newspaper. One of the suits sought both compensatory and punitive damages.

Attempt to Suppress the Paper Take a Toll

The crusade against the Free Press was taking a toll on the paper.  Printing and shipping the paper from New York added cost to an already precarious bottom line. The loss of advertisers, distributors and street sellers intimidated by the authorities’ campaign further cut into the finances of Free Press and the staff struggled to continue publishing.

The paper was further hurt by competition from the Quicksilver Times, a similar Washington area alternative paper, which began publishing in June 1969. Quicksilver’s politics differed from the Free Press in that it was more closely aligned with the Revolutionary Youth Movement faction of SDS.  The Free Press was also impaired by internal staff disagreements.

However, the Free Press won its first victory in September when the Pugh-ordered grand jury probe ended with no indictments.  The jury reviewed a number of documents and interviewed detective Lamastra, but concluded that criminal charges were not prudent.

In December 1969, the Free Press published what would turn out to be their last issue and reached an all time circulation high of 25,000.

In January the Free Press office was broken into and their files on undercover police officers were stolen while items of value were left alone.  Holes were knocked through the wall of an adjacent men’s room to gain access.  No arrests were made. The staff continued to struggle to put out another issue that would have covered the December 1969 Chicago police killing of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton.

On January 28, 1970, Prince George’s Judge Roscoe Parker convicted Woodruff of distributing obscene material telling him that the Free Press was a “piece of trash” that “should be banned.”

Parker went to proclaim that, “To say that this is art is ridiculous. It’s obnoxious, truly obnoxious (and) …repulsive to even suggest” that the cartoons were art.  During the trial, Parker refused to allow a Prince George’s librarian to testify on community standards.  The Hyattsville MD branch of the library had the Free Press on its open shelf in the adult section and two other branches subscribed to the paper.

Subversive Law Thrown Out

The Free Press won a resounding victory February 2 when a three judge federal court threw out most of Maryland’s “Ober law” and

Joseph Forer, the attorney whose appeals overturned Dillingham’s obscenity conviction & gutted Maryland’s anti-subversive law in an undated photo.

criticized Judge Pugh.  The court left standing only the provisions that dealt with actual acts of violence and overt acts, striking down any parts dealing with speech or membership.

In specifically rebuking Pugh, the court held that any indictments against the Free Press would have been unconstitutional, “based only on the facts submitted to the grand jury by Judge Pugh.”  State Attorney General Francis Burch was quoted in the Washington Post saying that the “Ober law” was now “almost impotent.”

After nearly three months of struggling to overcome its financial problems, the Free Press officially announced they were unable to continue publishing in March 1970.  The newspaper, however, continued to live and fight in the courts.

Dillingham Cleared of Obscenity

Dillingham received a birthday present July 15, 1970 when the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed his obscenity conviction for selling the Free Press.

Judge Charles A. Thompson said in the majority opinion, “Although Freudian concepts of sexual motivation for human conduct, as expressed by the cartoon, have come under fire recently, they are not so discredited that the Court could say those ideas are utterly without social worth.”  The court also found that the caricature of Judge Pugh had not exceeded contemporary community standards and that it did not appeal to prurient interests.

At the time of the decision, Dillingham was continuing his fight against repression by running for Montgomery County Sheriff on a platform of disarming all law enforcement officers and freeing all political prisoners.

The Free Press continued its string of victories after its death when a three-judge federal panel invalidated requirements that determined who could sell newspapers on city streets.  Fingerprinting had been one of the requirements to get a license.  On February 12, 1971 the judges found the city’s bureau of licenses and inspections had “no appropriate standards” to determine who received licenses.

The ruling came over “Tasty Comix” that had originally been distributed as part of the Free Press, but continued to be suppressed as a separate publication on street corners after the Free Press ceased publication.

In August 1971, Federal District Judge Howard Corcoran declared a National Park Service rule that had been used as the basis to arrest street vendors of alternative newspapers unconstitutional.  Corcoran ruled on a suit brought by the long dead Free Press that the rule was “overly broad” and had served as a prior restrain on free speech.

Corcoran warned police that “there should be no repetition of police activities” in which vendors were arrested for lacking a license to sell newspapers.  Parks are “areas traditionally open to the public for the exercise of First Amendment rights…such parks as Dupont Circle, Farragut Square and Lafayette Square lie in the center of business activities…and are often the sites for demonstrations.”

Courts Rule Free Press Not Suppressed

The Free Press wasn’t the only newspaper targeted in that time period.  The Quicksilver Times was declared obscene in February 1970 by a judge in St. Mary’s County, MD  after Scott Bennett was arrested with 50 copies getting off a bus in Lexington Park.  The Voice from the Mother Country was suppressed in May 1970 after an FBI raid on its offices ostensibly looking for Cathlyn Platt Wilkerson, a Weather Underground fugitive.

Black Panther Party newspaper vendors were also harassed.  In August 1970, police arrested a man for selling the Black Panther paper in front of a Montgomery County drug store.

Despite winning in court on nearly every substantial issue, on May 16, 1973, the US Court of Appeals upheld a District Court ruling that metropolitan police had not consistently suppressed the Washington Free Press and Quicksilver Times newspapers, denying their request for claims and the ability to present additional evidence concerning police harassment.

In essence, the string of court rulings gave police the green light to suppress free speech and press activities in the moment while overturning those actions later after the threat had subsided.  Nonetheless, the Free Press wins in court over repressive anti-subversive, obscenity and restrictive news distribution laws were real victories.

Author’s Notes: Many of the participants on the Free Press side of the fight are unknown.  Many went by first names only.  Among those who should be recognized are J. Brinton Dillingham, Joseph Forer and all the Free Press staffers including first among equals, Christopher Webber.  Bill Blum, who founded the paper along with seven others, should also be acknowledged.   And last but not least, all the Free Press vendors and street distributors who took the brunt of the harassment and arrests.

Most of the information in this posting came from the Washington Post, Star and Free Press and from court documents.

Craig Simpson is a former Secretary-Treasurer of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 and has a BA in labor studies from the National Labor College.  He can be contacted by e-mail at washington_area_spark@yahoo.com. 

%d bloggers like this: