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George Davis and the Turbulent Times of D.C. Area Transit Union—1974-80

16 Mar
George Davis, new president of the transit union: 1974

George R. Davis, ATU Local 689 president 1974-80.

By Craig G. Simpson

George Davis became president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 January 1, 1974  and headed the union during three illegal strikes.

He oversaw the opening of Washington, D.C.’s Metrorail system as well as the early stages of local jurisdictions cutting bus workers’ wages and benefits as they set up replacement bus systems in their counties and cities.

But he also successfully fought to keep a full percentage cost-of-living clause for transit workers and formed a slate that integrated the top officers of the union..

After six years of chaos within the union, he was ousted by a 2-1 margin by a rank-and-file member who had never before held a union office.

As a long-time trade unionist he initially made some good decisions, but at later critical times, he made major errors and continued to compound them one on top of the other.


George R. Davis was elected president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 shortly after the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA, also known as Metro) acquired four private bus companies in 1973.

For six years from 1974-80 Davis was at the helm of the union during one of its most tumultuous periods: workers went on strike on three different occasions, defying union leadership’s directives to return to work and also staging a work-to-the-rule regarding the safety features on a bus.

Davis was a veteran bus operator who started work for D.C. Transit at its Northern garage on 14th Street NW. He was elected shop steward/executive board member and later secretary-treasurer of the union before he challenged incumbent president George Apperson for president in the December 1973 union elections.

Union and company in transition

Transit workers wildcat over Metro takeover: 1973

Members of ATU Local 1131 stage a 1973 wildcat strike over Metro takeover and merger into ATU local 689.

Streetcar service ended in 1962 and the new Metrorail system would not begin opening until 1976—meaning the transit system was an all-bus system when Davis became president. Four private bus companies were bought by Metro in 1973 to create the regional Metrobus system.

The union itself was also in transition. The two independent ATU unions at the private companies in Virginia—Locals 1131 and 1079—were merged into Local 689. A dispute over whether Local 689 or the incumbent Teamsters would represent the Prince George’s garage had just been resolved in the Teamsters’ favor.

Two of the unions, Teamsters Local 922 and ATU Local 1131, had staged wildcat strikes over the issue of that merger into Local 689.

Operator ranks were initially integrated racially in 1955, and by the late 1970s black operators outnumbered white operators—most having fewer than seven years of service.

These times were right on the heels of the militant antiwar and black liberation demonstrations and protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Further, many black veterans, radicalized by their Vietnam War experience, were also entering the workforce.  Employers across the country had begun to take on unions by trying to increase worker productivity and there was a nationwide strike wave that would last the entire decade.

1973 union election

Apperson begins 3rd term as transit union president: 1971

Davis ousted three-term Local 689 president George Apperson in Dec. 1973.

Davis put together a multiracial ticket for the top five union offices in 1973: Harvey Lee of Northern Division for first vice president, James Buckner of Southeastern Division for second vice president, and Rodney Richmond of Bladensburg Division for financial secretary-treasurer–all black men. A candidate who was the incumbent recording secretary, George Delaney, was added to his ticket.

George Apperson succeeded long-time president Walter Bierwagen in 1964 and led the union battle to obtain an exact-fare policy after the shooting death of operator William Talley in 1968 and came close to calling a strike over missed pension payments by company owner O. Roy Chalk in 1970. Apperson was politically connected and served as president of the Washington, D.C. labor council.

Apperson integrated the officer ranks by adding James Shipman, a black bus operator, to his ticket as second vice-president. Shipman left mid-term and was replaced by Richmond. However, these moves were regarded by the black rank and file as token moves. At the time, the second vice president was not full-time and had no duties spelled out in the local bylaws.

Davis attacked Apperson for “spending too much time on Capitol Hill” and not tending to Local 689 affairs.

In the first competitive election since 1951, Davis narrowly prevailed, 1398-1119. His entire slate won and Rodney Richmond became the first black full-time officer of the local union.

1974 strike

Police Clear Metrobus Strikers from Yard Entrance 1974 # 1

Workers at Bladensburg garage attempt to halt a scab bus from leaving the yard in 1974.

Davis faced an immediate challenge as the new Metro management stalled on contract negotiations–the old agreement was due to expire April 30, 1974. At the center of the controversy was a cost-of-living clause that provided for quarterly increases of the same percentage that the consumer price index increased.

The union pointed to language in federal law that prohibits the use of federal funds to diminish the pay or benefits of workers, while WMATA claimed everything would be up for grabs when the contract expired.

Davis called a mass union meeting at the Washington Coliseum on May 1, 1974. It was attended by about 2,000 members who voted to strike beginning May 2nd. The unexpected strike paralyzed the city.

Metro demanded that the union return to work and pointed to the interstate compact that created Metro which provided that “all labor disputes” were subject to arbitration and that strikes were prohibited. Further the WMATA-ATU 689 labor contract language contained a no-strike clause unless the company refused to arbitrate a dispute.

U.S. District Court Judge John Lewis Smith, Jr. issued an injunction against the strike on May 3rd and ordered Davis to make a good faith effort to get the members to return to work. Davis called a mass union meeting that night at the Sheraton Park hotel on Woodley Road NW.

Davis announced that a restraining order had been issued and told the 1,000 or so assembled that, “I hate like hell to tell you this, but you’re going to have to go back to work.” He started to read the injunction, but was interrupted by shouts of “wildcat, wildcat!” and members headed for the doors before he could finish reading the judge’s order.

The following day Judge Smith angrily admonished Davis and told him he never should have used the words, “I hate like hell to tell you…” saying that those words amounted to an endorsement of a continued strike.  The judge then placed a $25,000 per day fine on the union for disobeying his order and threatened to jail Davis if he didn’t get the workers to return.

Return to work

Back to work order from the union and company: 1974

Return to work orders from the union and the company following the judge’s order to arbitrate the issues.

With the strike continuing, Judge Smith ordered WMATA and the union to arbitrate their dispute, including the cost-of-living clause, but told the arbitrators to give “great weight” to union contentions that the cost of living wage escalation could not legally be reduced. Metro offered to resume negotiations if the workers returned.

Near-normal bus service was run on May 7th and at least some union members saw the judge’s order as tantamount to victory.

It seemed like a win for Davis, who had called the initial strike, but many in the rank and file saw his order to return to work as weakness and derided what they perceived to be his fear of going to jail.

Further, Davis did a poor job of publicizing and explaining the judge’s directive on “great weight” and a number of members’ perception was that they went on strike for nothing.

Davis compounded negative feelings about the strike among the members by assessing the rank-and-file to pay the fine that the judge ordered.

Following the strike, Davis quickly negotiated an agreement with the transit authority that kept the cost-of-living clause intact. However, members voted down the agreement—largely over a paltry general wage increase—and the humiliated Davis was forced to go back to the bargaining table.

The second agreement that Davis brought back contained only minor changes, but was approved at the ratification meeting. Nevertheless, there were the beginnings of bitterness toward Davis by a section of the rank-and-file union members.

1975 safety check

ATU Local 689: No Service 1974 # 1

A bus displays a “NO Not in Service” sign with a block number “Local 689.”

The WMATA management sought to increase disciplinary penalties for workers in 1975, including harsher penalties for a number of minor offenses.

Meanwhile, the aging buses that WMATA had purchased from D.C. Transit and the other private companies in 1973 were in deplorable condition.

Basic safety features including horns and speedometers rarely worked. Some buses had no mirror on the right side and there were no convex mirrors to detect a vehicle right beside a bus.

Worse, brakes were often slack, tires were bald, and turn signals and brake lights often didn’t function.

In response to the harsh discipline and unsafe equipment and Metro’s refusal to seriously negotiate over the issues, Davis called a safety check on October 30, 1975. He put the shop stewards in charge at each division to ensure that no bus went out of the garage with safety defects.

Service put out for the morning rush hour that day from Northern and Bladensburg garages–the two largest, along with the small Royal Street garage in Alexandria–was virtually non-existent. Other garages saw delays in getting service on the street. All told about 500 buses out of 1,600 never made it into service.

An individual operator can refuse an unsafe bus, but the union acting together is legally regarded as a “concerted action,” the same as a strike–and strikes by Metro workers had already been found illegal.  WMATA headed to court to get an injunction, but the slowdown was already over.

The direct action was an overwhelming success and WMATA entered serious negotiations and modified its proposed discipline considerably. With the exception of a few disgruntled workers who wanted no change in disciplinary measures whatsoever and a few others who had neglected to fill out the proper paperwork for the day in order to get paid, Davis seemed to finally get a little credit from the rank-and-file workers.

Supplemental rail agreement

D.C. transit union president George Davis: 1978

George Davis in 1978

Davis also led negotiations in 1975 for a supplemental rail agreement to  cover the subway service that wasn’t yet operational. Besides negotiating over classifications, rates of pay, and some work and seniority rules, Davis obtained recognition language that virtually assured that all blue-collar rail workers would be represented by Local 689. Davis thereby settled any question of whether the Teamsters, who retained representation at the Prince George’s bus garage, had any claim on rail work.

Further, he solved much of the problem of disabled bus operators and mechanics. Previously, workers who were physically disqualified from their jobs had been terminated or forced to retire on disability pension if they were eligible—a small sum unless the worker had a lot of service time.

By obtaining language that permitted those disabled workers to take jobs as station attendants (later called managers), Davis enabled many workers to finish their careers as Metro employees.

It was a major victory for Local 689. Davis received little credit for obtaining union recognition for the whole subway system, but the rank and file were reassured by the designation of the station attendant position as one that could be filled by disabled workers.

It seemed as though Davis had perhaps gotten his bearings and was headed for an effective presidency.

Political challenges

Newly elected transit union officers take the oath: 1974

George Davis and Robert Delaney at the union installation of officers in 1974.

After takeover, Metro’s bus deficits began skyrocketing. The four private bus companies combined were running a deficit of about $1 million per year at the time of takeover. By 1975 Metro was running a $50 million per year deficit.

High inflation rates counted for a part of this, new federal regulations another part, unforeseen repairs on the aging buses bought from the private companies, and new, expanded bus service throughout the metropolitan area accounted for nearly all of the shortfall.

However, local political leaders focused on unionized workers’ wages and benefits—particularly the cost-of-living (COLA) clause that provided for quarterly increases of the same percentage rate as inflation in the area.

After Metro failed to modify the cost-of-living clause in the 1974 contract, its sights were set on the upcoming 1976 contract. Local politicians and the three daily newspapers in the D.C. area were beating the drum about eliminating the COLA clause.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County, Maryland began planning to operate its own bus service.

Davis testified at a public hearing against the proposed Ride On service, but unlike his predecessors Apperson and Walter Bierwagen, was only marginally politically involved or connected.

Davis also did not believe in involving the union members in this fight and did not conduct any extensive lobbying or political activity other than his testimony against what would ultimately become county or privately-run bus service in every jurisdiction in the Washington, D.C. area.

Davis also failed to grasp the dangerous effects that public opinion could have on elected leaders, and so he let the increasing attacks on both Metro and the union in the press go unchallenged.

The latter was something that began to loom large with the rank and file membership.

Caucus formed

Action Alliance formed in response to Metro attacks

An agenda from a 1976 union caucus meeting.

The dissatisfaction with Davis’s failure to respond to attacks in the media produced the first organized rank-and-file caucus in 1976.

Management contract proposals were leaked to the union membership by an unknown person(s) and if adopted would have gutted seniority rules, increased the wage progression period to five years, permitted part-time operators, eliminated the cost-of-living clause, and cut back many other pay and benefit provisions.

Not trusting the union officers to lead the fight, a few members from Western, Southeastern and Four Mile garages formed a 20-member group called Metro Employees Action Alliance.

The Alliance put union officials on the spot at union meetings by posing questions such as “I would like to know what the union’s position is regarding the poor, defective, unsafe equipment that we have been driving on the streets….?”

The caucus also raised money, formulated their own proposals for union contract changes, and hired a public relations firm to get the workers’ side of the story into the news media.

Several news features were written and printed in local newspapers as a result of caucus activity, countering some of the negative press.

However, this initial attempt at organization within the union structure fell apart within a few months due to internal dissent. Nevertheless, it spelled trouble for Davis that members were beginning to form their own organization to take on his administration.

Bicentennial

Metro general manager Ted Lutz: 1978 ca.

Metro general manager 1976-79 Ted Lutz.

The celebration of the nation’s 200th birthday was planned for nearly a year before the July 4, 1976 gathering of several hundred thousand on the Washington Monument grounds and on the national mall.

Political leaders in the region agreed to fund special bus service to handle the volume of tourists expected to flood the city in the months leading up to the celebration. On the day itself, those attending the celebration were urged to leave their cars at home and take the special buses provided from fringe parking areas into the city.

The expected crowds of tourists never materialized prior to the celebration and most of the special buses ran empty—meaning an investment of funds that had no return. The local press hammered on this as another barb directed against Metro.

However, on the day of the celebration hundreds of thousands headed downtown heeding officials pleas to use bus service. All went fairly smoothly until the celebration ended with fireworks shortly after 9 p.m.

Metro officials had not coordinated with city officials on how to move several hundred thousand people out of the downtown area quickly. As a result traffic gridlocked and tens of thousands of people were stranded on the national mall until the early hours of the morning.

While there was plenty of blame to go around, Metro took most of the criticism, leading the WMATA board of directors to initiate discussions with a private contractor, ATE, to run the Metrobus system.

Davis was ambivalent about this development, believing the union contract would be honored. Privately he expressed that it might be a good development since labor relations had been somewhat better under the private companies immediately before Metro’s takeover of the buses.

Union members, however, were concerned this was another attack aimed at their wages and benefits, and so disgruntlement with Davis’s leadership grew.

Fortunately for Davis, a new general manager named Ted Lutz was hired and he was an opponent of privatization. Within months after being hired, Lutz made strides toward improving bus service reliability and set goals that were higher than those contained in the ATE proposal.

Lutz told Metro’s board of directors in 1977, “I think we can save money, improve performance and assure an integrated bus rail transit system” by retaining the bus service in-house.

The Metro board of directors ultimately backed Lutz’s approach and Davis was spared what would undoubtedly have been another nail in his coffin.

’76 contract

Transit union president Davis in a happy moment: 1975 ca.

George Davis, right, enjoys a moment of happiness.

Davis went into the 1976 contract negotiations intending to keep the cost-of-living clause intact.

During negotiations, WMATA proposed the use of part-time operators,  believing this would cut costs and arguing that it would prevent local jurisdictions like Montgomery County from taking over Metrobus lines with lower paid workers.

Later during negotiations, they floated the idea of a “suburban rate” (a lower hourly rate) for certain less-productive bus routes as a means of lowering costs.

Davis privately believed that such concessions were necessary to preserve the bargaining unit. However he was fearful of the reaction of the rank and file to any concessions and refused to entertain a modification of the COLA, part-time work, or a suburban rate.

On April 30, 1976, the union invoked arbitration and the matter headed to a three-member panel composed of one union representative, one company representative, and a neutral arbitrator.

When the disputed cost-of-living pay increase came due for the members in the beginning of July 1976 during the arbitration process, Metro didn’t pay it even though the labor agreement between the union and Metro provided that all terms and conditions within the expired contract should remain “undisturbed” while the new agreement was being arbitrated.

Union head and attorneys confer during arbitration: 1976

George Davis (l) confers with union attorneys during an arbitration hearing before Harry Platt in 1976.

However, Davis didn’t challenge the company’s refusal to pay, indicating that the matter would be settled in the contract arbitration.

This seemingly innocuous decision would come back to haunt Davis later in his career.

When the contract arbitration award was announced in late November 1976, the full cost-of-living clause was retained and there were no new provisions for part-time work or a “suburban rate.” There was no general wage increase, but a dental plan was added for the first time. The arbitration award provided for a two-year contract.

However, arbitrator Harry H. Platt ruled that Metro could skip paying the July 1976 COLA payment—one of those that they had not paid in the interim between the nominal expiration of the contract and the arbitration award date.

In the context of the political attacks on the union that were taking place throughout the area, it seemed like a victory for Davis. He said at the time that retention of the COLA “is obviously a victory…we think we deserved it and we kept it.”

Many of the rank-and-file held a different viewpoint. They viewed Davis as responsible for the lost quarterly payment since he did not challenge the issue at the time the payment was due, and they felt the lack of a general wage increase made this a bad contract.

In the end Davis’s victory in keeping the COLA clause produced few rewards for him politically.

’76 union election

Jim Coughlin, Bladensburg shop steward & board member: 1971

Jim Coglin sought to challenge George Davis for president.

The dissatisfaction with Davis led a shop steward/executive board member from the largest bus garage, Bladensburg, to announce his intention to run for president.

James “Jim” Coglin [some spellings were Coughlin] began a series of small meetings with key figures in the union to build support at other facilities.

Coglin came from the same division as Davis’s secretary-treasurer, Rodney Richmond, so it was not clear that Bladensburg’s 1,000 workers would back him in sufficient numbers to overcome Davis’s organization throughout the system.

Coglin was also white and Davis had integrated the top ranks of the union. Nevertheless, Coglin was a serious threat to Davis. But before the nomination meeting was held in November 1976, Coglin died.

Local 689 top officers at their installation: 1977

The five top ATU 689 officers in 1977.

Davis had struck political gold and was re-elected without opposition.

What seemed like good political fortune for Davis was perhaps the opposite. Davis was already distant from the rank and file, rarely venturing into the field. And as a result of Coglin’s death, Davis didn’t campaign and make his case to the members. With hundreds hired within the last few years, many simply didn’t know him.

Ride-On

Black and white version of transit union logo: 1987 ca.

Black and white version of the Local 689 logo.

The first suburban bus system to start running was Montgomery County’s Ride On in March 1975 with two routes. By late 1977 it had taken over some Metrobus routes and had about 30 operators working out of a garage in Brookmont.

Montgomery County Executive James Gleason made clear the reasons for the start-up service in a comment to the Washington Post:

“Our intention is to lower the overall costs to the feeder bus service not only to residents of Montgomery County but elsewhere in the region by running a more efficient service.”

While some savings could be obtained by forgoing federal assistance and related costly disability and safety requirements and by purchasing sub-standard buses, the only place significant savings could occur was in the wages and benefits of operators and mechanics.

Local 689 had not done any real union organizing in many years. The last attempt had been a raid on the Teamsters Union in 1973 at the Prince George’s Metrobus garage that was halted by the International union, which had a “no-raid” agreement with the Teamsters. Prior to that, no one could remember the last organizing attempt.

Craig Simpson, ATU 689 activist and officer: 1982

Craig Simpson as a rank-and-file bus operator in 1982.

The author of this post, Craig Simpson, then a young, 25-year-old rank-and-file operator at Northern Division, had a friend named Marc Miller working at Ride On who was interested in bringing in the union.

Simpson obtained authorization cards from the union office and provided them to Miller. Miller in turn obtained signatures from 28 of the 30 Ride On operators.

The cards were turned into Rodney Richmond, the secretary-treasurer of Local 689. After several weeks Miller kept bugging Simpson about what was going on.

When Simpson went to the union hall at 300 Indiana Avenue NW, Richmond told him that the International said they weren’t interested because it was “small potatoes.”

Union activists could see the writing on the wall. If Montgomery County was successful in lowering wages and benefits for transit workers, the other jurisdictions that made up Metro wouldn’t be far behind—threatening the union’s bargaining power and creating a substandard wage and benefit package that would drag down future contracts with Metro. It was nothing short of a direct assault on transit workers.

Rodney Richmond, first black full-time ATU 689 officer: 1974

Rodney Richmond in 1974 after his election as financial secretary-treasurer of Local 689.

The challenge to organize Ride On was certainly daunting. The operators and mechanics would have to be organized into a union with no collective bargaining rights.

Union resources would have to be spent lobbying on behalf of the Ride On employees, but their union would be toothless without the collective bargaining that would result in a labor agreement.

Obtaining collective bargaining would have required a political effort since Ride 0n was set up using county employees. At the time, the Maryland state legislature informally required a resolution from the county council supporting collective bargaining legislation before they would consider it.

Collective bargaining legislation would also need majority support from the state senators and state representatives elected from the county, according to the informal requirement of the state legislature.

This meant that Local 689 would have to make a political effort without the support of the International union, if it were to pursue an attempt to organize and obtain a labor agreement for the Ride On unit. To put it mildly, politics was not Davis’s strength and no effort was made at that time.

The “small potatoes” that the ATU International cited turned into one of the 20 largest transit systems in the U.S. In 2019 the Ride On system operated 500 buses with over 1,500 operators and support personnel.

The workers are represented by United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 1994. While they have made significant gains in wages and benefits, they still lag behind Metro workers in total compensation 45 years after operations began.

Word began to spread about the failure to organize Ride On, compounding Davis’s woes.

’78 safety wildcat strike

SE Metrobus Operators Strike Over Safety

Workers at Southeastern Division, where the young woman who was assaulted worked, mill outside the facility during their wildcat strike.

Bus operator anger over assaults, usually during fare disputes, had been growing while Davis and the union seemingly took no action.

Brazen armed robberies began taking place where one robber would board through the front door of a bus and another through the back and they would rob the driver and every passenger on the bus. Other armed robbers pointed firearms at drivers at the end of the bus line while accomplices sawed off the fareboxes and absconded with them.

As the fear of armed robberies and assaults boiled, a 32-year old female bus operator at Ridge Road and Burns Streets SE was raped by a man with a knife.

Operators didn’t wait for the union to act. A strike began May 18, 1978 at the former Southeastern Bus Garage at Half and M Streets SE and spread throughout the day to the Bladensburg Road NE garage and the Northern Garage at 4615 14th Street NW.

Rev. Jerry Moore, a city council and Metro board of directors member, visited the strikers and promised action by the District to protect drivers. Metro’s general manager put out a letter outlining the steps he would take to address their concerns.

A meeting was organized at an RFK Stadium parking lot that evening. Striking drivers voted to suspend the strike for two weeks on the condition that a settlement was reached on the safety issue.

Committees were set up at most garages that in turn met with council member Moore.

Government, Management & Union Meet With Striking Drivers

D.C. council member Rev. Jerry Moore, Metro GM Ted Lutz, ATU 689 president George Davis and ATU financial secretary Rodney Richmond meet with disgruntled workers the day after a wildcat strike protesting the rape of a female bus operator.

Davis derided the committee saying, “Committees are fine, but they are not going to be there without union representation because 300 people do not represent 5,000.”

Davis, who had taken no previous action to reduce assaults, now wanted to lead. The slap at the 300 referred to those who attended the RFK parking lot meeting and actually produced results.

Moore, Metro and Local 689 officials met with some drivers the day after the strike. Moore also later held a city council hearing on the issue putting further pressure on the company to act.

The strike resulted in increased police patrols on buses (both Metro and District police), a plexiglass shield installed behind the driver, an emergency “panic button,” and repairs to and activation of non-functioning radios on the buses.

Davis, who was nowhere to be seen during the strike, attempted to take credit for the results and was quoted in the Washington Post, “I feel from what I’ve seen that there definitely has been an all-out effort by Metro to live up to its end of the bargain.”

Those active in the strike derided Davis for the blatant attempt to take credit for something that he had little to do with.

’78 Wildcat Over Cost-of-Living

Mechanics Organize Walkout Over Cost of Living

Metro mechanics at Bladensburg heavy overhaul shop make signs on the first day of the July 1978 wildcat strike.

The union and management had not been able to reach an agreement before the contract expired at midnight April 30, 1978 and Davis again invoked arbitration.

Metro workers remembered the previous contract where they had lost one payment of the COLA, and they blamed Davis for not fighting to enforce the contract language that spelled out that all provisions should remain “undisturbed” during arbitration.

Fresh off the wildcat strike over safety on the buses, frustration with the union bubbled over again at a July 18th meeting of Local 689.

Angry over WMATA’s failure to pay the quarterly cost of living (COLA), union members repeatedly demanded that the union hold a strike vote.

Davis pointed out that a strike would be illegal, based on their experience in the 1974 strike, that he was unwilling to lead another illegal strike, and he refused to conduct a strike vote. He was repeatedly shouted down by the members in attendance.

Davis gaveled the meeting closed and left the hall with other officers.  A rump meeting was then held by about 200 members who called for a strike at 10 a.m. the next day.

Few bus operators initially walked off the job, but a large number of mechanics called out sick while others made strike preparations at the Bladensburg overhaul shop. The afternoon Daily News reported that dozens of mechanics had been fired for halting work.

Anger flashed as news of the harsh discipline spread through the Metro system.

The strike spreads

Metrorail Striker at National Airport 1978

A striking worker pickets the Metro station at National Airport: in 1978: “No cost-of-living, No Work, No Reprisals.”

A meeting held at an RFK Stadium parking lot that evening of rank-and-file Metro workers called for a strike to begin at midnight around two demands:  Metro pay the COLA, and amnesty for all strikers.

Workers heeded the strike call on July 20th.  The vast majority of workers at all eight bus garages, including the Prince George’s garage (4421 Southern Ave) represented by the Teamsters, refused to work.  Subway trains, which ran only from Silver Spring to Dupont Circle and from Stadium-Armory to National Airport, were also shut down.

Davis, interviewed at his office by the Washington Post, failed to understand why workers wanted to fight the company and said, “You have employees who are hell-bent on hell-raising. I don’t have the answer to it.”

“A relatively small group is inciting this thing, and they’re getting followers,” Davis said. He added that he agreed with retaining the cost-of-living clause, but he seemingly forgot the lessons of the 1974 strike when he added, “You can’t support a legitimate gripe by illegitimate action.”

The workers held meetings at each reporting location and elected leaders.  In the absence of today’s cell phones and instant messaging, workers held regular meetings of the strike leaders and rank and file at an RFK Stadium parking lot. Pay phone numbers near each facility were exchanged.

William T. Scoggin Jr., an operator from the former Arlington Garage at N. Quincy Street and Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, VA, was elected spokesperson.

Metro responded by temporarily withdrawing discipline and obtaining court injunctions against three individual strikers from Judge Louis Oberdorfer.

But Oberdorfer went beyond listening to the lawyers from Metro and the union. He understood that strikers would listen to neither and appointed two labor lawyers–Charles “Chip” Yablonski (the son of slain reform mineworker president Joe Yablonski) and Charles Booth–to advise him of the strikers’ position and interests.

Future Local 689 president Golash and first woman officer Perrin: 1998

Michael Golash, one of the 1978 strike leaders and a future union president, is shown with Sandra Perrin, the union’s first female executive board member.

The strikers ultimately retained their own attorneys to represent them before Oberdorfer.

On Sunday, July 23 with the strikers holding firm, Oberdorfer ordered WMATA to post a $40,000 per week bond to ensure that the money for the cost of living increase was provided for, ordered expedited arbitration of the COLA dispute, ordered the union and Metro to take increased measures to inform workers their strike was illegal, and threatened to jail strikers who refused his back to work order.

During the hearing under questioning from the judge, Davis denied he attempted to get strikers to return to work by telling them that the cost-of-living issue would be settled by Friday, July 21st.

However, Melvin Brown, one of about 20 striking workers in the courtroom, provided a piece of paper to their counsel.  It was a message to the members over Davis’s signature stating that arbitration of the COLA issue would be completed by July 21st. Davis was caught in a lie in open court and the word spread quickly among the strikers.

Metro Workers Vote to Continue Strike: 1978

Mass meeting at RFK stadium where William Scoggin (with microphone) is replaced by Eugene Ray (just to the left of Scoggin) as strike leader.

A mass meeting was held that Sunday evening at an RFK Stadium parking lot attracting about 400 strikers—a relatively small number.  Scoggin urged a return to work, advising that the workers had won as much as they were going to win.

However, other speakers, including future union president Michael “Mike” Golash, urged a continuation of the strike until amnesty was granted. The television cameras were rolling when Golash came to the microphone and shouted, “Strike, strike, strike!”

In a voice vote, Scoggin was replaced as spokesperson by Eugene Ray, a bus operator from the 4-Mile Run yard located at 3501 S. Glebe Road in Arlington, VA.

On July 24, WMATA responded by re-opening the Metrorail system with supervisors and a few workers who crossed picket lines.  Scoggin’s Arlington Division went back to work along with a few scattered operators at other Divisions.  Management began circulating false rumors that other locations were already back to work.

Hindered by lack of communications, the strikers began to waver and by the afternoon of Tuesday, July 25, service was restored to normal as one location after another returned to work en-masse.

Strike aftermath

Discipline, but no termination for wildcat strikers: 1978

The arbitration award that reinstated four strike leaders with a lengthy suspension without pay.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Flannery fined three individual members for contempt of court for their roles in the strike.  WMATA fired eight strikers, suspended 86 for 1-9 days without pay and reprimanded 54.

The union took the disciplinary cases to arbitration, although it was reportedly a close vote by the executive board as to whether to arbitrate or drop the grievances with Davis in favor of arbitration.

Discipline was ultimately reduced for many who filed grievances through the union, including seven strikers whose terminations were reduced to long suspensions without pay–largely because WMATA had failed to notify employees after two previous strikes that they could be terminated for walkouts.  One fired striker, who did not file a grievance, was not reinstated.

Other than the discipline, the strike ended much as the 1974 strike with a federal judge giving a strong indication of the preferred outcome.  By ordering expedited arbitration of the disputed cost of living payment and having the disputed money put in escrow, Judge Oberdorfer all but assured the strikers of victory on the COLA issue.

Davis acknowledged after the strike that the union needed to implement reforms saying, “There are going to have to be some changes made…better lines of communications with its members.” He told a Post reporter that he was uncertain whether he would seek re-election.

“Undisturbed” arbitration

Labor arbitrator Richard Bloch: 1978 ca.

Labor arbitrator Richard Bloch in April 1979..

The outcome of the expedited arbitration of the disputed COLA payment was announced August 3, 1978—a little over a week after the strike ended–and proved Davis wrong and the members right.

Arbitrator Richard Bloch ruled that the failure of WMATA to pay the quarterly cost-of-living for the pay period ending July 1, 1978 “resulted in a substantial ‘disturbance’ of existing conditions and, therefore, is a contract violation.”

Scoggins, the deposed strike leader, told the Washington Post, “We’re very pleased…It’s what we expected. The union leadership allowed Metro to get away” without paying the cost-of-living increase.

Another Washington Post news analysis published after the strike found that the union leadership was out of touch with its members.

Douglas Feaver wrote that Davis “cannot remember the last time he was out to visit the union membership in one of the 18 garages and yards the in the areas vast bus and subway network.”

He reported that Davis spoke of the membership prior to the COLA strike, “I can’t control ‘em; I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

’78 contract arbitration

Davis celebrates second term as ATU 689 president: 1977

George Davis, shown in a 1977 photo, took the blame for the introduction of part-time work.

On August 30, 1978, the arbitration of major contract issues was completed with very mixed news for Davis and the union members.

The COLA clause was retained in full, but the panel ruled that Metro could begin hiring up to 10 percent part-time operators with no benefits or seniority.

Part-time work in the transit industry is not really part time. It’s underpaid full time. A person must work the morning and evening rush hour with four to six hours off in between. The length of their day is between 12 and 15 hours, meaning that employment elsewhere is nearly impossible.

The pay hours ranged from 5 to 6 hours per day with no sick leave, holiday pay, vacation, bereavement leave, health insurance or pension benefits.

WMATA believed that part-time employment would save them money, but after more than 30 years of experimentation they found it less costly to hire full time because they could hire more stable, reliable operators.

It was an open secret that Davis favored making concessions to forestall the creation of more suburban bus companies. So while it was a neutral arbitrator who ordered part-time work, Davis and “the union” got the much of the blame from the membership.

New caucuses formed

Caucus denounces union leadership following strike: 1978

At least two rank-and-file caucuses were active following the 1978 COLA strike.

Two organized caucuses flourished in the wake of the 1978 cost-of-living strike.

One was organized as Metro C.A.R (Committee Against Racism), led by Golash.

The other was organized by some of the strike leaders and supporters at a number of garages and shops and was called the Metro Workers Rank and File Action Caucus.

Both caucuses focused their ire on two union officers, George Davis and Rodney Richmond.

In a newsletter issued after the strike, Metro C.A.R. wrote, “First of all, we should oust sellout George Davis who once again showed his true colors (yellow) during the strike.”

The Action Caucus wrote in their newsletter, “When Rodney Richmond announced the contract terms at the special union meeting August 30th at Constitution Hall, he attacked the recent wildcat strike. He stated that arbitration was the best way to resolve disputes and defended the part-time provision, saying that if we didn’t allow part-timers then Ride On type outfits would be set up everywhere…This no-win strategy of our top elected officials must go.”

Richmond’s and Davis’s position was ultimately proved wrong as part-time work expanded to 15 percent and the COLA clause was eliminated in the 1980s at the same time as private low-wage bus service expanded rapidly in the suburban jurisdictions.

Both caucuses continued to attack the union administration and Metro up to the union elections scheduled for December, 1979.

The Metro C.A.R. caucus pressed for strike preparations for the next contract and advocated against white supremacy and against imperialist war, among other issues.

The Action Caucus held a fundraiser for workers fired during the strike, proposed more democratic bylaw changes, and investigated the union’s finances.

The 5-member investigating committee released a 7-page report in October, 1979, just two months before the union election, that found:

“For the year 1978 thousands of dollars were spent for which there is no supporting documentation…In short it is our finding that the Local has been run like a Mom and Pop grocery store rather than an institution with a budget of over $800,000 which is accountable to 4,500 members.”

The committee’s financial investigation just piled on to Davis’s and Richmond’s woes.

1980 union election

Charles Boswell, one-term ATU Local 689 president: 1980

A close associate of William Scoggin, Charles Boswell, announced he would run for president after Scoggin died.

Scoggin, the former strike leader, announced early that he would take on Davis. Walter Tucker, a bus operator at Northern Division was another strong candidate who announced his intention to run for president. Tucker had been the first black shop steward/executive board member when he was elected in 1970.

Others who would announce included Golash, who had urged members not to return to work during the strike; Ray, the strike leader who replaced Scoggin; George Goodwin, another strike leader; Thomas Toomer, a Bladensburg operator; and Will Dietrich, a gadfly from Western Division.

The 55-year-old Scoggin, viewed as a pro-strike moderate, was clearly the strongest candidate to challenge Davis, but once again lightning struck for Davis, and Scoggin died prior to nomination.

A compatriot of Scoggin at Arlington garage, Charles Boswell, entered the race in his place.

As the Local 689 election committee reviewed the records of candidates in November, 1979 after nominations, it disqualified a number of office-seekers.

The local bylaws at the time required attendance at six union meetings per year each year for a two-year period prior to nomination (but including the nomination meeting).

They also required “continuous” union membership for the two-year period prior to nomination, which meant paying your dues prior to being “suspended” from membership. Suspension occurred automatically when someone was two months in arrears in their dues.

Walter Tucker, first black board member of ATU 689: 1971

Walter Tucker, the first black voting member of the union’s executive board was disqualified in his attempt to run for president.

Among those disqualified was Tucker, who had been on workmen’s compensation and neglected to pay his union dues while he was off work. Davis probably thought he’d struck gold again—two of his strongest opponents were out of the race.

Other candidates who were disqualified, including George Goodwin, went to court and obtained  a quick settlement because of their individual circumstances to place them on the ballot and postpone the election a month until January 9th with a runoff to be held January 16, 1980 in instances where no candidate received 50 percent plus one of the vote.

Davis held a strong organizational advantage because the shop stewards in each location were largely backing him, whereas other candidates struggled to identify workers trusted by co-workers in each location who could push their candidacy.

Things started off badly for Davis on election day. When the polls opened at 6 a.m. workers at Southeastern gathered in a group of about 20 and shouted “Davis and Richmond have to go” in front of dozens of other operators. There was no response from Davis supporters.

When the polls closed at 6:00 p.m. the results were brought to the union hall on New Jersey Avenue and Davis still had some hope. When the results were tallied, Davis led the pack with 977 votes or 31 percent of the vote. Charles Boswell, the substitute for the deceased Scoggins, trailed with 740 or 24 percent of the vote.

Under the union’s bylaws at that time it meant a run-off would be held the following week. Things didn’t start out on election day much better for Davis. At Northern Division, a member of Davis’s ticket, Harvey Lee, quit handing out his literature at 7 a.m. as operators tore up Davis’s palm cards and threw them on the floor. Thereafter Lee only handed out his own cards for the next 11 hours of voting.

When the runoff votes were tallied, Davis actually lost votes. Boswell, with absolutely no union experience, handily defeated him 2196-969.

Richmond, a relatively young and bright rising star, was tarnished by his close association with Davis and lost his election as Secretary-Treasurer as well by a 2-1 margin to another rank-and-file member who never held any union office–not even shop steward.

Congratulations to first black ATU 689 recording secretary: 1977

International ATU VP Walter Bierwagen congratulates James “Tommy” Thomas, Jr. in January 1977 on his election as recording secretary.

The only top officer candidate who survived the tidal wave was Recording Secretary James M. Thomas Jr.

During his 3-year term as the recording secretary, Thomas fielded phone calls from members and worked to solve their problems over the phone. He also made regular visits to work locations before and after his office hours at the union hall.  Further, Thomas was politically active in his home state of Virginia. He would go on to win five terms as president from 1983 to 1997.

During the 1980 election, two Action Caucus members won board seats and Metro C.A.R. won one board seat out of the 15 seats available. Allies of the Action Caucus on the Unity Slate, formed to support Tucker’s candidacy, won two of the top five positions: secretary-treasurer and second vice president and also won two additional board seats.

Metro Workers Rank and File Action Caucus – 1978-80

Action Caucus members running for shop steward in 1980.

Action Caucus members would play key roles in the union in the years to come. Maurice Waller served as shop steward/executive board member from Northern Division for about 10 years; Phillip Mayo served as shop steward/executive board member from Montgomery Division for three terms, and also as an appointed business agent; Harold Hume served as shop steward from Bladensburg Shop for two terms; James Bynum served as shop steward from both the maintenance department and later among station managers, and as 2nd vice president. Craig Simpson was elected to four terms as shop steward/board member at Northern Division, serving for about 10 ½ years, as an appointed business agent for 4 ½ of those years, and as financial secretary-treasurer for about 7 ½ years.

Mike Golash from the Metro C.A.R. caucus served as shop steward/executive board member from Northern Division, financial secretary-treasurer, and as president. Gary Young served as a shop steward/executive board member for maintenance.

Afterward

Two union presidents at new transit hall: 1990

James M. “Tommy” Thomas, Jr. (left) and James “Jimmy” LaSala outside the Local 689 headquarters under construction in 1989.

Davis retired after his defeat, living in Hyattsville, Md. He remained active with the Local 689 retirees group, ultimately being elected president. However he remained bitter about his defeat and felt betrayed by those around him and refused to entertain any talk of union politics thereafter.

He is believed to have died sometime in the late 1990s without fanfare.

Richmond made a comeback. He went back to work as a bus operator at Bladensburg garage and rebuilt his base. He ran for president of the union in December 1982 against Boswell but both were defeated by James M. Thomas Jr.

Congrats to First DC Transit Union African American Officer: 1974

Rodney Richmond becomes the first black full-time Local 689 officer in 1973. Here he is shaking hands with former president and then international Vice President Walter Bierwagen at the 689 officers’ installation.

However, Richmond had support at Bladensburg and a few other locations. Instead of continuing to try to run for a top office, Richmond went back and ran for shop steward/executive board member at Bladensburg in the following election and won.

He was poised to run against Thomas again for president, but Thomas instead obtained the support of ATU International President James LaSala and offered Richmond an International vice president position. Richmond accepted and was elected at the convention that followed.

He continued to serve as ATU International vice president until his retirement and in 2020 lives in New Orleans, LA.

Davis’ replacement Charles Boswell, who had no previous union experience, was a fish out of water and struggled throughout his three-year term.

Boswell had never been late to work in his career nor received a disciplinary violation and as a result was insensitive to disciplinary issues. He was unable to relate to the new workers who had defiant attitudes toward management.

Boswell compounded his problems by appointing people with little to no union experience to key positions.

He too tried to run the union from the office and met with the same fate as Davis. Thomas, the sole survivor of the Davis-Richmond era, defeated Boswell handily for president in December, 1982. Thomas went on to serve for 15 years as the union’s first black president.

Discussion

Transit union thanks riders for accepting exact fare: 1968

An advertisement in the Washington Post signed by George Apperson thanking the public for accepting exact fare and political and religious leaders for their help in settling the issue.

It was almost pre-ordained for things to end badly for George Davis. He campaigned against his predecessor George Apperson for spending too much time on politics.

From the beginning, he failed to understand that the new Metro was composed of political representatives from Washington, D.C. and the surrounding counties and engaging in politics was paramount.

Even in the days of private companies, politics were overriding—the union settled a two-month 1955 strike and forced owner Louis Wolfson to sell the company by engaging in political action.

The political pressure after the murder of operator James Talley in 1968 forced the D.C. Transit Company to adopt exact fare—the first company in the nation to do so.

Davis’s predecessor Apperson also used political pressure in 1970 to force D.C. Transit owner O. Roy Chalk to bring his payments to the workers’ pension plan up to date.

It’s not that Davis failed to engage in any political activity. He regularly attended hearings on anti-union bills and testified. Bierwagen would accompany him to meet with pro-labor legislators whom he expected to carry the ball for the union, though they had many other issues to deal with. Davis would also dole out some political donations at election time.

But this minimal level of activity was insufficient for the forces arrayed against him and he did not rise to the challenge.

Union head calls strike vote over missed pension payments: 1970

George Apperson, Local 689 president 1964-73.

Davis also compounded his initial error of eschewing intense political action by failing to learn the lessons of the strike he led in 1974 and the slow-down he led in 1975. Both of those direct action work stoppages resulted in victory for the union, but Davis rejected the tactic (or even threatening them) thereafter.

The authorities condemn the use of illegal strikes and other direct action tactics and utilize the courts to try to break them. But many workers see labor laws as unjust and favoring the employers and don’t feel bound to obey them. Attempting to defend workers’ rights solely by using legal means often leads to defeat.

Davis’s rejection of outlawed tactics after 1975 would haunt him in 1978 when without his leadership the rank and file staged two strikes that led to improvements in safety and a payment of the cost-of-living clause under the “undisturbed” language of the contract.

He made a major error in judgment when he failed to attempt to organize the Ride On workers at an early juncture. Workers in the region are plagued 45 years later with substandard wages and benefits on transit operated by every jurisdiction that makes up the WMATA service area.

The issue of making concessions in union contracts is controversial among the members. However, it’s really a matter of fighting the company with all the tools at your disposal—direct action, mobilization of members, political involvement, lobbying, public relations, organizing—before making decisions about tactical moves in contract negotiations.

If you are able to defeat the company’s or others’ adverse action, so be it. However, if the forces against you are stronger than yours, then concessions may be necessary to preserve the bargaining unit as a fighting force and live to fight another day.

Transit union president George R. Davis: 1979

George Davis at WMATA headquarters in 1979.

The problem with Davis’s actions is that he did not use all the tools at his disposal to fight the company, the political attacks and the threat of non-union bus companies. Nor did he have fortitude to make concessionary agreements to forestall hostile action against the union and risk rank-and-file ire. It was the worst of both worlds.

He might have personally survived these major errors as president for a bit longer if he had made his case to the rank and file with regular visits to work locations.

Davis didn’t understand the changes in the workforce that were taking place. Workers in the 1970s were radicalized by the experiences of the 1960s and Davis was far removed from those struggles.

But by his own admission, he rarely spent time talking to the members where they worked. Perhaps if he had, he might have gained greater insight into their thinking and altered his own decision-making. You can’t lead union members from the union office.

It was somewhat of a tragedy for a man who spent his life trying to better the lot of workers but who ended up on the wrong side of the fight. But he repeatedly made bad choices and paid the price.

Local 689 revives the strike tactic after 40 years: 2019

Workers on strike against the substandard wages and benefits of a private Metrobus contractor in 2019.

The union revived the strike tactic in 2018-19 by staging a series of mini-job actions, primarily against Metro’s refusal to seriously negotiate over disciplinary policies. These actions culminated in a strike vote by the whole membership, after which WMATA began to engage in serious negotiations.

The transit union today is confronting head-on the challenges that privatization of transit in the area brought. A strike at Metro’s privatized Cinder Bed Road division led Metro to agree to bring the work back in-house and cancel plans to privatize the Dulles Metrorail yard.

ATU ultimately engaged in organizing the private companies in the jurisdictions that make up Metro, staging a strike in 2019 at three Fairfax Connector garages. They have organized D.C. streetcar and Circulator buses and the Alexandria DASH system as well as a number of paratransit companies.

Politics is now part and parcel of ATU Local 689’s activities and they are well known in every jurisdiction, both for lobbying and for electoral work. And Local 689 regularly attempts to turn out members for actions.

Personal Notes

Longtime union activist pushes MoCo minimum wage: 2013

Craig Simpson speaking on behalf of UFCW Local 400 at a Montgomery County, Md. minimum wage rally in 2013.

I was a young headstrong bus operator during Davis’s tenure and was a member at age 25 of the Metro Employees Action Alliance in 1976 and later the Metro Workers Rank and File Action Caucus 1978-80.

I was convinced that Davis was a sellout and the “Davis-Richmond clique” needed to go.

It was the beginning of my political involvement in the union that would result in 18 years on the union executive board beginning in 1983 before I retired in 2001–serving as shop steward/executive board member, appointed business agent and secretary-treasurer of Local 689.

As the years went by I took a more nuanced view of  George Davis.

He was trained in business unionism that emphasized grievance handling and contract negotiation and de-emphasized member mobilization for direct action, political action and organizing.

While he was a dedicated trade unionists and could be proud of the work he did maintaining the cost-of-living clause, obtaining the supplemental rail agreement and integrating the ranks of the top officers of the union, he made too many wrong decisions and failed to use all the tools at his disposal during the period 1974-80.

After I retired from Metro with 27 years of service in early 2001, I went on to do contract work for the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO, Progressive Maryland, ATU Local 689 and Maryland Commons. I obtained my degree in labor studies from the National Labor College and I finished my career as executive director of United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 400 from 2013-2016. I now administrate and write blog posts and photo descriptions for the Washington Area Spark websites.

Sources

Sources include documents of the Metro Employees Action Alliance, Metro Workers Rank and File Action Caucus and Metro Committee Against Racism (CAR), Local 689 newsletters, the Washington Post, the Washington Star, and the personal recollections of the author.

Related Blog Posts

The D.C. black liberation movement seen through the life of Reginald H. Booker [January 28, 2020 by Craig G. Simpson] The author takes you through the long activist career of D.C. black nationalist Reginald Booker who led the fight against new freeways in the city, for public takeover of the private D.C. Transit, for building the Metrorail system, for hiring, upgrading and promoting black people in the construction industry and the federal and District of Columbia government. A prominent member of the Black United Front, he also led fights against police brutality among a host of other rights issues.

Strike wave at Washington, D.C.’s Capital Transit: 1945 [May 10, 2015 by Daniel Hardin]: In the midst of a struggle over integration and pent-up wage demands following World War II, transit workers in Washington wage a battle to better their conditions and in the process set the stage to transform their union.

The DC women streetcar operators of World War II [March 20, 2013 by Craig Simpson]: In the midst of a World War II shortage of operators and a campaign by African Americans to integrate the operator ranks, the transit company hires women for the first time to pilot the city’s streetcars and buses.

The fight against Capital Transit’s Jim Crow hiring: 1941-55 [October 14, 2012 by Craig Simpson]: The long struggle to integrate Washington’s Capital Transit Company operator ranks—from World War II to the early years of the modern civil rights movement.

Related Images

ATU 689 officers

Hattie Sheehan

Frances Lewis

O. Roy Chalk

Walter Bierwagen

Group Health: 1959

No fare hike: 1966-72

Exact bus fare: 1968

D.C. streetcar women: 1943-60

Transit strike: 1974

ATU 689 birth: 1916-17

On the job murder at Metro: 1974

ATU Local 689: No Service 1974

Fighting Capital Transit racism: 1941-55

Transit strike: 1955

Transit strike: 1951

Capital Transit strikes; 1945

DC Metro wildcat strikes: 1978

Related documents

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

Second Rally to Re-Open the 69 Confiscated NE Homes – June 1969

Smash the 3-Sisters Bridge – Nov. 1969

Victory Celebration of the 3-Sisters Bridge Decision: Oct. 1971

WMATA & union letters ordering striking workers back to work – May 1974

Arbitration award on Metro strike discipline – 1978

Files of the Metro Employees Action Alliance – 1976

WMATA management proposals for contract changes – May 1, 1976

Questions to be asked at the union meeting  – May 18, 1976

Summary of Metro contract proposals circulated to union membership – circa May 22, 1976

Caucus meeting agenda – May 28, 1976

Draft notice to members of Metro’s contract proposals  – circa May 28, 1976

Files of the Metro Workers Rank and File Action Caucus

Action

Vol. 1 No. 1 – Sept. 5, 1978

Vol.1. No. 2 – Oct. 1978

Vol. 1 No. 3 – Nov. 1978

Vol. 1 No. 4 – Jan. 1979

Vol. 1 No. 5 – Jun. 1979

Vol. 1 No. 6 – Aug. 1979

Action Caucus Minutes, flyers and election flyers

Caucus minutes – 7/30/78 – 10/1/78

Turn out for the arbitration hearings flyer – 8/21/78

Report of the Local 689 audit committee – 10/2/79

A vote for Mayo-Waller-Simpson is a vote for change – election flyer 11/79

Elect the Unity Slate platform – 11/79

Letter on the disqualification of Walter Tucker as presidential candidate—11/19/1979

Vote January 9 Mayo-Waller-Simpson—1/9/80

Vote Mayo-Waller-Simpson in the runoff elections—1/16/80

Attend the new officers installation—2/80

Unofficial election results—2/80

Files of the Metro Committee Against Racism (CAR)

Metro C.A.R. – August 1978 ca.

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.

Vintage Washington Area Spark comes back to life: 1971-5

13 Oct
spark-1971-11-19-vol-1-no-3-1

November 19, 1971 – Spark’s third issue.

Updated October 25, 2015 – 3rd and final year of Spark & complete On the Move now online:

This new online tool for researchers and those interested in the period of radical activity in the Washington, D.C. area from 1971-75 is now relatively complete.

The third year of Spark marked its complete transition from a student-oriented radical newspaper to one based among the Washington, D.C. area workforce while still retaining its campus distribution along with a few bookstores and other news outlets.

The tabloid’s circulation peaked in the third year at around 25,000–up from its first issue circulation of 500.

While the newspaper’s politics began aligning more closely with a Maoist group called the Revolutionary Union, it still retained its independence and published articles and covered events that were sponsored by other groups and broader coalitions.

However, internal and external pressures caused it to cease publication two issues into its third year. Printing prices skyrocketed while a number of key members of its volunteer staff left for personal reasons. The financing, writing, production and distribution took its toll and the tasks began wearing on the core volunteers that had been performing the various functions without compensation for nearly two years.

In addition, the newspaper’s turn toward the politics of the Revolutionary Union alienated some contributors and distributors.

The newspaper was reincarnated as On The Move six months after Spark ceased publication. On the Move looked much more like the several dozen local newspapers that sprung up across the country in this period that were closely aligned with and largely staffed by members of the Revolutionary Union. The focus was on worker militancy and actions sponsored by the RU or groups aligned with it. Articles were republished from Revolution (the RU’s national newspaper) as well as from other local RU-oriented newspapers.

On The Move’s circulation was primarily at worksites around the city and distribution never went higher than around 1,000 copies per issue. Each issue looked less like it’s previous incarnation as jargon increased and coverage of local news decreased.

On The Move ceased publication after one year largely due to the same reasons as Spark–overburdened staff and even weaker finances. The impact of the paper was lessened by increasingly sparse local content and poor circulation.

There were several unsuccessful attempts over the next several years to revive the newspaper, including the publication of one issue of an RU-oriented Baltimore-Washington Worker. 

Links to the third year of Spark and the first and only year of On The Move:

3rd year of Spark:

Vol. 3, No. 1, October 11, 1973
Vol. 3, No. 2, November 24, 1973

Complete On The Move:

Vol. 1, No. 1, April-May, 1974
Vol. 1, No. 2, August, 1974
Vol. 1, No. 3, November, 1974
Vol. 1, No. 4, December, 1974
Vol. 1, No. 5, January, 1975

Updated Oct. 18, 2015 – 2nd year of Spark now online

The second year of the Washington Area Spark monthly tabloid is now online. Vol. 2, No. 8 published in March/April 1973 is missing. If you have a copy, please contact us at washington_area_spark@yahoo.com. A full twelve issues were published in the second year of the paper.

The second year of Spark was marked by clashes with the new student government, the administration and even the trustees of Montgomery College. The previous student government had allocated funds for publishing Spark, but it became a race to spend the money before it was cut off. The last student funds were spent in December 1972 and the newspaper declared its independence from the campus in January 1973.

The second year also marked an expansion from its Montgomery County roots to a Washington, DC area-wide newspaper. The paper struggled to find a replacement for the student funds and came to rely on a mix of limited advertisement, sustainer contributions and staff contributions.

The politics of the newspaper also changed. It declared itself to be guided by Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung Thought. This turn to the left occurred at a time when the base of the newspaper–student activism began to fade with the end of the draft and the winding down of the Vietnam War.

The iconic Spark bomb shrunk in size and then disappeared. As the newspaper became more political, both advertising and distribution centers dropped as small business owners rejected the paper’s politics. This in turn changed the format of the newspaper–adding an extra fold–so that it was easier to hand out at workplaces.

Content also changed with an increasing focus on economic and work place issues. However, unlike many self-styled Maoist newspapers of the era, the Spark continued to carry different viewpoints, continue to give space to counter-cultural events and cover other groups, including demonstrations sponsored or strongly influenced by the Young Workers Liberation League /Communist Party USA and the Workers World/Youth Against War and Fascism group that had Trotskyist roots, black liberation groups and anarchists.

Links to the second year of Spark:

Vol. 2 No. 1 – September 6, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 2 – October 4, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 3 – October 31, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 4 – November 19, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 5 – December 20, 1972
Vol. 2 No. 6 – January 20, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 7 – February 21, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 8 – unavailable
Vol. 2 No. 9 – May 11, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 10 – June 12, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 11 – July 11, 1973
Vol. 2 No. 12 – August 17, 1973

Original post:

We are finally getting around to scanning and posting the original Spark and its successor On The Move. Five of the first six issues are posted (one is missing) and represent the first year of publication. More will be posted in the coming weeks. They have been posted unedited meaning the discoloration of the aging newsprint is captured as well.

We hope this resource will add to the rich alternative publication history in the greater Washington, D.C. area and provide researchers with additional information on left-leaning activities in the early 1970s in this region.

Spark began as a Montgomery College student publication after a group of radicals calling themselves the Montgomery County Freedom Party won several seats in the student government and obtained funding for the publication. The other official student newspaper, The Spur, continued to publish during this period as well.

The volunteer staff used a typewriter and press type to lay out the tabloid. Photos that required half-tones had to be done by the printer for the offset press process.

The eclectic tabloid published six issues in its first year (the publication year mirrored the student year) and included inflammatory language about police and revolution, but focused on student and county issues with a smattering of articles about local and national issues related to left-leaning causes. The politics of the contributors included feminists, anarchists, liberals, pacifists and revolutionaries.

The publication dates are a little confusing. At times they represented publication date and at times they represented the end of the period prior to what was expected to be the next issue’s publication.

By the last issue of the year (Vol. 1 No. 6), the newspaper began to include expanded coverage of county-wide issues and was distributed at a few locations other than the college.

Vol. 1 No. 1 – unavailable
Vol. 1 No. 2 – October 25, 1971
Vol. 1 No. 3 – November 19, 1971
Vol. 1 No. 4 – December 10, 1971
Vol. 1 No. 5 – February 29, 1972
Vol. 1 No. 6 – April 15, 1972

Do you have a copy of the first issue of Spark? If so, please e-mail us at washington_area_spark@yahoo.com

 

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.

Miami Means Fight Back: 1972

26 Apr

Miami Means Fight Back: 1972

by Bob Simpson
Originally published in the Montgomery Spark, Vol. 2, No. 1, September 6, 1972

One of the most striking aspects of the demonstrations around the Republican National Convention was their total isolation from the actual convention. Surrounded by a high chain-link fence and phalanxes of well-armed cops, the grim, white-washed convention hall might as well have been on the moon.

Unlike the Democratic convention, where at least some of the street people harbored thoughts about influencing the process, no one at the Republican protests talked of opening a dialogue with the delegates. It was our volunteer army of protesters vs. their uniformed security forces. Whether expressed violently or not, this feeling of uncompromising confrontation dominated the entire week.

Diverse Group

Gay Love for the Vietnamese: 1972

Demonstrators were a diverse lot. Photo: John Buckley, courtesy Florida State Archives.

We were a diverse lot, covering a wide spectrum. Gays, feminists, Zippies, SDS, Yippies, Attica Brigade, Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, Route One Brigade, pacifists, and hundreds of independents made an uneasy and sometimes very difficult alliance.

Rampant sexism within the Park angered gays, feminists and some straight men. Women were harassed by men looking for an easy lay. Two attempted rapes were broken up, one by a man assigned to camp security, the other by the women’s Anti-Rape Squad. Gays were seen by many straights as a carnival sideshow.

Viet Vets March in Miami Against War: 1972

Vietnam Veterans Against the War lead a march. Photo: Tony Schweikle, Florida State Archives.

There were conflicts between the pacifists and the violence advocates, between the rival Zippies and Yippies, and between the many passive dope smokers and those more active protesters. The VVAW suffered a series of ripoffs within their own encampment. Some of the people assigned to camp security became overzealous and tempers flared. We had many problems but we did our best to deal with them.

No Serious Problems Among Protesters

Compared to other similar gatherings, we were fairly successful. Hard drugs were at an absolute minimum. After the first two near-rapes in the beginning of the week, security was tightened and there were no more reports of that particular activity. While arguments between different groups and individuals were often loud, there was little actual physical fighting.

Women March Against Nixon: 1972

Women’s March in Miami, 1972. Liberation News Service.

The protest activities were generally spirited and unified. The Gay Rights march and the Women’s march both displayed the loving solidarity that has grown up with these movements. The Veterans displayed a serious discipline in all their activities. One of their marches was held in complete silence to emphasize their feeling that there is nothing else to say about the war.The Zippies injected their bizarre humor by bringing Coke bottles, Barbie dolls and other symbols of plastic America and pissing on them.

Viet Cong Flag Passes Miami Police: 1972

Protestors carried large colorful flags and banners like this NLF flag. Photo: Tony Schweikle, Florida State Archives.

The Attica Brigade from New York, SDS, and the Route One Brigade (consisting of people associated with the University of Maryland and Montgomery College in Rockville) provided militant anti-capitalist-anti-imperialist solidarity to the large all-camp protests. With large colorful banners and flags from many liberation movements, including Vietnam, Laos and Palestine, they helped to spark the forceful blocking of delegates and the eventual fighting back against the police offensive.

Support from Community

The surrounding community of Miami Beach gave us a surprising amount of support. Many of the older people in this retirement colony supported our struggle against Nixon and his policies. One older man came up during a rally and said the Arthur Bremer was not only a bad shot, but that he had hit the wrong person, clearly indicating Nixon. Another older woman said that she supported us and wished that we would kill Nixon.

Miami Residents Mix with Protesters: 1972

Protests received support from the community. Photo: John Buckley, Florida State Archives.

Other older people offered us food and water as we moved through the streets and alleys trying to evade police. A community meeting to explore Nixon’s policies toward the old drew surprising support. Speakers condemned the war, wage-price controls and the paltry social security and pension benefits available.

Many older people stayed with us in the park during the day, discussing the issues which interested them. When a group of Nazis were forcibly evicted from Flamingo Park, the older Jewish people from the surrounding community gave us encouragement. Even during the street battles of Tuesday and Wednesday nights, we were offered water by apartment residents, to wash away the teargas. The solidarity was impressive and difficult to convey to those who weren’t there.

Confrontations with Police Begin

Until Tuesday night, most of the rallies and marches led by various groups were peaceful. But events Tuesday night caused an increased militance on the part of many participants. A large “Street Without Joy” was organized. People lined the streets with death masks and symbols of Nixon’s murderous policies. Guerilla theaters in front of the convention hall showed large papier-mâché B-52s bombing Vietnamese peasants.

The Attica Brigade, SDS and the Route One Brigade were angered by the portrayal of the Vietnamese as passive victims. They chanted “Vietnamese Fight Back!” while shouldering their flag poles and “shooting” at the American bombers. Eventually these chants influenced the guerilla theatre and the planes were torn apart, set afire and hurled over the fence at the surprised police inside.

Anti-Vietnam War Protesters Block Street: 1972

Demonstrators attempted to block convention delegates. Here they are piling sandbags across a road to block cars. Photo: John Buckley, Florida State Archives.

Militants then marched around the block and attempted to block delegates’ entrance. Delegates were verbally harassed. Several fights broke out. As people’s anger arose, delegates sere spat upon and objects were hurled at advancing police. Chanting “Attica Means Fight Back”, protesters did what they could to make their slogan a reality. Many protesters who had watched from the sidelines joined in.

Battle Rages

Watching the well-heeled, well-dressed representatives of rich white America, which wages war on Southeast Asia and on the streets of America, brought out an almost uncontrollable rage. These moral degenerates were people bent on another four years of war, wage controls and repression and racism. Anger spilled over. Police responded with clubs, tear gas and mace. The battled raged on into the night until most of the protesters returned to the camp.

Wednesday protests were thrown into complete chaos. Demonstrators moving into the streets Wednesday afternoon found large numbers of very hostile police. Several Route One Brigade members had their flags seized and were threatened by Miami Beach police while on their way to the convention site. They were walking in a group of seven.

Miami Police Officer Fires Mace at a Protester: 1972

Demonstrators were maced on the way to convention site. Photo: Tony Schweikle, Florida State Archives.

Demonstrators who managed to evade police and reach the convention area divided into sit-in groups and mobile groups. Barricades were hastily thrown up to prevent traffic from coming into the convention area. These efforts were met with mace, tear gas and clubs. People who were sitting-in were often maced and sometimes beaten. Those arrested were thrown into the backs of dark, hot, unventilated trucks. Some people collapsed from heat exhaustion while on their way to the jails.

Exceptional Bravery

People remaining in the convention area showed exceptional bravery. About a thousand people were completely cut off next to the Doral Hotel, where Republican headquarters were. They defied police orders to move. Many were arrested in a militant sit-in while others later joined the street fighting. Even after most of the demonstrators had been driven back to Flamingo Park, people continued to organize new protests.

Police Tear Gas Protesters in Miami: 1972

While demonstrators fled the gas, others advanced. Photo: John Buckley, Florida State Archives.

At least three spontaneous night marches left the park to penetrate areas held by thousands of police. People left the park in silence armed against police interference with rocks and improvised wooden staves. Fading into alleys when the helicopters would flash their searchlights into the streets, one group managed to reach a bridge leading into the Doral Hotel. When police ordered them to disperse, they broke their silence by chanting “Tear Gas Up Your Ass!”

Soon gas covered the area as people trashed banks and other political targets while fighting back against a numerically superior police force. None of the three groups which left the park was larger than 400 people. All showed exceptional courage in the face of overwhelming police tactical superiority.

Defending the Park

Back at the park, people went about organizing a defense of the area in case the police tried to clear out the tent city. Caches of rocks were scattered about, runners and communications were set up, and people armed themselves with stout poles. Barricades were thrown up around some park entrances. Squad cars responded to these preparations by racing up and down a street adjacent to the park, occasionally tossing gas into the encampment.

Miami Police Ready Clubs: 1972

Police ready their clubs during convention protests. Photo: John Buckley, Florida State Archives.

A large group of state police penetrated park defenses at one point but retreated within a few minutes after a tense confrontation. It was decided by several people that the speeding police cars represented a threat so that for about two hours each squad car was bombarded with rocks to drive it away. Eventually Miami Beach police set up roadblocks to prevent police cars from harassing the park occupants.

The last night of protests showed that the people in the park were prepared to move aggressively against police as well as defend their encampment. Had the police invaded the camp in earnest, we would have been defeated and driven out, but the cops would have paid a heavy price. Similar solidarity was shown by those in jail. Most refused bond and stayed in jail until bonds for all were reduced. This tactic was very successful and almost all were released with 24 hours.

Antiwar Encampment at Flamingo Park: 1972

Tent encampment at Flamingo Park can be seen in the background. Photo:Tony Schweikle, Florida State Archives.

While the number of people who came to Miami Beach was less than 5,000 and many serious problems arose within the camp, the overall spirit and determination was very high. People left Miami Beach determined to carry on and expand the battle against the system which created the monstrosity of Richard Nixon. Every reader of this paper is strongly urged to participate in this struggle.

ALL POWER TO THE PEOPLE


Route 1 Brigade Banner: 1972

Route One Brigade banner carried during protests at the Republican National Convention in Miami, 1972. It was the only time this banner was carried at a protest. Photo: Bob Simpson.

This article was compiled by several members of the Route One Brigade who participated in the Convention protests. The Brigade consisted of about 35 Maryland residents and included several students from Montgomery College. The group took its name from the Route One occupations at the University of Maryland, as well as the periodic seizures of Route One in Vietnam by the NLF.


Editor’s Notes

The version above is the same as the original published in the Montgomery Spark, except that headers and additional images have been added. The confrontation at the Miami Beach Republican Convention August 21-23, 1972 was one of the last of the Vietnam War era. 

The Route One Brigade delegation to the Miami protests was infiltrated by a female provocateur and police informant named “Dee” that participants believe led to police knowing almost every move they made. After the demonstrations were over, disaster was narrowly averted when a van carrying eight of the Brigade participants was sabotaged when someone loosened the lug nuts on a rear wheel. Fortunately no one was injured.

 

30 Days in May: U of MD 1970

29 May
U of MD Students Denounce Killings at Kent State: May 1970

U. of Md. May 5, 1970 after four students were killed by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post

Introduction

The University of Maryland had a relatively small core of activists during the upheavals of the 1960s, protesting for civil rights and later against the Vietnam War. Demonstrations were held on campus against military and CIA recruiters, against the draft and against the Vietnam War, but they usually involved no more than 100-200 students.

U of MD Building Occupation: April 1970

Md. students seize campus building in April 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

In the March 1970, two popular professors were denied tenure by the school and students occupied a building to demand a greater say in university affairs. Eight-seven students were arrested and a student-faculty activist group was formed out of the demonstrations. When President Richard Nixon announced he was invading Cambodia on April 30, 1970, the first mass demonstrations against the war began on the campus. When four students were shot to death by Ohio National Guardsmen at Kent State University on May 4, a nationwide student strike was called and a majority of students at Maryland boycotted classes.

The following account was written shortly after the month long strike and demonstrations that included two occupations of the campus by the Maryland National Guard.


30 Days Last May

by the Democratic Radical Union of Maryland
From the Radical Guide to the University of Maryland, Aug. 1970

April 30

Nixon announces the invasion of Cambodia by U.S. troops. The Concerned Students and Faculty, a group formed after the arrest of 87 people in the Skinner Building sit-in in March, called for a rally on the mall the next day in response.

Police Advance on Anti-Vietnam War Protesters in College Park MD: May 1970

Police advance on Md. students occupying U.S. Route 1 on May 1, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 1

The mall rally is held. After hearing several speakers, the crowd marches on the ROTC offices in the armory. After some trashing, Route 1 is taken over. Around 6 PM, Marshmallow Marvin Mandel sends the police to clear the road. The pigs inform the students that their demonstration is illegal. The crowd responds that Nixon is murdering Indochinese and Americans ~ which is also illegal. To nobody’s surprise, the pigs do not march on the White House, but instead charge the students using clubs and tear gas. Following the Nixon strategy of no sanctuary, the cops shoot tear gas into dormitories: Montgomery Hall, Annapolis Hall and other hill area residents are forced to evacuate. Often the cops would wait at the dorm doors and club students coming out to avoid the gas. About 10 are arrested during the afternoon, additional arrests are made throughout the night. The battle lasts until 3 AM.

U of MD Student Dragged from Dorm: May 1970

Police drag student from dormitory May 1, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 2

What begins as a more or less ordinary Saturday night soon becomes another night of confrontation and protest. Route 1 is again liberated. At about 3:30AM approximately 150 cops mass behind the Plain and Fancy donut shop in College Park and then charge in, arresting 28 startled customers. (Most were talking and eating, two were playing chess. One was asleep in his chair. A girl was arrested in “hot pursuit”- she was on crutches at the time because of a foot injury.) The authorities’ rationale seemed to be that if they stomped hard enough, people would stick their heads in the sand.

Students Move on Police Lines at U of MD: May 1970

Students confront police after being driven off U.S. Route 1 on May 4, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 4

A rally is held beginning at 11:30 on the mall. By 11:35 the Administration Building was occupied by students; by 12:30 people are again·demonstrating on Route 1. Marshmallow Marvin proclaims a state of emergency. The pigs move in around 6 PM– Marvin has mobilized 500 National Guard, 350 State Police, 70 PG County Police, 200 Baltimore City cops, Kersey’s Keystone Kops too! 4000 students are cleared by gas and clubs. A curfew is put on the campus area at 8:30 PM. Over 200 people are arrested, and Larry Babits, an anthropology graduate assistant, is shot in the rear with buckshot. At Kent State, Ohio, four students are killed by National Guard bullets.

Guard Commander Addresses U of MD Students: May 1970

Guard commander met with chant “Pigs off campus” during rally May 5, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 5

Classes are called for a “foreign policy discussion day.” 3000 hear Dr. Spock on the mall. Nationally, the student strike begins.

May 6

The student strike begins at the University of Maryland–pickets are set up and a large number of students boycott classes. At 8:30 PM 1500 students force the administration to open Cole Field House for a mass meeting. Discussion leads to the formation of a strike steering committee and various working committees. The three demands of the national student strike are adopted by the Maryland strikers.

MD Student Extinguished Tear Gas Canister: May 1970

Students use fire extinguishers to suppress tear gas May 1, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 7

Picketing continues, with a large boycott of classes resulting. At 4 PM an assembly of about 1000 faculty gathers in Cole Field House, with about 7000 students in the audience. The faculty assembly first passed a motion urging that police actions on campus involving more than five men be effected without the introduction of firearms. The second motion passed set up facilities on the campus for persons wishing to camp at Maryland while attending the demonstration behind the White House on May 9. During the assembly, word was received that the administration had sent word to the press and radio that the University would be closed from May 8 to May 11, so that its facilities would not be available to students or guests. This led· the faculty to pass a motion stating:

This body expresses its lack of confidence in the administration, and its specific censure of this action (the closing of the University) taken without consent of this body and released to the press without consultation. This University will remain open as of May 8th and the rest of the semester so that all students who wish to attend classes may do so, and so that students who prefer to strike may do so without penalty as long as they do the required amount of work for the courses in consultation with their professors. That a committee of three be appointed by the chair immediately to inform the administration that the faculty and students do not accept their decision to close the University and demand that they reconsider.

Police Move Onto U of MD Campus Using Tear Gas: May 1970

Police with pepper fogger pass Cecil Hall May 1, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

The assembly then passed resolutions calling for the immediate withdrawal of all American personnel from Indochina, and an end to repression of black people in the United States and in particular an end to the repression of the Black Panther Party. These motions were essentially endorsements of the first two demands of the national student strike. Finally, the body passed a motion creating a committee to work on obtaining an injunction against the closing of the University. This proved unnecessary however– in the face of the solidarity and determination of faculty and students, the administration was forced to give in and withdraw the closing order.

Students Occupy Route 1 Protesting War & Kent State: May 1970

Students occupy U.S. Route 1 May 4, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 8

As the strike continued, administration sources (Waetjen) estimated the class boycott to be 65-70% effective. Sargent Shriver addressed a memorial rally for the Kent 4 held at the Chapel. Preparations were made for out-of-towners coming for the May 9 White House demonstration.

May 9

100,000 demonstrated on the Ellipse behind the White House. The demonstration, which had been set up with very little preparation after the Cambodian invasion, proved two things: the tremendous antipathy Americans had come to have for the war, and the total lack of a program on the part of the New Mobilization, which had called the demonstrations. The University of Maryland fed and housed over 2000 visitors over the weekend.

PhD Urges Takeover of ROTC Building at U of MD: May 1970

Dr. Gregory Dunkel urges takeover of ROTC building May 11, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 11

Strikers held a mass meeting in Cole Field House to consider further action against ROTC. A motion to take over the Armory loses by about 1800 to 1200. However, because many felt that a militant action was required, a group of strikers briefly occupied the building anyway. Later a large group formed spontaneously on Route 1. The police stay away, leaving the faculty group of green armband marshals (which had patrolled the campus over the weekend) to maintain order. No disorder occurred, primarily because no pigs were present, and the “block party” ended around 2:30 AM. By way of contrast, 6 black people were murdered by cops in Augusta, Georgia this same evening. Later reports showed that all were shot in the back.

Professor Against U of MD Building Takeover: May 1970

Professor argues against building takeover May 11, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 12

Another faculty assembly is held, to consider grading procedures for striking students. Over 1000 faculty, and close to 10,000 students, were present. Two main plans are put forward: the Aylward proposal, developed by an ad-hoc committee chaired by Professor Aylward of the Speech Department, and the proposal that had been made several days earlier by the strike steering committee and was moved at the faculty assembly by Professor Chapeles of Government and Politics. While both plans adopted the principle that there should be no academic penalty for striking, the Aylward proposal lacked a number of safeguards that would have protected students from being screwed by reactionary teachers. The assembly decided to submit the two plans to a faculty referendum.

Students Again Seize U.S. Route 1 in War Protest: May 1970

Students again seize U.S. Route 1 in war protest May 11, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 13

A memorial service was held on the mall for the six killed in Augusta. Speakers included the Rev. Channing Phillips, John Clark from the Baltimore Black Panthers, and a member of the University Black Student Union, Woody Farrar. On this day a number of instances of repression came to light– Leonard Cohen, a physical plant worker, was fired for strike activity, and Charlie and Jim Schrader were kicked off the track team for being seen at strike rallies. The Student Government Association legislature, which had been more or less dormant since the beginning of the strike, stated that it would lead an occupation of Route 1 if the Chapeles (strike committee) grading plan were not accepted •

National Guard Outside Taliaferro Hall at U of MD: May 1970

National Guard outside Taliaferro Hall May 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 14

The administration served notice that it was trying to re-establish its power by refusing to permit SDS the use of University loudspeakers for a noon rally. A rally organized by the strike steering committee began (with loudspeakers) at 7 PM. Around 7:30 the rally received the results of the grading referendum– the Aylward proposal won, 1583 to 698. The overwhelming student sentiment, as evidenced by over 10,000 signatures supporting the strike committee proposals, was ignored. By 8 PM Route 1 was liberated by 5000 students. At 10 PM the National Guard moved in, firing 50 rounds of tear gas and pepper gas within ten minutes. The ensuing battle was the bitterest of the strike.

U of MD Student Tosses Tear Gas Canister Back to Police: May 1970

Student tosses tear gas back toward National Guard and police lines May 1970.

Students chanting “pigs off campus” and “l-2-3-4, we don’t want your fucking war!” picked up tear gas canisters and threw them back at the Guard. General Warfield, trying to advance onto the campus, found he was unable to do so until reinforcements arrived at midnight, bringing the Guard’s strength up to 1200 men. In the intervening period the administration building received a serious trashing. About 100 arrests were made.

May 15

Early in the morning Marshmallow Marvin proclaims a new state of emergency which essentially makes National Guard General Edwin Warfield the military dictator of the University of Maryland. Warfield begins by banning 25 students, whose names were supplied by the administration, from the campus. Meetings of over 100 people are prohibited. Scheduled meetings of the faculty assembly and the University Senate are cancelled.

Professor Leads Group to Extinguish Fire at U of MD: May 1970

Students extinguish fire at administration building May 14, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 16

Meeting off campus (at Catholic University Law School) the strike steering committee votes to defy the ban on rallies by holding a mass rally on the mall on Monday May 17. Ten students were issued felony warrants. (Note: On June 19th the Grand Jury ruled that there was insufficient evidence for the felony charges and changed the charges to misdemeanors.)

May 17

Frank Greer and Elizabeth Miller, members of the strike steering committee who were banned from campus, go to court with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union to obtain an injunction against Warfield’s eviction notices. The judge refuses to issue an injunction, but the orders banning Greer and Miller are voluntarily rescinded by the University, and the court does require that a degree of due process be introduced into the hearings of students appealing their banishment. (Originally the fair-minded General Warfield had set up an appeals board composed of Vice President Waetjen, Campus Security Director Witsil, and a National Guard officer. Since Waetjen and Witsil were the very ones who provided the list of students for Warfield to ban, this was not exactly an impartial board.)

Occupying Administration Building at U of MD: May 1970

Occupying administration building at U. of Md. May 4, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 18

More than 1000 people gather on the mall to violate the rally ban. A half hour before the rally Warfield backs down and-gives permission, thus making it legal. Word is received that students are being harassed by the FBI and the strike steering committee attempts to inform people of their right to refuse to talk to the pigs. Diamondback photographs are subpoenaed. Members of the anthropology, sociology and economics departments announce a faculty strike, refusing to teach until the military presence on the campus is ended.

May 19

Gregory Dunkel, a member of the strike steering committee and a University alumnus (Ph.D, mathematics) receives a special letter from President Elkins barring him from the campus.

State Police Arrest Student Occupying U.S. Route 1: May 1970

Police arrest student occupying U.S. Route 1 May 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 20

The rally ban is again challenged, when 1500 students stage a midnight march to President Elkins’ house, in memoriam to those killed at Kent, Augusta, and Jackson State. Earlier in the day the Diamondback had reported that the Board of Regents planned to vote the University’s GM stock in opposition to Ralph Nader’s “Campaign GM proposal, which would put consumer representatives on the GM Board of Directors. The newspapers also carried newly released testimony by J. Edgar Hoover in which he called student protesters communists (won’t the old [deleted for offensive language] ever die?)

Jane Fonda Speaks to Antiwar Rally at U of Md.: May 1970

Activist actress Jane Fonda speaks at Md. antiwar rally May 22, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

May 22

The last major rally was held– 3000 students heard Jane Fonda and Mark Lane talk about the GI movement. After the rally about 15 students go with Fonda and Lane to Fort Meade to try and leaflet the soldiers. They are arrested by military authorities and expelled from the base.

May 24

A small meeting of members of the steering committee plans activity for the summer and fall.

May 26

The strike steering committee officially disbands itself, and forms the Democratic Radical Union of Maryland (DRUM) to continue its work on a permanent basis.

POSTSCRIPT TO THE STRIKE

On Thursday evening May 14, while several thousand students liberated route 1, a smaller group occupied the administration building. Lt. Downs of the campus kops was present at the building with several other police, and told the students that they would be arrested if they did not leave.

However they occupied the building for over an hour, leaving of their own volition by about 9:30 PM. No arrests were made. By about 10:30 PM the building was empty except for police.

Damage from Attempted Arson at U of MD: May 1970

Damage during second occupation of administration building May 14, 1970. Courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

Then a group of people passing by the administration building– probably fleeing from tear gas attacks– threw some rocks through the windows. Apparently the cops thought it prudent to leave. The building was then occupied for the second time, and thoroughly trashed.

It is important to realize that neither the police nor the administration has any idea who participated in the second occupation. In their anger and frustration the pigs arrested nine students, most of whom were known activists, under felony warrants in connection with the trashing.

The original warrants charged breaking and entering, destruction of state property, etc etc . The felony charges were dropped by the grand jury on June 16, and replaced by misdemeanors. Later in the summer the charges were again revised. The trials are scheduled to begin the first week of classes.

Despite all the talk about burning and destruction, the charges are essentially trivial. One student is accused of ·rearranging the letters on the directory to spell out the strike demands. Why then are the nine students being prosecuted? The answer lies in the administration’s continued insistence that a small group of radicals is responsible for the campus unrest. These students must not be made the victims of the administration’s inability to understand that a revolution has taken place in apathetic College Park. DEFEND THE MARYLAND NINE!


Cover of the Radical Guide to the University of Maryland: 1970

Cover of the DRUM Radical Guide, published Aug. 1970.

Postscript by the Editor

The radicalization that occurred during 1970 at the University of Maryland carried over into the next two years, resulting in National Guard occupation of the campus again in 1971 and 1972. The upheaval, however, failed to generate any ongoing organization among the students. The Democratic Radical Union of Maryland (DRUM) produced by the 1970 strike was a spirited, but short-lived organization.

A defense effort around the Maryland Nine resulted in five acquittals in jury trials. Three other students entered into plea bargain agreements. One of those charged, Larry Dean, was convicted and served three months in jail. Over 400 other students were arrested during the month long demonstrations, but charges were dropped against most for lack of evidence.


Back cover of the Radical Guide to the University of Maryland: 1970

Back cover of the Radical Guide with its hidden message.

Want to see and read more?

See the complete Radical Guide here. The Radical Guide contains “30 Days Last May” in its original context, an extensive explanation of DRUM’s five demands, an essay advocating non-violence and an essay advocating violence, a map of a battle plan and tactical advice for confrontations along with on and off-campus activist information. Take time to look at the back cover of the Radical Guide which has an expletive along with university president Elkins name hidden within it.

See photos related to the 1970 U. of Md. strike and demonstrations here
See photos related to the 1971 U. of Md. demonstrations here
See photos related to the 1972 U. of Md. demonstrations here

Native Americans Take Over Bureau of Indian Affairs: 1972

26 Mar

By Bob Simpson
From The Montgomery Spark, November 29, 1972. page 13 & page 14

Trail of Broken Treaties Participant: 1972

Sign of distress by unidentified Trail of Broken Treaties protester. From the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

The takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs [BIA] by militant Native Americans in early November [1972] began almost by accident.

Leaders of the Trail of Broken Treaties were negotiating with the Interior Department over the question of housing. Suddenly fighting broke out between several GSA security guards and a group of young Indians.

Apparently the guards misunderstood that the BIA had given the Indians permission to stay in the building past closing time. The guards were quickly overpowered and escorted from the building. Indians ran through the BIA building at 19th & Constitution breaking up furniture to barricade entrances and manufacture makeshift weapons. The occupation was on.

Trail of Broken Treaties Press Conference: 1972

Before the takeover. From the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

Trail Required Concerted Effort

The Trail of Broken Treaties had originally come to Washington as a concerted effort by militant Native Americans from across the continent. Numbering well over 1,000, they had to negotiate over a series of 20 demands.

These demands involved the abolition of the BIA, whose paternalism and corruption is infamous, plus a whole series of reforms leading to greater self-determination for Indian people. Both urban and reservation Indians had joined the protest. Discriminated against in jobs, their land ripped off by greedy whites, water rights threatened, possessing a terrible infant mortality and T.B. rate, the Indians of over 250 tribes were represented.

Rumors of Police Violence

When the Indians seized the building Nov. 2, the government began a series of complex legal maneuvers to force the Indians out. A deadline was set for the night of Nov. 3. Rumors of impending police violence led the Indian leadership to put out a call for support.

Prepared for the Worst at the Bureau of Indian Affairs: 1972

One Native American is prepared for the worst. From the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

Groups began to appear outside the BIA with food, supplies and political support. On the night of Nov. 3, several hundred non-Indians formed a line of bodies to interfere with the expected police assault. Confronted with hundreds of armed Indians plus their supporters, the government backed down. The waiting game was on.

From the beginning the government game was clear, keep the occupiers in a constant state of doubt and suspense to wear down their morale.

Deadlines Repeatedly Postponed

With the election on Nov. 7, the Nixon administration could not afford a massacre until after this date. So they kept setting shifting, fluid deadlines. They sent dozens of undercover agents to spy on the occupation force.

Army buses would ride by and ominously park in front of the building. Pig cars would race around the block. From across the street, cops would stand and photograph demonstrators. This type of harassment failed to break the spirit of the fighters.

Housekeeping During the BIA Occupation: 1972

Protesters set up basic services during the occupation. From the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

A relatively efficient system of organization was set up. Armed Indian security ringed the building. Child-care was set up. A paramedical team from the University of Maryland contributed themselves and their resources. Food distribution was organized.

Tribal ceremonies were held and large council meetings of all the occupiers kept people informed and allowed for democratic decision-making. Communication was set up with support groups.

Native Americans Take Over BIA in DC: 1972

The occupation on Nov. 5, 1972. From the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

Tensest Moments

The tensest moments of the occupation occurred on Monday, Nov. 6. The judge had given an order that the Native Americans must vacate the building by 6 p.m. or face forcible eviction. A large force of GSA [General Services Administration] and Civil Disturbance Unit riot police were quartered about a block away.

Tension mounted Monday afternoon as the Indians broke down into teams of four and established military perimeters. Armed with clubs, knives and spears they passed out rags to cover their mouths against the expected tear gas. Inside the building itself, firebombs and other more potent weapons were prepared. Some Indians barricaded inside reportedly had guns. People broke up pieces of iron grating for missiles and Indians on the roof prepared to rain down destruction upon the expected invaders.

Molotov Cocktail in BIA After Native Americans Leave: 1972

At the BIA. From the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

As the deadline approached, Indian leaders spoke on the steps of the BIA. Russell Means spoke of the telegrams of support they had received from the Irish Republican Army and the Black Panther Party.

He spoke of the occupation of the BIA office in Seattle, Washington. Indians had seized the Indian Affairs office in Ottawa, Canada and had all their demands met. The Canadian police had refused to march on the occupation force. Means reminded those present that the mostly black GSA riot squad was using one oppressed group to smash another.

Plead for No More Massacres

After the Civil War, Freedmen had been used in all black cavalry regiments in the Indian wars of the west. They had a reputation for brutality and harshness. Means pleaded for the black riot police not to follow in the infamous footsteps of their post-civil-war predecessors and aid in the smashing of Native American aspirations.

He asked all non-Indians to stand in solidarity, comparing the anticipated massacre at Washington, D.C. with American actions like the massacre of Vietnamese at My Lai, and the slaughtering of Indians by the 19th Century cavalry at Wounded Knee and Sand Creek.

Native Americans Vow to Fight

The Indians had come to Washington in peace, but had been given the prospect of war. They were ready. Many of the young warriors had daubed on war paint, signifying that they had taken vows to fight until death.

Had the government decided to attack, much death and injury would have resulted. The 6 p.m. deadline came and went. Soon the word was out that the judge had extended it until Wednesday, Nov. 8. There was much rejoicing as once again the government had backed down.

Documents Liberated from BIA Commissioner’s Safe: 1972

Documents were taken from BIA commissioner’s safe. Courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

On Election Day the leadership held several press conferences. It was announced at the first press conference that many records had been removed in order to expose the record of corruption and scandal within the BIA. It was revealed that massive corruption was involved in the building dams on Seneca land in upstate New York, and that Senator Mike Mansfield was involved in shady real estate dealings in his hometown in Oklahoma. It was stated that the files would be kept in secret hiding places until Native American lawyers could untangle them and expose their content.

Indian leader Russell Means explained that people would begin leaving but that an occupation force would remain the building until the Wednesday deadline. He announced that the BIA was effectively abolished. Prosecution for activities was expected, but [he said] that they would meet this bravely.

DC Police Spy Captured

Later on in the day, a metropolitan police detective was captured while spying in the building. After being chased, captured, and knocked around a little bit, he was taken back inside the building for questioning.

Bill Cross at Trail of Broken Treaties Demonstration: 1970

Bill Cross of the Dakotas, a participant during the protest. Courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post

Indians called on his police band walkie-talkie and the cops at headquarters freaked. He was brought outside in his own handcuffs and forced through a humiliating press conference. He said his name was Roger O’Day of Criminal Investigation but pleaded ignorance to other questions. He was eventually turned over to his superiors.

By late Tuesday afternoon, it was clear that a settlement was in the offing. The Indians were demanding a twelve person commission be set up with seven of their leaders and five top Nixon aides. This commission would work to implement the 20 demands.

Settlement Reached

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, a settlement was reached. As a task force was set up to deal with the demands, amnesty for the occupiers was agreed upon. As the Indians left, they took with them many paintings and artifacts. Police made no attempt to stop them.

Marilyn Nuttle at Trail of Broken Treaties in DC: 1972

Marilyn Nuttle of the Pawnee during protests. Courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

Although they left the building interior totally destroyed, it was not set afire or blown up as had been threatened. Although over $2 million damage was done, these acts of destruction were nothing compared to the destruction that whites have wreaked upon the Indian people.

Before you join the ranks of those condemning this action, think who was it who stole the Indians’ land, ravaged it, despoiled it, polluted it, and put up fences and ugly stinking cities. The real criminals are where they have always been in the highest corporation and government offices in this land. If there is to be prosecution, let the real criminals go on trial.

US Betrayal on Amnesty
[Originally published as a sidebar]

Although representatives of Nixon signed an agreement with Native Americans occupying the bureau of Indian Affairs recommending against prosecution, the government has decided to go ahead and begin indictment proceedings.

This means the White House has broken yet another treaty with the Indians. A White House spokesperson claimed the amnesty agreement did not mean that the government couldn’t prosecute the Indians for stolen property and destruction of the building.

Total damage to the building was estimated by the government at over $2 million. The government said damage was the third heaviest ever to government buildings, surpassed only by the burning of Washington by the British in 1814 and the destruction of government buildings in the San Francisco earthquake in 1906.


Floyd Young Horse at Trail of Broken Treaties in DC: 1972

Floyd Young Horse, a participant at the Trail of Broken Treaties. From the DC Public LIbrary Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

Postscript: March, 2013

The Trail of Broken Treaties was originally proposed by Robert Burnette during a Sun Dance ceremony in South Dakota. Burnette was a former tribal chair of the Rosebud Indian Reservation. Others at the ceremony agreed that a demonstration in Washington was needed because of numerous treaty violations and widespread poverty among Indian people.

A dozen Indian organizations eventually signed on to the caravan idea including the American Indian Movement (AIM). When the caravan reached Minneapolis, the coalition drew up a 20 point document, mostly written by Hank Adams, a longtime fishing rights activist in the Pacific Northwest.

Central to the 20 points was that Indian people were members of sovereign nations and should be negotiated with on that basis. When the caravan arrived in Washington DC, there was a major communications breakdown between the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and the caravan members, resulting in the takeover of the BIA building. AIM then assumed a dominant role in the leadership of the Trail of Broken Treaties.

At the Trail of Broken Treaties in DC: 1972

Unidentified participant in the Trail of Broken Treaties. From the DC Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

AIM’s role in the BIA takeover as well the armed occupation of Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in 1973, put it directly in the crosshairs of federal COINTELPRO-type repression.

AIM supporters on the Pine Ridge Reservation were assassinated by mysterious death squads widely believed to be linked to the FBI. AIM was infiltrated by informants who spread rumors that various leaders were actually working for the FBI, leading to divisions and violence within the group.

The mayhem on the Pine Ridge reservation led to the shooting of two FBI agents under murky circumstances. AIM member Leonard Peltier is serving 2 life sentences for the killings even though the evidence against him was contradictory. Two other AIM members indicted for the killings were found not guilty. There has been considerable international pressure to free Leonard Peltier.

AIM survived in a weakened state and eventually split into two different AIM organizations, one headquartered in Minneapolis and the other in Denver. Both continue to be active today.

As for the 20 points originally raised by the Trail of Broken Treaties, most still remain unaddressed.


Robert “Bob” Simpson is a former University of Maryland and Washington, DC area social justice activist who moved to Chicago, Illinois in the mid-1970s. He is one half of the Carol Simpson labor cartoon team. Bob remains active in greater Chicago and is a regular contributor to the Daily Kos, Counter Punch and has his own blog The Bobbosphere.


See the Trail of Broken Treaties photos in larger sizes and with more description at the Washington Area Spark Flickr set: BIA Takeover 1972


Cock Rock: The Rape of Our Culture

12 Feb
Cock Rock Illustration_edited reversed-1

Illustration accompanying original article. From Liberation News Service, published in Montgomery Spark, Oct. 1972.

By Bob Simpson
Originally published October 1972 in the Montgomery Spark

The Mike Quatro concert at Montgomery College really pissed me off. Not particularly because Quatro is any different from any other rock super heavy – he’s not – but because he is representative of a general sickness which is eating away at rock music – SEXISM.

Sexism roughly defined involves male domination. It means coming on strong, manipulating people, being the male center of attention at all times, and ultimately fucking over and using women.

I talked with Mike Quatro a little before he was interviewed on WHMC. I had no intention of writing about him at the time. It was about 2 hours before the concert and I was bored. So I rode up to WHMC with his entourage and a couple of my friends.

Quatro, seated next to his female companion, wanted to talk. As we passed around a joint, he noticed that I had well-developed leg muscles. I used to swim and run distance, so he used this as an excuse to discuss physical fitness. He explained that the way to achieve fitness is to “get a chick and fuck her three times a day.”

Women Are Not Chicks

Most of the men reading this probably find that statement amusing, maybe a few women do too. It’s not. It typifies a whole attitude found in rock culture. Women are not chicks. Chicks are small fuzzy immature chickens. Women are human beings with feelings and intelligence.

Quatro_Ad

Ad for Quatro concert. From Montgomery Spark, Sept. 1972.

Male chauvinist rock culture demands that women be sex objects who are subservient to men. They are tolerated if they are “groovy chicks”, disregarded as a “drag” if they are not. They are sexual exercycles to masturbate into while the male demonstrates his supposed prowess with his prick. It is a highly oppressive and emotionally destructive environment for a woman.

Our conversation lapsed severely after his statement about physical fitness. After several minutes of uncomfortable silence, he asked if we listened to Barry Richards. Now Barry Richards is one of the most slick, fast-talking, pseudo-hip rip-offs in the Washington area. His show on WHMC is loud and obnoxious, a weak, unintentional parody of AM Top 40 on a supposedly “progressive” station.

Pseudo Hip Promoters

Personally, he always comes on strong and heavy. He has been booed off the stage of several live rock shows. We told Quatro we didn’t listen to Barry Richards because he’s an ass. Quatro, seeing as how Richards was giving him airplay plus a live interview, was surprised. He said people like Barry Richards are necessary. Later, we discovered that Quatro was a rock promoter in Detroit. Birds of a feather.

The point is that Barry Richards both typifies and strengthens the hold that male chauvinism has over rock culture. His “heavy” approach helps create the obsolete concept of maleness and virility that many rock stars cultivate. He tolerates all manner of sexist ads which insult women. Listen to WHMC and hear about how you can’t be a “real woman” or “get a man” unless you by certain “youth” oriented products.

Mike Quatro Concert 1972 # 4

Students gather on the football field for the Montgomery College Quatro concert on Sept. 1, 1972.

Ads like these try to force women into the roles which male heavies like to keep them in. Male rock heavies like Barry Richards and Quatro. Most rock promoters, DJs, producers, etc., are bell-bottomed, hirsute phony hippies. Their only interests outside of music are money, dope, and groupies. They use their power to get all three.

Quatro Concert

Quatro had his interview and went on to perform. I didn’t like his music, but by that time I didn’t like him much, either. His efforts to combine “Bach & Rock” seemed pretentious and silly. His massive ego demanded that he play all the instruments except for the drums. It came over to me as sounding artsy-fartsy and cluttered. Most of the small crowd left before he was finished.

If it sounds like I’m being harsh on Quatro, it’s because that’s my intention. But there are other examples. Jimi Hendrix was one of the finest guitarists in rock, but he was a vicious sexist. Using his guitar as an extension of his penis, he created an indelible image of raw male power in his live performances. He often ran the guitar between his legs in crude imitation of an erection.

His most symbolically horrifying spectacle was at the Monterey Pop Festival. There he reversed the guitar symbolism by fucking the music hole with his body. Spraying lighter fluid as he knelt over his guitar-vagina, he set it afire. Later it was smashed to pieces. The whole ceremony dredged up horrible echoes of the burning and torturing of disobedient women as witches in the Middle Ages.

Rock lyrics can be equally as offensive. Who can forget Jagger telling their friend Leroy that “they may be stupid but they sure are fun,” referring to women Leroy was about to prey upon. Or Rod Stewart telling his groupie that she can go to be with him, but that she better be gone the next morning. These aspects of rock culture we can do without.

Feminist Rock Bands

“When the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake.”

New Haven Women's Liberation Rock Band: 1970

New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Band performs in D.C. in 1970. Photo: Rosemary, courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

Winds of change are blowing through the male bastion of rock. Singers like Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Aretha Franklin, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King have sung of the beauty and pain of being a woman. A real woman who laughs and cries, who feels pain and happiness, not the passive groupie image of the male rock heavy.

Feminist rock bands, including both gay and straight women, are now a reality. Some of these all-women groups are musically excellent and need more listeners. A few male performers like John Lennon and Country Joe McDonald are musically grappling with the problems that men have relating to women as human beings. These are hopeful signs. But the male-dominated rock industry is powerful.

We as listeners must make sure that these and other voices are not crushed or stilled as Janis Joplin was. Or turned into pale imitations of heavy male rock like the all-women group Fanny. Finally, we need to stop supporting the blatant sexists of rock. They only perpetuate what is vile and unhealthy in our culture.


This section was updated and corrected March 5, 2013

Editor’s Notes:

When this article was published February 13, it was erroneously attributed to Anonymous II. The person choosing Anonymous II as their identification was one of the people that edited the article, but not the author.

Reflecting on the article after 40 years, Anonymous II wrote,

I was thinking a lot of rap music today is even more graphic about sexism and of course the groupie thing still applies. I watched Steven Tyler as a judge on American Idol one night flirting with 16-year-old girl contestants. It disgusted me and felt like child abuse. He can do it because he is a rock star even though he is like 40 years older.

The Mike Quatro concert at Montgomery College took place September 1, 1972. The article was originally published in the Montgomery Spark, Vol. 2, No. 2, Week of October 4, 1972, page 13. This post is titled the same as the original article.


When Abortion Was Legalized: One Woman’s DC Experience

15 Jan

by Anonymous
Originally published February, 1972 in the Montgomery Spark 

Disclaimer: This article is reprinted for its insight into subject of abortion in the District of Columbia in 1972 and should not be used for medical advice. Current practices should be consulted. The article is slightly edited from the original. Included after the article is the author’s reflections 40 years after publication.

Abortion can be a frightening word – especially when you’ve just found out it’s going to happen to you. Fear of the unknown makes you eager to find out exactly what’s going to be done to you, and how it feels, and what effects it will have.

If you have friends who have gone through it, you can go to them and find your answers – at least some reassuring fact comes from each person you ask. But in case none of your friends have had abortions or they’re afraid to admit it, or they’ve scared you with their stories, or if you’re afraid to ask anyone — maybe it will help if I tell you about my abortion.

The Decision

I had been using contraceptive foam (Delfen) because I had been led to believe it was effective – and it had been for three years. But then I missed a period.

I don’t like to admit unpleasant possibilities to myself, so I waited until a couple of days after I’d missed my second period before I went to the D.C. Free Clinic for a pregnancy test. Don’t ever wait that long if you can help it – your pregnancy could be over ten weeks along and abortions can be much more difficult (and expensive) then.

For awhile before I went to the Free Clinic, the man I live with and I had thought a lot about what we’d do if I were pregnant. What good things would happen if I went through with it and had a baby? (1) A new person would come into being and . . . and what?

The bad things were much more evident. We couldn’t afford the hospital bill, I wouldn’t be able to work for a couple of months, our lives are too unstable right now to properly help a child to grow, we might subconsciously resent the child for causing this change and stifling in our lives, and what if the two of us ever decided not to live together anymore?

So it was evident that either the baby had to be given up for adoption (I went through that once before and always regretted it), or I’d have an abortion.

So by the time I received the results of the pregnancy test (positive, huh?) I was convinced that abortion was the answer. But I was afraid. Even after a really good explanation by a very kind counselor at the Free Clinic, I was still apprehensive, to say the least.

What Next?

All I knew at this point was that I had barely escaped the ten-week deadline, there were several places I could call, in D.C. and in New York, that they were all reliable (no witch-doctors or black-sedan/shady-deal/incompetent or unskilled malpracitioner), and that I had to raise $150 in less than a week.

First DC Abortion Clinic Opens: 1971

Phone counselors at Preterm clinic shortly after it opened in March 1971. Photo: Rosemary Martufi, courtesy DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

So the next day I made an appointment at a downtown D.C. abortion clinic called Pre-Term. I was to go in the following Monday, at 7:25 a.m. They assured me I’d be out of there by 11:00, but I had my misgivings.

Getting the money was hard to do, but we found we had more friends than I thought we had. The man I live with called up his friends, and within a couple of hours they had it all together – without question of when they would get paid back. And they couldn’t really afford it – they just know what it is to be a friend.

Luckily, we didn’t have to take their money because three of my women friends each had $50 stashed away and offered it to us. (Sisterhood is powerful!)

I had told several people that I was going to have an abortion, and some of the women told me about their abortion experiences. I kept asking questions because I was really afraid, but for some reason I didn’t want them to know I felt that way. It’s not a good way to behave, but it was hard for me to entrust my feelings to anyone. I guess I was afraid I’d lose the courage to go through with it if I broke down my defenses in any way.

Most of the fear came from not knowing what was going to happen. The man I live with was the only one I could communicate even a part of this fear to, and that’s mostly because since he’s not a woman, he can only imagine what it’s like to have things like this done to your body. He could offer infinite comfort and courage – and he did. But another woman would know what I felt, and because of my defenses I could not let that happen.

So I just pretended – to myself and others – that it wasn’t going to be such a big thing.

Arriving at the Clinic

My friend Annie went with me to the clinic that Monday morning. I wasn’t allowed to eat or drink anything before the abortion, so I was sleepy from no coffee and hungry from no breakfast. I guess my fear woke me up enough, though.

Pickets Outside Preterm Clinic: 1972

Anti-abortion pickets outside Preterm clinic March 24, 1972. Anonymous did not face pickets when she entered the clinic earlier in the year. Photo: Rosemary Martufi, courtesy DC Public Library Washington Star Collection @ Washington Post.

I was surprised to see about ten other women in the waiting room when I got there. Some were with their mothers, who looked calm and accepting, although I’m sure some mothers wouldn’t be, and some fathers would pretend like the situation didn’t even exist.

Some women were with their husbands, who looked sort of concerned but mostly as if they didn’t understand that abortion is not an easy thing for a woman to go through. And some women were alone – one of whom, I found out later, was a college student from the Deep South, had secretly flown to D.C. the night before, and planned to be back in school the next day. They don’t allow abortions in most places.

After about a 20-minut wait, the receptionist accepted my payment and asked for my medical history and a few other details.

Pelvic Exam

Then I was given a preliminary pelvic exam. In case you’ve never had a pelvic examination, here’s what they do. You lie on a table with your feet in some things that look like stirrups, and you spread your knees apart. You feel sort of vulnerable in this position. (You are, but nobody’s going to hurt you.) The thing is to relax. The more tense you are, the more uncomfortable it will be.

I keep telling myself this, but I always get tense at the beginning. Then the doctor takes a metal instrument called a speculum and gently puts it inside your vagina. It feels weird, but it doesn’t hurt. When the doctor presses on the handles of the speculum, the part that’s inside you spreads open the walls of the vagina so the doctor can look inside. It never takes much more than a minute – usually not that long.

It sounds horrible, but it’s not. Women in the D.C. area are learning to do their own pelvics so they can learn more about themselves.

Counseling & Birth Control

After I had the pelvic exam, they sent Annie to the friends’ waiting room, where, she said later, a lot of the people got into good discussions about abortions and women’s rights in general.

Meanwhile, a clinic counselor named Judy took me to an office down the hall. She was so friendly and reassuring that I began to relax a little about what was going to happen.

We talked about birth control, both of us laughing a little about my ignorance in thinking that foam alone could keep me from getting pregnant. It’s really not funny, though, when you think of the millions of women who know precious little about birth control, and therefore can’t control what happens to their bodies.

Lippes Loop

The Lippes Loop IUD that was recommended for Anonymous.

We discussed what kind of birth control I would use after the abortion. I didn’t want a diaphragm because it’s a hassle. Pills scare me because they can have bad side effects. She told me that I could have an intrauterine device (IUD) put in right after the abortion, while I was still on the table. If you’ve had a baby before, it’s relatively easy to adjust to, so we agreed on an IUD called a “Lippes Loop”.

If you’ve never had a baby before, or if you’re susceptible to infections, don’t let them talk you into an IUD immediately after an abortion. Six weeks is a safe time after an abortion to get an IUD . . . meanwhile you must let your body rest and recover from this physical trauma, not even having sex during that time. If you have had a baby, it’s still a good idea not to get an IUD for a while. In women who have not had babies, IUDs cause very severe cramping and bleeding, and lots of times your body rejects it and it comes back out.

After the birth control rap, Judy described for me, using an anatomical diagram, exactly what would happen during the abortion. This helped to ease my mind, but the misgivings were still there. They needn’t have been, though, because everything happened just as she said it would.

Into the Room

By now it was about 10:00, time for it to actually happen. The counselor brought me into a room that looked like any doctor’s examination room.

I was ready, the doctor came in. He was the first man I had seen there – most of the staff were women. He told me his name (Alexander, I think), and we spoke lightly for a few minutes.

The first thing he did was to put the speculum inside my vagina, only this speculum was the kind that stays open so he can have his hands free to work.

The next thing that happened was one of the things I had been most apprehensive about: three anesthetic shots in my cervix. When Judy had told me about this, I had freaked because it sounded so awful. As it turned out, I was just lying there on the table, with the speculum inside me, wondering what was going to happen next, when Judy said, “You’ve had your anesthetic – did you feel it?”

I was amazed that anything had happened, because I hadn’t felt it. The reason is – there are hardly any nerves in your cervix, so it can’t feel things like that.

The next part of it hurt a little, like minor menstrual cramps. The doctor placed a series of instruments, graduating from pencil size to finger size, inside me to dilate the opening to my uterus so that he could do the abortion. It hurt, but not very much. I’ve had worse pain with menstrual cramps. All this time, Judy was telling me what was going on, and the three of us were talking about other things not even related to what was happening. This helped me to relax and take my mind off the abortion.

The Procedure

Now we were finally ready to do it. They use a machine with a long tube attached to it. The doctor placed the end of the tube inside my uterus and, in less than a minute, I wasn’t pregnant anymore.

Drawing of “Vacuum Aspiration” Procedure: 1972

Drawing of vacuum aspiration procedure by Anonymous for Montgomery Spark, 1972. Reprinted with permission.

The machine sits on the floor, making a low, humming noise, generating suction while the doctor guides the end of the tube inside and around the wall of the uterus, making sure to get all of the embryonic material out. (Many women have been fucked over by quack doctors who leave some of this material behind, causing severe infection and often death!)

After it was over, the pain diminished immediately to regular cramps. The doctor put the IUD in (I didn’t feel it at all) and then left for his next patient. I felt dizzy when I got up from the table, so I sat on a chair for a minute.

Judy took me down the hall and we said goodbye in the recovery room where I was supposed to remain for a half hour.

I lay down on a couch, still feeling kind of dizzy. The other women who had come in when I had at 7:30 were there, and we all felt very close in sisterhood because of what we had all just gone through. And all of us felt relieved that it was over. After a few minutes the dizziness went away, and after ten minutes the cramps were gone.

At Home

When I was ready to leave, one of the clinic women took my temperature to make sure I had no fever (a sign of infection). She also told me to come back in a week for a checkup to see if everything was all right.

Then I went and found Annie and we went home. We’d been there for only three and a half hours, but in that time the clinic had given me two new kinds of freedom. I was no longer pregnant, and I was protected (by the IUD) from getting pregnant again.

When we got home, I ate a light snack and slept for a few hours. After that I felt really good. The only evidence of something different was the bleeding. The bleeding was constant, but always very light, for about two weeks, and then it came and went for two more weeks.

I guess I was lucky not to get an infection or have bad cramps or bleeding. A lot of women have these problems after abortions, but they’re easily curable if a doctor is consulted right away.

Abortion Obstacles

Abortions are definitely needed if women are ever to gain control over their own bodies. But there are three big problems in our way:

  1. They cost money. What happens to women who aren’t lucky enough to be able to get $150 -– or more – together? The government condemns them for having so many children, but forbids them abortion and birth control . . . or else sterilizes them.
  2. Abortion is illegal in most places. D. C. and New York are the only places on the East Coast, or even near it, where abortions are legal. This forces many women to have dangerous illegal abortions or, even worse, try to do their own abortions.
  3. Too many women don’t know enough about abortion facilities, counseling services and clinics, and too many women don’t know anything about birth control. How can we control our bodies and our lives if we don’t even know these basic things?

We have to get ourselves together and learn all we can about our bodies and what we must do to take care of them. We have to protect ourselves from this system that forces us, by keeping us ignorant and helpless, to remain in submission to whatever disaster that may befall us.

If you think you may need an abortion, go to a counseling center as soon as you can to get a pregnancy test and find out what to do next. The D.C. Free Clinic has a good pregnancy counseling service.

Obviously a lot of women need abortions. The clinic I went to does 50 every day. A lot more women need birth control counseling so that someday abortions won’t be necessary.

Meanwhile, if you are going to have an abortion, I hope this article has helped to ease your mind. You are not alone – your sisters are with you at counseling centers and clinics and everywhere around you. Sisterhood is powerful!


Reflections After 40 Years

by Anonymous

Court Voids DC Abortion Law: 1969

The DC law limiting abortion was struck down in 1969 by a District Court, but it wasn’t until 1971 that a US Supreme Court ruling essentially legalized abortion in Washington DC.

The abortion experience account I wrote in the February, 1972 issue of the Montgomery Spark provides a pretty good picture of the mentality and conditions of the times. Some things are different now, and some haven’t changed. In case you weren’t around in the early 70s, or even if you were, here’s a bit of perspective.

Washington, D.C. was one of the few cities in the U.S. where abortion was legal in 1972. It wasn’t until January 22, 1973 that the Supreme Court in the Roe v. Wade decision affirmed the constitutional right to privacy and a woman’s right to choose whether or not to have an abortion.

Back Alley Abortions

Much more prevalent than legal abortions were the brutal, toxic, often lethal procedures performed by unethical or untrained people on women who – for whatever reason – felt they must end their pregnancies.

Back then, much more so than now, unwed motherhood was a huge crisis in a woman’s life. Parents disowned their daughters, schools expelled pregnant girls, and society in general viewed them as stupid trash, unworthy of acceptance in their social world.

In the early 70s the women’s liberation movement had just begun to have an impact on the general perception of women’s rights and equality. People were beginning to realize that sex was happening a lot more than anyone had been admitting, and that something really needed to be done about birth control. Sadly, birth control education was far from reaching the saturation point needed for it to effectively prevent unwanted pregnancy.

Reflections on 1972

When I wrote the Spark article I was active in the women’s liberation movement and didn’t have concerns about what the world would think about my pregnancy. My reason for seeking an abortion was more centered on my ability to care for a child and provide for his or her upbringing.

My boyfriend and I loved each other very much, but we were not ready to commit to each other for the rest of our lives and neither of us had any reliable financial resources.

DC Demonstration for Women’s Rights: 1970

1970 march for rights in Washington, DC on  50th anniversary of women’s suffrage. Photo: Paul Schmick, courtesy of DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

My choice would have been for me to continue with the pregnancy and give the baby up for adoption. I had already done that, though, four years before, and I didn’t ever want to go through that emotional pain again.

In retrospect, I’m sure we would have found a way to raise that child if we had decided against the abortion or adoption. I became pregnant the first time because I was completely ignorant about birth control. No clue. This time I was only slightly more knowledgeable, believing that contraceptive foam would prevent pregnancy.

At the time I didn’t see anything morally wrong in ending my pregnancy, as long as it was well within the first trimester. Neither my boyfriend nor I believed we were taking the life of a human being.

Present Views on Abortion

This, of course, is where the current controversy becomes heated. When does a fetus become a human being? What do we mean by “right to life”? What about the mother’s life? What if the child was conceived during rape?

The best exploration of the whole question is in an article by Carl Sagan and his wife Ann Druyan, “The Question of Abortion: The Search for Answers.”

Sagan and Druyan explore the meanings of “pro-life” and “pro-choice” and delve into the science, morality and legality of all the shades of meaning that are involved. In their introduction they present the dilemma:

In the simplest characterization, a pro-choicer would hold that the decision to abort a pregnancy is to be made only by the woman; the state has no right to interfere. And a pro-lifer would hold that, from the moment of conception, the embryo or fetus is alive; that this life imposes on us a moral obligation to preserve it; and that abortion is tantamount to murder. Both names–pro-choice and pro-life–were picked with an eye toward influencing those whose minds are not yet made up: Few people wish to be counted either as being against freedom of choice or as opposed to life. Indeed, freedom and life are two of our most cherished values, and here they seem to be in fundamental conflict.

They lead into their detailed exploration with these questions:

If we do not oppose abortion at some stage of pregnancy, is there not a danger of dismissing an entire category of human beings as unworthy of our protection and respect? And isn’t that dismissal the hallmark of sexism, racism, nationalism, and religious fanaticism? Shouldn’t those dedicated to fighting such injustices be scrupulously careful not to embrace another?

Reading this article helped me to refine my own position on the question of abortion. Before I read it I had some gut-level feelings but hadn’t reasoned it out logically and without bias. The result is that I believe a woman has the right to choose to end her pregnancy in the first trimester and after that there are shades of morality involved. I believe every case should be considered individually. I believe every woman has the right to control what happens to her own body.

Back in Time?

Now I’ve lived forty more years since I wrote the Spark article, and I sometimes think about what I would do if I could go back in time knowing what I know now.

I wouldn’t give my first child up for adoption because now I know that I could’ve found a way to take care of him. It’s okay, though, because I later found his adoptive parents and learned what joy he brought into their lives. He is happy and has four beautiful children of his own.

I probably wouldn’t have an abortion now (if it were physically possible for me to even get pregnant), and I think my boyfriend and I could have managed to raise a child if I hadn’t had that abortion in 1972. Maybe we took the situation too lightly, but it seemed to be the right decision at the time.

The debate continues, and there will continue to be many perspectives on the question. We all agree that abortion is not a very good method of birth control. It would be a better world if we could reduce the number of abortions, just as it would be better if we could reduce the need for heart transplants and chemotherapy. A lot depends on education and the availability of birth control.  Sagan and Druyan again:

“Our Bodies Our Selves”: 1971

1971 cover of Our Bodies Our Selves that sold 250,000 copies largely by word of mouth.

By far the most common reason for abortion worldwide is birth control. So shouldn’t opponents of abortion be handing out contraceptives and teaching school children how to use them? That would be an effective way to reduce the number of abortions. Instead, the United States is far behind other nations in the development of safe and effective methods of birth control–and, in many cases, opposition to such research (and to sex education) has come from the same people who oppose abortions.

If you have an opinion about abortion or if you’re still struggling with it, I recommend that you read the Sagan and Druyan piece.  For in-depth information about women’s bodies, reproduction, birth control, women’s physical and mental health and much more, I recommend Our Bodies, Ourselves, a book first compiled and published by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective in the spring of 1973 and updated periodically up to 2011. It’s available at Amazon.com. You can also visit Our Bodies Ourselves, a huge and valuable global resource for women’s health issues.

Standing Against the Maryland Klan 1971: A Personal Memory

2 Jan
Klan Protests Black Minister In Camp Springs MD: 1966

Klan rally in Camp Springs, MD, 1966. Photo by Walter Oates. Courtesy DC Public Library, Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

by Bob Simpson
Cross-posted at The Daily Kos

I don’t mind telling you how scared I was that morning of June 20, 1971. That was the day we were going to Rising Sun, Maryland to picket the Klan at a picnic they were sponsoring. The fear was deep and profound. Butterflies in the stomach? Well, I had a gang of scorpions brawling down there.

Sure, this was Maryland, not Mississippi. It was 1971, not a few years before when the Klan was still leaving a trail of bodies all over the South. But part of the Klan’s power was its ability to install fear in people. It was sure working on me.

So why was I going to travel through rural Maryland to picket a Klan picnic? Well, a few weeks earlier the little Maryland radical collective I belonged to had received a call. It came from a socialist group based in Wilmington, Delaware. They were members of an organization called Youth Against War and Fascism (YAWF).

They told us that the Klan had been causing trouble in a workplace where YAWF had connections, pitting workers against one another along racial lines. People were afraid and YAWF wanted to cut through that fear by standing up to the Klan. The Klan was also blanketing the tri-state area of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Delaware with hate literature.

In 1967, the KKK had launched an arson attack on Laurel, Maryland’s small black community, sparking 3 nights of racial violence. Laurel African Americans organized armed patrols in the community until the Klansmen were arrested. The small Maryland Klan was still a potential threat and was showing signs of life again. YAWF wanted us to bring as many people as we could to Rising Sun, where the Maryland Klan traditionally had their gatherings.

St Marks Church Target of Klan in 1967

Laurel, MD church target of Klan attack in 1967.

Based out of Prince Georges County, Maryland our little group called ourselves the Mother Bloor Collective, after an early 20th century American radical. Most of us had been associated with University of Maryland Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in our student days. Early in its history, around 1964-1965, University of Maryland SDS had confronted the Klan in Prince Georges County at open housing protests, so we were part of a tradition.

Several of us (including me) were also union activists. I belonged to the Washington Teacher Union (AFT) and we had several people in AFSCME. We also had friends and allies all over the DC area. We knew that the greater our numbers, the better our chance to confront the Klan successfully.

Maryland, My Maryland: A legacy of white supremacy

Although now considered a generally blue liberal state, Maryland was not always like that. Just check out the state song with its pro-Confederate, anti-Lincoln lyrics. Located south of the Mason-Dixon Line but north of the Old Confederacy, Maryland has been contested racial terrain since it was founded as one of the 13 original colonies.

Maryland’s racial nightmares began in the 17th century when European colonists defeated the Piscataway and the other Native American nations of the Chesapeake region with guns and disease. Maryland soon turned to chattel slavery to develop an economy heavily dependent on the drug trade, i.e. tobacco. This was racialized slavery based on naked white supremacy.

Enslaved Marylanders resisted whenever they could, the most famous being Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman who both  joined the abolitionist movement. Harriet Tubman supported armed revolution against slavery and was one of the conspirators involved in supporting John Brown’s raid.  By the time of Lincoln’s election in 1860, half of Maryland’s black population was already free because of opposition to slavery and the decline of the tobacco-based economy.

As the outbreak of Civil War approached in 1861, Maryland’s loyalty teetered between Union and Confederate. Lincoln resorted to preventive detention of Confederate sympathizers to keep the state in the Union. Marylanders fought on both sides, with the bloodiest battle of the war fought along the quiet ripples of Antietam Creek near Sharpsburg, Maryland. John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated President Lincoln, was a pro-slavery Marylander.

Slavery was abolished in the state in 1864, but was replaced by Jim Crow segregation, although that was applied unevenly because of the state’s economic diversity. Maryland also had its raging white mobs and lynchings. In the 1920s the KKK could assemble crowds in the thousands but also faced strong opposition. Baltimore citizens rioted when a Klanswoman tried to speak at a Baptist church in the city, and arsonists tried to burn down the offices of the Thomas Dixon Branch of the Klan.

Women Break Up Klan Rally: 1966

Two women who broke up Klan rally leaving the Hyattsville, MD police station in 1967. Photo by Randolph Routt. Washington Star Collection© Washington Post.

The civil rights movement finally put an end to formal segregation, sometimes against violent resistance, as in the long and difficult struggle in Cambridge, Maryland. Sometimes however, resistance to segregation took a more comical turn. In 1966 the Klan was holding a small rally in Mt Rainier Maryland when two women grabbed the Klan bullhorn and started singing “We Shall Overcome”. The stunned Klansmen called the cops claiming that the women had slapped them and torn their robes.The Klan was always more “courageous” away from the light of day. There’s a reason why they were called night riders.

George Wallace, the Alabama segregationist who stood in the schoolhouse door, always did well in Maryland presidential primaries between 1964-1972, but was also met by militant anti-racist demonstrations. In 1972, there was an assassination attempt against Wallace while he was speaking at a Laurel, Maryland shopping center.

Maryland was far from being another Mississippi, but believe me, Dixie-style racism was still very much alive in the state in 1971.

You don’t just walk into a confrontation with the KKK

The great thing about fear is that it focuses your attention. We had made careful preparations for our protest against the Klan picnic. I knew YAWF mostly as the group with the most colorful taffeta banners at antiwar protests as well as by their combative style if right-wingers or police physically attacked them. They fought back.

I soon learned that they were also meticulous planners. The parent group of Youth Against War and Fascism was the NYC based Workers World Party (WWP). The descendent of many splits in the Marxist left, the WWP had some experienced people among its leaders.

Entrance to Town of Rising Sun, MD: 2012

Entrance to the town of Rising Sun, Maryland shown in 2012

Our collective had a meeting with some of the NYC leadership to plan for the picnic confrontation. They came with maps of the Rising Sun area and had already worked out escape routes if things got too ugly. The Klan picnic was not in the town of Rising Sun, but at a nearby farm on an isolated two-lane rural road.

The idea was that we would park our vehicles and picket alongside the road next to the farm. The KKK also promised a cross burning that evening, but we had no intention of being around for that. At night on a lonely country road with revved up racists in sheets? No thank you.

The issue of firearms came up. Eventually it was decided that one car would have weapons in the trunk and people would be assigned to armed self-defense if it came to that. To my great relief, I was not chosen to be one of those people. I could hit a paper target with the .38 caliber revolver that I owned, but I had never pointed a gun at another human being. I was unsure how I would I react in the fear and confusion of an actual shootout.

Our collective organized some friends and allies who agreed to come. We estimated a turnout of maybe 50.  That was when the local authorities pulled a fast one on us. Somebody scouting out the location a couple of days before noticed that there were now “No Parking” signs all up and down the road near the site of the picnic. Since the Klan could park on the farm property, the signs were clearly aimed at us. You may have heard the chant, “Cops and Klan work hand in hand!” This was a concrete example of that.

No problem. We would just assign one person per vehicle to drive up and down the road and just trade off drivers periodically. I wish we had thought to attach signs to the side of the vehicles, though. That would have been more dramatic.

Demonstration Day Arrives

The morning of the demonstration I placed an old axe handle in the back of the Ford van I owned. It was intended for self-defense. Segregationist Lester Maddox had used an axe handle to stop black civil rights demonstrators from entering his Georgia chicken restaurant in 1964. Maddox and his axe handle became a symbol of die-hard Jim Crow. The irony of taking an axe handle to an anti-Klan protest appealed to me.

We assembled at a house shared by three of our Mother Bloor members to caravan to Rising Sun, about an hour’s drive away. One of our members tearfully announced that she had lost her nerve and was going to stay back. I tried to console her because she agreed to sit by the phone until people returned safely. In the days before cell phones and Skype, that was an important job.

Part of Former Boyle Farm in Rising Sun, MD

Part of former farm in 2012 where a 1971 picket of a Klan rally was held near Rising Sun, MD.

When we arrived at our destination near Rising Sun, we met up with the people from Delaware and NYC, and began picketing next to the farm where the KKK picnic was scheduled. We were soon joined by state police and some plainclothes cops that I assumed were FBI. They kept their distance.

We numbered between 50-60 as we chanted, marched, and switched off with the drivers. We really couldn’t see the picnic, but periodically Klan members would approach us on their side of the fence and exchange jibes.

My personal fear had largely evaporated in the warm Maryland sun and the anti-Klan energy we were generating. Nothing really threatening had happened yet and we had no intention of invading the picnic. The presence of the cops nearby was another factor in keeping Klan members from acts of blatant violence.

Then a large blond Klansman sauntered slowly over with a broad grin on his face. Resting his elbows on his side of the fence, still with that silly smile, he looked us over. He really did resemble the Nazi Aryan ideal. I kept my eye on him as we marched around when suddenly he spat directly in the face of a short skinny YAWF member. Without hesitation, the YAWF member spat back directly back into the Klansman’s face. Adrenaline surged through me as I stood my ground and thought, “Oh shit, this is it!” I was expecting the worst.

The Klansman stepped back looking shocked and bewildered. The dumb bastard had no idea what to do. Turning slowly, he walked away accompanied by some rude verbal encouragement from us. A small victory for our side. Shortly afterward the owner of the farm approached the fence and assured us that he didn’t want any trouble and hoped we didn’t either. I don’t recall what we told him, but we were planning to leave soon anyway.

Laurel MD Arms Against Klan: 1967

Klan graffiti in Laurel, MD circa 1967. Photo: Joseph Silverman. DC Public Library Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

We stayed a while longer and then packed up and left. I felt we had made our point. That night Klan honcho Tony LaRicci charged in on a horse to lead a good old fashioned cross burning. It was ironic that the Maryland Klan had a leader with an Italian name. The KKK was once fiercely anti-Italian when Italians were not yet considered white people. Go figure.

Days later Wilmington YAWF contacted us and said the demonstration had helped ease the grip of Klan fear as they had hoped. They considered the protest a success.

Damn, that news felt good.


Author’s Notes:

Special thanks to Craig Simpson and Ron Jacobs for research help. Resistance to the Klan in Maryland” by Craig Simpson, “Cecil County Klan Rally draws nearly 400” — the Baltimore Sun June 21, 1971, “No incidents reported at Klan rally”— the Washington Post June 21, 1971, Ku Klux Klan: An Encyclopedia by Michael Newton & Judy Ann Newton.


Robert “Bob” Simpson is a former University of Maryland and Washington, DC area social justice activist who moved to Chicago, Illinois in the mid-1970s. He is one half of the Carol Simpson labor cartoon team. Bob remains active in greater Chicago and is a regular contributor to the Daily Kos, Counter Punch and has his own blog The Bobbosphere.


See more related photos from the Washington Area Spark Flickr set: Resistance to the Klan in Maryland


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