Tag Archives: African American

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.

DC’s fighting barber & the end of public school segregation

20 Aug
Boycott Browne school: 1947

The Consolidated Parents Group pickets the Board of Education in 1947.

By Daniel Hardin

It took an uprising by working class African Americans  to spark a Supreme Court decision to outlaw Washington, D.C. school segregation and break new ground in interpreting the “due process” clause of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.

Gardner Bishop worked as a barber after moving to Washington, D.C. in 1930, living east of the Anacostia River. In 1947 his 14-year-old daughter Judine was enrolled in the District’s public schools.

The segregated school system was grossly overcrowded with inferior facilities and substandard equipment.

Bishop sought a transfer for his daughter to the elite African American Banneker School, but was turned down by the black school officials because he was only a barber and schools like Banneker were reserved for the children of lawyers, ministers and other professionals.

He tried to gain admittance for Judine to the nearby white Elliot Junior High where student vacancies existed, but was also turned down based on the city’s long-standing dual school system. Bishop termed this “double Jim Crow.”

Bishop reflected back on those times 30 years later and said,

Segregation was not only white against black, but it was also upper class blacks against the lower class. We were on the bottom shelf. I’m black and I’m poor, so I’m segregated twice.

 Already substandard, now half the education

The whites-only Elliot Junior High School had a capacity of 918 students but only 783 enrollees. By contrast, the African American Browne Junior High, the neighborhood school Judine was assigned to, had a capacity of 783 but an enrollment of 1,638.

Garnet C. Wilkinson, longtime DC school official: 1950 ca.

Garnet C. Wilkerson, asst. supt. of DC black public schools.

Browne students began the school year in double shifts. Garnet Wilkinson, the African American assistant superintendent in charge of black schools, devised a plan where Browne would end some of the double shifts by using the formerly white, but now unused Blow and Webb elementary schools as annexes.

Browne students’ parents were outraged. The double shifts effectively cut students education in half while the use of the elementary schools meant longer walks for students to facilities with no equipment and desks too small for the larger adolescents.

Wilkinson’s plan went into effect December 1st. Classroom assignments called for 1,146 students to “shuttle” between the Browne school at 24th Street and Benning Road NE, the Blow School at 19th Street and Benning Road NE and the Webb School at 15th and Rosedale Streets NE. At the same time 680 students would continue their part time status at Browne.

Bishop disdained the Browne PTA, calling them “handpicked.” According to Bishop they had property owners in the area, various civic association representatives and non-parents in leadership. When working class parents attended the meetings, they felt “passed over,” according to Bishop.

In response, Bishop organized Browne students’ parents who “worked two jobs and went to church on Sundays” to meet at the Jones Memorial Church where they voted to stage a student strike or “sit-out.” The group would come be known as the Consolidated Parents Group.

Enough is enough

DC rights leader Gardner Bishop: 1950 ca.

Consolidated Parents Group leader Gardner Bishop.

The day before the planned boycott, Bishop organized a cab caravan to transport students to the Board of Education meeting at the Franklin Administration Building at 13th & K Streets NW.

Without any warning, Bishop led 40 children into the meeting and announced, “These are children from the Browne Junior High School and there’s not going to be—not one of them—or anyone else—at that school tomorrow, so I just wanted to explain who’s doin’ it and why.”

Browne recalled the board initially denied him the right to speak, but relented. “They sat there like a bunch of fools not believing a word they heard.”

The boycott began December 3rd with all children staying away from school and with children picketing at the schools and parents at the Franklin building. The city’s newspapers picked up the story and ran sympathetic articles.

Consolidated organized itself further and Bishop came to rely on a core group of leaders composed of Marie W Smith and Burma Whitted, vice presidents; Unity T. Macklin, secretary; and James Haley Sr., Treasurer along with a dozen other member activists among the hundreds of members.

Down with DC school segregation: 1947

Consolidated Parents pickets the board of education at 13th & K NW in 1947.

By mid-December, under ferocious attack from more conservative elements in the black community, Consolidated partially ended their boycott by having children return to Browne but continue boycotting Blow and Webb.

Supplementary classes for children were set up by the group at Jones Memorial Church.

As the weeks wore on, the strike began faltering and some parents began sending their children to the annexes. Shortly afterward a settlement was finally reached whereby students returned to the classrooms February 3, 1948.

The issues that arose in the strike would be settled by two lawsuits. One sponsored by the Browne PTA asked that the Board of Education be enjoined from assigning black junior high students to elementary schools while there was space available in white schools. The other sponsored by Consolidated Parents challenged the unequal facilities of the segregated school system itself.

As part of ending the strike, the Board of Education agreed to house the students in five different self-contained school buildings and ended students “shuttling” between facilities.

Consolidated Parents bonds with Houston

Getting to a lawsuit was a big leap for Bishop. He was distrustful of “upper class Negroes” as were the other parent members of Consolidated. The “highfalutin” and “comfortable” blacks didn’t use tactics that Bishop believed would lead to results.

However as the strike continued without resolution in December 1947, they voted to have Bishop contact Charles Hamilton Houston, a former NAACP litigation director and former head of Howard University’s law school.

Houston Challenges Board over Marion Anderson: 1939

Charles Hamilton Houston before the Board of Education in 1939.

It was a decision born of desperation. Houston was seen as one of the upper class of blacks that had disparaged working class African Americans and helped to “hurt” the “little people,” according to Bishop. However, Bishop was willing to try rather than have the strike end in abject failure.

Houston was in private practice and was working to become appointed as one of the District of Columbia commissioners—there was no elected representation at that time.

Bishop went to a Houston for Commissioner rally in mid December and introduced himself. Bishop said Houston was “elated” to meet the leader of the strikers. Consolidated Parents met with Houston at his home at 3611 New Hampshire Ave. NW where the venerable civil rights attorney told them, “You got yourself a lawyer.”

Houston took two legal approaches—accusing the school board of failing to provide black facilities equal to those of white students and of perpetuating fraud by claiming that black children could receive as much education in one half day as white children in a full day.

Gardner recalled that Houston “never let up…never backed down…never ceased working…and never accepted a penny,” even paying the filing fees out of his own pocket. Houston enlisted help from Howard University professors and from other attorneys from the Houston law firm.

Consolidated Parents meeting: 1949

Consolidated Parents Group meeting flyer from 1949.

While the cases were winding their way through the courts, Bishop and other leaders of Consolidated held hearings, bombarded the school board with complaints about teacher/pupil ratios and filed suits on behalf of black children excluded from kindergarten, overcrowding at Cardozo High School and other manifestations of the separate and unequal school system.

Lawsuits dismissed

The court cases were dismissed in 1950. The PTA’s case of Carr v. Corning was turned down by the court of appeals because the double shifts and “shuttling” were ended before the suit was heard. In the other cases, the courts found that the District’s schools had been segregated since the 1860s and that the white and black schools were equal enough to meet the requirements of the 14th Amendment.

The outcome was not unexpected by Houston and Bishop. A report by George Strayer detailing the District’s systemic exclusion of black children from kindergarten, inadequate classroom space and facilities for African Americans and disparate teacher/student ratios was issued too late to be introduced as evidence.

In preparation for defeat, Bishop and Houston agreed to radically change their approach. They would directly challenge the so called “separate but equal” system itself, hoping to overturn the 1896 Supreme Court decision that established the “separate but equal” doctrine in the Plessy v. Ferguson.

James Nabritt: 1950 ca.

James Nabritt circa 1950.

In April 1950, Houston realized he was dying and called Bishop to his bedside. He asked Bishop to permit James Nabritt to take over as attorney for Consolidated Parents.

Bishop, Nabritt and Houston agreed that they wanted nothing to do with what Bishop called “the social club” NAACP suits that sought to equalize the separation. Instead they would attack Jim Crow head on. It was a risky strategy that carried the peril of upholding segregation.

Houston died days after their meeting and a giant of the early civil rights movement and a champion of African Americans in the District was gone.

Spottwood Bolling takes center stage

Fresh with victory in the Carr case, the DC school board continued to build segregated schools. They opened the white John Phillips Sousa Junior High in Anacostia on September 11, 1950 with a large auditorium, double gyms, seven basketball courts, a softball field and a number of empty classrooms.

Bishop escorted eleven black children to enroll on the first day of school.

Those black children walked in there and they saw the most beautiful school they had ever seen. All those wonderful typewriters, the laboratories, the great gymnasium…

While the principal of the all white school graciously took them on a tour, he refused to admit the students.

Victory in Bolling v. Sharpe: 1954

Spottswood Bolling in front of his home in May 1954.

One of the students was Spottswood Bolling Jr., whose mother was a bookbinder for the federal government. Bolling was assigned to Shaw Junior High on U Street NW, an overcrowded black school with no science equipment and no playground.

Nabritt enlisted another Washington, D.C. civil rights attorney, George E. C. Hayes, as co-counsel. They filed suit with Bolling’s being the first name on the document. The suit named C. Melvin Sharpe, the District’s school superintendent as the defendant.

Nabritt avoided citing the 14th Amendment that applied only to states and because it would be too easy to get an outcome that merely increased spending on black schools—or worse—found the schools equal enough.

Instead, Nabritt cited the due process clause of the 5th Amendment, a guarantee binding on Congress that in turn administered the District of Columbia.

Two years passed while the case moved through the courts when Nabritt received a telephone call from the clerk of the Supreme Court who indicated that the Court wished to consolidate the case with others challenging Jim Crow schools. Bishop was suspicious and insisted that the NAACP, which provided representation in the other major school suits, be excluded from the Bolling v. Sharpe team.

Nabritt filed the necessary petition to the Supreme Court to bypass the court of appeals. The Court granted the petition and arguments were heard December 9, 1952. The case was consolidated with four others and re-argued December 8th and 9th 1953.

Arguments to the Court

Nabritt and Hayes took turns presenting oral arguments to the Court in 1953.

George E C Hayes: 1948

Co-counsel George E. C. Hayes circa 1950.

Hayes opened saying,

The position we are taking with respect to these cases, that segregation, per se, is unconstitutional, and that without regard to physical facilities, without regard to the question of curriculum and that if, as a matter of fact, there is a designation that one must go to a particular school for no other reason than because of race or color, that that is a violation of the constitutional right; and as this Court has said, wherever the issue is raised with respect to color, then it is upon the Government to show that the reason for it, that there is a reason for it—that there is a reason that is a justifiable reason.

Nabritt strenuously argued the distinction between the 14th Amendment and the 5th Amendment.

The basic question here is one of liberty, and under liberty, under the due process clause, you cannot deal with it as a quantum of treatment, substantially equal. You either have liberty or you do not. When liberty is interfered with by the state, it has to be justified, and you cannot justify it by saying that we only took a little liberty You justify it by the reasonableness of the taking. We submit that in this case, in the heart of the nation’s capital, in the capital democracy, in the capital of the free world there is no place for a segregated school system. This country cannot afford it, and the Constitution does not permit it, and the statutes of Congress do not authorize it.

Victory

Washington Post leads with end of school segregation: 1954

Washington Post on the Supreme Court decision banning school segregation.

The court, led by newly confirmed Chief Justice Earl Warren decided unanimously in favor of the plaintiffs.

In his opinion, he noted that while the 14th Amendment, whose Equal Protection Clause was cited in the more famous Brown vs. Board in order to declare segregation unconstitutional did not apply in the District of Columbia, the 5th Amendment did in fact apply.

Warren held that “the concepts of equal protection and due process, both stemming from our American ideal of fairness, are not mutually exclusive.” While equal protection is a more explicit safeguard against discrimination, the Court stated, “…discrimination may be so unjustifiable as to be violative of due process.”

Referring to the technicalities raised by the case’s location in the District of Columbia, the Court held that, in light of their decision in Brown that segregation in state public schools is prohibited by the Constitution, it would be “unthinkable that the same Constitution would impose a lesser duty on the Federal Government.”

The Court concluded: “racial segregation in the public schools of the District of Columbia is a denial of the due process of law guaranteed by the 5th Amendment.” The Court restored both Bolling and Brown to the docket until they could reconvene to discuss how to effectively implement the decisions.

Bishop and Consolidated Parents had their victory for working class African Americans in the only major school case decided without counsel from the NAACP.

After the Court’s decision, Bishop stepped down as head of the Consolidated Parents Group. Bishop continued to hold his own court in his B&D Barbershop near 15th & U Streets NW where he worked until he retired in 1985. He died November 25, 1992.


Postscript

White students terrorize Anacostia black students: 1954

White students at Anacostia High chase black enrollees October 4, 1954.

Conservatives have consistently attacked the specific Bolling v. Sharpe decision through the years as going beyond the bounds of reasonableness.

Implementation of the Court decision was not without resistance. White students, with backing by some parents, staged walkouts and confrontations with newly enrolled black students on the first day of District of Columbia school integration October 4, 1954.

Students at McKinley, Eastern, Chamberlain Vocational high schools and McFarland and Taft Junior high schools staged demonstrations in the days following. Attendance at schools across the city was down after calls for a student strike by white students.

In the most egregious incident white students at Anacostia High School attempted to attack black students in October 1954 and staged student rallies and marches in opposition to integration, including one that drew hundreds of students and parents.

Integrated students at Anacostia High School: 1957

Integrated class at Anacostia High School in 1957.

Court ordered integration did not solve the problem of equal opportunity and quality education.

Community activist Julius Hobson filed suit in 1967 to end a tracking system by the District’s schools that put working class African Americans on a vocational “track” denying them the opportunity afforded to white students and black children from professional parents. A 1968 decision was awarded in Hobson’s favor that abolished the District’s tracking system.

However, the issue of providing a quality education to the District’s working class African Americans is an ongoing one that has not as yet been resolved in the 21st Century.


Author’s notes:

Gardner Bishop in his barbershop: 1974

Gardner Bishop in his barbershop at 15th & U Streets NW in 1974.

Gardner Bishop held an abiding disdain for all—black or white—that behaved in a condescending or uncaring manner toward the issues of working class African Americans.

An example of Bishop’s sharp tongue occurred in 1937 when he passed a “whites only” park where his four-year-old daughter wanted to get on the swing set. As Judine was swinging back and forth, a police officer came up and pointed out the “whites only” sign.

Bishop responded, “She can’t read.” The remark cost Bishop a $10 fine for disorderly conduct.

Given this incident, it was no surprise that the Consolidated Parents Group also fought for equal recreation facilities.

When a 14-year-old African American boy died after swimming after hours in the segregated Rosedale pool at 17th & Gales Streets NE in June 1952, Consolidated joined other groups in picketing the playground and the board of recreation. The ongoing picketing culminated in a number of arrests.

In September, over 100 children climbed over the fence of the whites-only pool and entered the swimming area. The recreation staff closed the pool, but the following day the children returned and by shear numbers integrated the pool. One police officer said, “I can’t arrest these children. They’re having such a good time.”

The pool closed for the season shortly afterward and the recreation board opened the Rosedale playground to all. Before the pool opened in the spring, the board voted to integrate the pool as well.

Bishop’s legacy may be more than his victory over segregation. His determination to fight and form new forms of organization to challenge what others said couldn’t be challenged may be equally important. It’s a lesson that was learned in the 1960s with the formation of SNCC and the transformation of CORE and with the attempts today to form organization out of the struggle in Ferguson.

Sources include the Afro American, The Washington Post, The Daily News, The Washington Star, The Pittsburgh Courier, Groundwork: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Struggle for Civil Rights by Genna Rae McNeil, Jim Crow’s Children: The Broken Promise of the Brown Decision by Peter Irons, First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School by Alison Stewart.


Want to see and read more?

Additional images of the fight for DC school desegregation

Images of the fight for DC parks and recreation integration in the 1940s and 1950s

Images of a 1919 mobilization by DC school parents

Images of a 1930s boycott movement to end segregation at DC stores

Images of the fight to integrate theaters and performance venues in DC

Images of the fight to integrate employment at the Capital Transit Company

Images of the fight against racism at the Library of Congress

The story of the fight to integrate theaters and performance venues in DC

The story of the fight to integrate employment at the Capital Transit Company


Maryland slaves make bold bid for freedom: July 7-8, 1845

2 Jul

Fighting the Mob in IndianaReportedly marching six abreast on open roads during daylight, dozens of enslaved African Americans made their way along Maryland roads toward freedom July 7-8, 1845.

The plot began in Charles County led by Mark Caesar and William Wheeler. The group of several dozen African Americans armed themselves with a pistol, scythe blades, bludgeons, swords and clubs and began their trek to Pennsylvania, about 110 miles away.

The Charles County band was joined by others seeking freedom from St. Mary’s County. While marching north en route through Prince George’s County, still others swelled their ranks to nearly 75.

The plan was to make their way “in great haste” before slave owners had a chance to gather men to pursue them, according to the Montgomery Journal.

Battle Near Rockville

The group made good progress and the Journal reported the group was seen “within two miles of Rockville” on the Frederick Road (today’s Route 355).

A group of white men on horseback called the Montgomery Volunteers caught up with those marching toward freedom and surrounded them somewhere between Rockville and Gaithersburg. Caesar and Wheeler reportedly ordered the group to fight back.

Fugitive Slaves Recaptured: 1850A brief skirmish erupted and 35 members of the group were captured by the white slave catchers and several African Americans were killed. Others, including Wheeler, initially escaped.

Some of the captured, upon defending themselves, had been shot and wounded.  One witness reported that the group was shot with powder and ball, and the survivors chained and driven off like beasts.

The Port Tobacco Times reported, “They had to be fired upon before they would surrender.”  All of those seized, including five who were badly injured, were taken to the jail at Rockville under the assumption that they had run away from their masters. Most of the recaptured were sold out of state to new slave masters.

A group of four who escaped the Montgomery Volunteers were captured in Westminster, about 20 miles from the Pennsylvania border. Wheeler was still at large on July 16 when the Maryland Journal asked readers to, “Keep a look out for him, as lots of money will be forked over to any one who may nab him.”

Wheeler captured, convicted & escapes

Wheeler was eventually captured and brought to Port Tobacco in Charles County for a trial that began September 1, 1845.

Bill Wheeler convicted in MD slave insurrection: 1845

Wheeler is convicted of insurrection.

The Times called Wheeler and Caesar the “prime movers and instigators in the late Negro insurrection.” The Times reported that the two, “If proved to be guilty, will, in accordance to the law in relation to this crime, suffer the penalty of death.”

Wheeler was found guilty by a jury of white men on September 2nd and sentenced to hang until dead. Fearing that Wheeler’s death sentence may be commuted, a law was passed by the Maryland General Assembly in March 1846 to insure he would remain in jail for the rest of his life:

An Act to authorize and require the Warden and Keepers of the Penitentiary of Maryland, to receive and keep negro William Wheeler, now under sentence of death into Penitentiary, in the event of the commutation of his sentence by the Governor.

However, Wheeler escaped the county jail after four months of incarceration in the facility. Despite a $100 reward offered for his apprehension, Wheeler was never re-captured.

Mark Caesar’s Trial

Mark Caesar sentenced for MD slave rebellion: 1845

Caesar is sentenced to 40 years.

Caesar was charged with insurrection and his trial began September 4, 1845, three days after Wheeler’s.

A jury split 8-4 in favor of conviction and the result was a hung jury. The prosecution decided to re-try Caesar, a 35-year old free black man who worked as a carpenter, on different charges. This time Caesar faced charges of “aiding and abetting slaves in making their escape from their masters,” according to the Port Tobacco Times.

Caesar was then found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in the penitentiary where he died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1850.

Aftermath

News of the uprising terrified slave owners in Charles, St. Mary’s, and Prince George’s Counties, according to the Journal.

Prison record of revolt leader Mark Caesar: 1850

Mark Caesar’s prison record showing he was a 35 year old,  5’8″ carpenter who could read and write at the time he was sentenced.

“This is the most daring movement which has ever come under our observation.” Never before had an armed group of enslaved men taken a “public road in open day, within 2 miles of a County town, and in a thickly settled neighborhood,” the Journal noted.

As a result, Charles County sought “to confine the slaves within proper limits, and to keep them free from those influences which poison their minds and tend to render them dissatisfied with their condition,” the Journal wrote.

According to the Maryland Archives, some slave owners desired to have a special militia created for the purpose of suppressing any uprising and capturing runaways. They proposed anyone taking part be rewarded for their efforts.

In St. Mary’s County, it was decided that a “Committee of Vigilance” would be formed, with ten people in each election district to watch any travel of African Americans within the county.  The “Montgomery Volunteers” reportedly received many new enlistees.

Despite the efforts of slave catchers, it appears some of those who made their break for freedom with Caesar and Wheeler were never apprehended.


Editor’s notes:

Slavery hung on in Maryland until the Civil War. Union occupation of the state resulted in a new state Constitution adopted April 1, 1864 November 1, 1864 outlawing the practice. Voting rights were extended to non white males in the state in 1867.

Long live Mark Caesar and Bill Wheeler.

Sources include the The Maryland Archives, Resistance to Slavery in Maryland by Cheryl Janifer LaRoche, the Port Tobacco Times and the Maryland Reporter.

Post updated 7/5/15 to reflect the correct effective date of the Maryland Constitution outlawing slavery. Thanks to Ben Fischler

 

 

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


The Washington Post Strike at the Crossroads, December 1975

12 Dec

by Craig Simpson

Post Pressmen & Supporters Picket George’s Store

Post Busts Pressmen's Union 1975 # 3

A mass picket line by striking pressmen and supporters in front of a George’s appliance store in Greenbelt, Maryland in December 1975. Photo by Reading/Simpson, non-commercial use permitted.

The International Printing and Graphic Communications Union Local 6, the pressmen’s union, was engaged in a bitterly fought strike at the Washington Post that reached a turning point in December 1975.

When the strike first began on October 1, a number of advertisers switched to the rival Washington Star as the Post struggled to publish a credible newspaper. It appeared for a time that the Star might supplant the Post, unless the strike was settled.

But the management gradually produced more and more pages per day without union workers, and advertisers began switching back to the Post. Picket lines were set up at stores around the metropolitan Washington area at George’s, a local discount appliance store, and K-Mart in December 1975, but failed to dissuade the advertisers from returning to the Post.

Origins of the Strike: The 1973 Printers’ Dispute

Post Printers Lockout

Printers’ union members picket the Post in November 1973 after union member Michael Padilla was fired for engaging in a slowdown at the paper. When printers stopped work, the Post evicted them from the building after calling US Marshals. Photo by Michael Dresser, some rights reserved.

The tipping point in labor relations at the Post came during a November 1973 dispute with International Typographical Union Local 101, the printers’ union.

The Post was a profitable newspaper, but its margins were slipping compared to its other holdings. New management at the paper made the determination that profits could be increased by squeezing more out of fewer workers.

The Post prepared for a confrontation with its unions and trained non-union personnel at an anti-union facility in Oklahoma to produce the newspaper in the event of a strike by one or more of its unions. It also opened its own training facility in Northern Virginia where non-union staff were trained on the relatively new “cold” type press production that needed fewer workers.

The printers were the largest union at the Post and prepared the molten lead “hot” type for printing. They stood in the way of the Post’s drive to cut costs and increase profits.

The printers began engaging in a work slowdown to pressure management to back off its aggressive bargaining posture as they approached the expiration of their labor contract. The management retaliated by firing one printer, Michael Padilla, for engaging in the slowdown. The union responded with a sit-down strike and the Post evicted them from the building after calling US Marshals.

The Post management then prepared an edition of the paper with non-union staff and prepared to run the presses themselves.  Members of the pressmen’s union were made aware of the Post’s plans by other union members in the building and entered the Post’s facilities saying that they were the only ones entitled to run the presses and they intended to do so.

However, they quickly staged their own sit-down strike and some minor damage was done to a few presses. They halted the paper from publishing and took the position they would not work until all other unions returned.  The Post negotiated a quick settlement with the printers and reinstated Padilla.  All the unions returned to work with nothing said about the minor damage. The pressmen were heroes to other craft union members.

But to the Post management, including publisher Katherine Graham, they had a bulls-eye painted on them and over the next two years a number of smaller skirmishes were fought leading up to the expiration of the pressmen’s labor contract.

Pressmen’s Strike Begins October 1, 1975

Post Busts Pressmen's Union 1975 # 1

Pressmen outside the Washington Post building in the early morning hours of October 1, 1975. Photo: Pete Schmick, Courtesy DC Public Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post, All Rights Reserved.

The regular pressmen numbered about 200, of whom only about 100 were long term employees. Most of the others migrated to Washington from out-of-town papers for higher wages or because their local unions had been broken during strikes at other newspapers.

The pressmen were viewed as the strongest union at the Post and set the pace for the other nine unions.  Their contract was due to expire September 30, 1975, but the pressmen didn’t plan to strike.  Instead they planned to continue to negotiate while honoring the picket lines of the smaller machinist union at the newspaper whose contract expired at the same time.

However, the machinists were forced to back off of a strike at the last-minute when the Post invoked a binding arbitration clause in the machinists’ contract.

The pressmen’s union leadership decided not to call a strike right away, but a relatively small, organized group of pressmen began disabling the presses at about 4 am and detained and injured a manager. A small fire was set in the printing press room. The strike was on when workers left the building and set up a picket line.  The union leadership then passed out strike signs that had been previously printed in the event of a work stoppage.

The Post was unable to publish for a day, but cobbled together non-union offset print shops around the region to print a reduced version of the paper on the second day and began returning their own presses to running order. They flew the paper produced at the Post by helicopter to printing facilities located within 200 miles of Washington. Later they printed the Sunday and other supplement material as far away as Miami and had it trucked to Washington, DC.

The other unions at the Post either went on strike or respected the picket lines of the pressmen. The exception was the Newspaper Guild, which twice held fierce debates over supporting the strike. Reacting to reports of physical abuse of some members who crossed the picket lines and the damaged presses, they overrode their leadership and voted to continue working on two different occasions, although a minority of Guild members did honor picket lines.

The striking unions called for a boycott of the Post that was supported by local organized labor, but its effects were limited. The Post’s newspaper sales dropped by about 35,000 and advertising fell from about 70% of the newspaper market to about 65%–significant, but not crippling. Some major advertisers switched to the Star and others advertised more heavily in the rival paper.

The Post’s public relations successfully exploited a highly exaggerated version of the pressroom damage (The Post filed suit for $25 million, but the actual damage figure did not exceed $270,000) as an attack on the “free press.” Later the Post demonstrated its power when a grand jury was convened to investigate strike activities, further demonizing the workers.

As advertisers began to return and revenue began to rebound by late November, the Post made a final offer to the pressmen’s union, a formality before hiring permanent replacements.  The offer would have essentially torn up the expired pressmen’s contract, while providing for some nominal pay raises.  The offer was rejected by a vote of the union members and the Post began advertising for permanent replacements for the pressmen in December.

The Post also isolated the pressmen’s union from much of the rest of the city by repeatedly pointing out the lack of any significant number of African American or women press operators in a city that was nicknamed “Chocolate City” and had more women than men.

They moved to further divide the unions from the city’s working people by exploiting long-standing charges of discrimination against the craft unions and reached an agreement with the Washington Printing Specialties & Paper Products Union, whose members moved the heavy rolls of paper around the shop and performed other manual labor.

The 100 member union was predominantly African American and had been battling the mainly white craft unions over discrimination against its members before the strike and had filed suit against several–although not against the pressmen’s union. They  returned to work and joined many of the Newspaper Guild’s members  crossing the picket lines. While not essential to publishing the paper, the agreement with the paper handlers union legitimized the Post’s position and further discredited the strikers in the eyes of many African Americans.

The momentum in the battle had clearly swung toward the management.

1,000 March & Burn Katherine Graham in Effigy

K Graham Burned in Effigy 1976 # 28

Over 1,000 striking pressmen and supporters staged a march and rally on the one year anniversary of the strike on October 2, 1976 that culminated with burning Katherine Graham in effigy in front of the Post headquarters. Photo by Reading/Simpson, non-commercial use permitted.

As the strike moved into 1976, the Post was effectively producing the newspaper at its own printing plant with the permanent replacements of the pressmen and non-union pressmen imported from other areas of the country. The permanent replacements were mainly African Americans along with a few women. The diversity of the replacements was showcased by the Post.

The Post unions had a support committee that worked hard to convince the broader public to back the strike. At one point a petition was circulated among prominent local residents asking that the dispute be submitted to binding arbitration.  The Post refused arbitration. AFL-CIO president George Meany held a meeting with publisher Katherine Graham, but accounts of the meeting indicate that Meany didn’t push hard and Graham was firm that the pressmen had been permanently replaced.

With defeat staring at them, the other Post unions undertook serious negotiations with management over resolving their own issues. Individual members of the various craft unions began drifting back to work.

On February 17, 1976 the mailers’ union, who sorted and bundled the newspapers, reached an agreement with the Post. They returned to work along with the printers’ union—representing about half of the 1,400 craft union workers. The other unions and their members followed shortly thereafter.

The strike was lost at this point and the pressmen’s union was broken. They were now out on their own–along with a few members of other unions who refused to go back and a committed group of supporters.

The U.S. Attorney obtained indictments against 15 pressmen while none of those who crossed picket lines and assaulted strikers were charged.

On the first anniversary of the strike– October 2, 1976–over 1,000 pressmen and their supporters rallied at McPherson Square and marched to the Post building where they burned Katherine Graham in effigy. The march was defiant, but for the pressmen it was more like a funeral.

The pressmen continued to picket the Post through the judicial proceedings. On May 20, 1977, after plea agreements were concluded in court, fourteen pressmen were given sentences that ranged from fines for most individuals to a year in jail for one pressman. The light sentences for most pressmen vindicated their account that the initial disabling of the presses was relatively minor, but it was a hollow victory.

Local 6 was decimated by the strike and ceased to exist after the Washington Star newspaper folded in 1981. The strike was one of the biggest defeats ever suffered by organized labor in the District of Columbia.

Could the Pressmen Have Prevailed?

K Graham Burned in Effigy 1976 # 30

Helicopter at Post building one year after strike began. Management used helicopters in the early stages of the strike to ferry ready-to-print versions of the paper to offset print shops within 200 miles of Washington. Photo: Reading/Simpson, non-commercial use permitted.

Most accounts written after the strike point to the initial disabling of the presses on October 1, 1975 as sealing the pressmen’s fate, but that is an oversimplification.  Even with the Post’s account of “violence” monopolizing the media, the outcome was not certain two and half months into the strike.

Certainly the property damage was a factor in the Guild’s decision not to honor picket lines and gave the Post ammunition to use against the strike. But a significant number of Guild members would have crossed the picket lines in any event and the Post intended to publish utilizing non-union labor even if no damage had occurred.

Simply pointing to the “violence” in which one person was hurt and some relatively minor damage done to property does not take into consideration that the Post settled the 1973 dispute after similar, although not as widespread, disabling of the presses.

The larger error that the pressmen made was viewing the impending confrontation as a traditional battle fought by a group of skilled craftsmen who were necessary for production against a management that was making unprecedented demands but could be forced to back down as they had in the past. The pressmen applied the lessons they had learned from previous battles, like the printers’ dispute, and believed they could prevail by withholding their labor. The rump group that disabled the presses followed this thinking to its logical–but ultimately wrong–conclusion.

Instead, the pressmen faced a powerful enemy who had negated the crafts’ advantage in earlier labor confrontations. The pressmen failed to grasp the impact that technological improvements like cold type would have on the ability to produce the paper in the workers’ absence. They further underestimated the ability of replacements and management to print a paper, despite the printing craft unions’ experience in other cities. They believed that the “liberal” Washington Post would not openly “bust” a union. Perhaps most critically, they didn’t have a winning strategy to sway the broader public to their cause.

In such circumstances, the pressmen were unprepared to cast their battle as part of a larger struggle of working people that were then vigorously resisting similar demands. Employers during the 1970s sought to reverse hard-won work rules and increase productivity while holding down wages due to increased international competition and flattening profits. Workers in the Washington area and around the country were waging strikes, both legal and illegal, over the employers’ demands for more work with less pay in order to maintain their profit margins.

The craft unions at the Post did ultimately realize their need to wage a broader struggle after the strike began. They banded together and formed a “Post Unions United” group and organized a strike support committee–gathering support from other unions and activist groups throughout the city. They launched a campaign to boycott the Post, trying to identify their struggle with broader struggles with a “No Grapes, No Lettuce, No Post” slogan. They hit back at the Post for “union-busting.”

However, these slogans did not resonate. Some accounts after the strike simply noted that Washington was not an industrial city with strong unions.  This is not entirely accurate either.  The city is not industrial in nature, but the upswing in public employee unions in the late 1960s and early 1970s actively engaged tens of thousands of workers in and around the city. Strong established unions already existed in the hotels, grocery,  communications, transit, trucking & warehouses and in construction as well as other sectors.  And, workers were in a fighting mood, like those across the country.

The problem with the campaign message is that it did not capture the reason why the workers were striking and translate it into a just cause that other working people could embrace. The message used would not override the Post’s campaign against “violence” and defense of a “free press.”

Further, the pressmen left themselves vulnerable to be divided from a large, natural ally in the metropolitan area–African Americans who supported unions in much higher percentages than other population groups.

Of the craft unions, the pressmen weren’t the worst when it came to discrimination. They were not one of the unions sued by the paper handlers at the Post. They had taken on some African American apprentices and junior apprentices and had a few black journeymen. However, that didn’t alter the fact that they were overwhelmingly white in a city that was overwhelmingly black, and the larger public didn’t make fine distinctions among the various craft unions.

Unlike the city’s transit union leadership which helped force a desegregation of operator ranks within the union in 1955 prior to a long strike with the Capital Transit Company in order to diffuse the issue, the pressmen’s union did not fully recognize the damage that would be done to their position. And that’s without considering the good will that would have been generated by strides toward full desegregation of their ranks.

It’s easy now to look back and debate what should have been done 40 years ago to prepare for this confrontation and it should be remembered that the pressmen and the other craft unions, despite whatever weaknesses they had, waged a toe-to-toe battle against a determined foe for nearly three months before the tide turned against them.

We’ll never know if a clear message linking the Post unions’ struggles with those being waged by other working people, along with a reputation as a progressive union, would have made a difference in the outcome. But we can know that doing so would have made for a more effective boycott, reducing subscribers and thereby keeping more advertising dollars away from the Post. This in turn would have strengthened the rival Washington Star, putting increased pressure on the Post to reach an agreement.

Author’s Notes:

As a young union activist, I brought the Post craft unions’ boycott materials to my transit union meeting. Some of the officers of the union removed the material from the sign-in table and castigated me for supporting a strike of unions that had discriminated against African Americans. We argued for a while and a lot of the rank and file at the meeting listened in interest, but the damage that was done to the strike’s cause by unions that had failed to take meaningful steps to integrate their ranks cannot be overstated.

Most of the material for this article came from the Washington Star, New York Times, Washington Post, Washington City Paper and flyers produced by strike supporters.


Craig Simpson is a former Secretary-Treasurer of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 and has a BA in labor studies from the National Labor College.  He can be contacted by email at washington_area_spark@yahoo.com.


For more photos of the strike

For more photos of the one year strike anniversary march and rally

600 Black Women Stand Strong: The 1938 Crab Pickers Strike

5 Dec
A Face of the CIO Union in Crisfield, MD: 1938

Pauline Schofield with CIO button, Crisfield, MD, May 1938. Original image courtesy of Crisfield Heritage Foundation, all rights reserved.

By Craig Simpson

Working people in Crisfield, Maryland, were in desperate straits on the first of April in 1938.

The Great Depression hadn’t lifted yet, and 300 garment workers, mostly women, had been thrown out of work two weeks earlier when two factories had closed. One town official estimated that 90% of the Crisfield workforce was unemployed at that time.

Then, on top of everything else, on April 4th the town’s packing companies cut the amount paid to hundreds of crab pickers from 35 cents per gallon to 25 cents per gallon. The packers might have figured that the pickers would just be thankful to have a job.

Instead, two days later, 600 predominantly African American women crab pickers walked out on a five-week strike. They demanded that the rates be restored to 35 cents and that the packing companies recognize the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) as their union.

They defied mob intimidation and long weeks of privation, but won their strike—and a union.

Climate of Racial Fear

The town had a mixed history of race relations. It had experienced brutal racial violence, but also cooperation at times among black and white workers against the packinghouses.

Crisfield, previously named Somers Cove, had a population of about 6,000 in 1938, over one-quarter of whom were African American. The town, located near the southernmost portion of Maryland’s Eastern Shore on the waters of the Chesapeake Bay, was heavily dependent on the seafood industry.  It billed itself the “Seafood Capital of the World.”

The town took its name from John W. Crisfield, one of the largest slave holders in the state during the 1860s and a pro-slavery congressman during the Civil War. He was defeated in 1863 by abolitionist John Cresswell in what is widely believed to be vote fraud conducted by federal troops in the state. Crisfield secured the financing that brought the Eastern Shore Railroad to the town in 1867 and the town’s name was changed to honor him.

Lynching occurred all too frequently on the Eastern Shore up into the 1930s. One had occurred in Crisfield 30 years before and there were several others in surrounding towns in more recent years.

In 1907, James Reed allegedly shot and killed Crisfield police chief John H. Daugherty.  Reed was captured while fleeing the town by boat. He was beaten to death and hung from a telegraph pole and his body was later buried in a marsh. Unsatisfied, white rioters dug up Reed’s body, cut it up, shot it with bullets and then threw it into a bonfire.  Following this, the mob ran through the black community pulling people from their homes and beating them.

Thirty miles away in Salisbury in 1931, Matt Williams suffered a similar barbaric death administered by a mob. Again in 1931, a gang of whites in Snow Hill, 35 miles from Crisfield, beat white International Labor Defense attorney Bernard Ades and a male and female companion when they couldn’t find their African American target Euel Lee.

Twenty miles away in Princess Anne in 1933, George Armwood was dragged from the local jail with a rope around his neck, beaten, stabbed and kicked. The mob tied him to the back of a truck and dragged him down the street to a large tree. The crowd cut off his ears, took his gold teeth, and then repeatedly dropped his lifeless body from a large limb to the ground. They then dragged Armwood’s corpse back to the courthouse in the center of town where it was hanged from a telephone pole and set on fire.

Racial Solidarity in 1931 Strike

The virulent racism that characterized some sectors of the population wasn’t the whole story in Crisfield, and 1938 was not the first year crab pickers had resisted the packinghouses’ attempts to reduce their pay.

Housing at W. T. Handy Packinghouse 2: 1940

Workers who picked crabs, shucked oysters or canned vegetables were paid little and had little. Shown is housing for permanent workers at the W. T. Handy plant in Crisfield, MD  ca 1940. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In 1931, the packers also reduced rates from $0.35 per gallon to $0.25 per gallon (the equivalent of seven cents to five cents per pound) of picked crabmeat.

Leroy R. Carson, who owned one of the largest packinghouses in Crisfield and also owned a packinghouse in Hampton, VA, led the move.   In what would become a recurring practice, Carson reduced rates in Hampton and used the Virginia competition as a reason to reduce rates in Crisfield.

In response, on September 8, nearly 300 crab pickers quit working and went on strike.

The strikers marched from door to door through working class neighborhoods enlisting support. Their ranks bolstered, they marched through downtown Crisfield.

In all, between 700 and 800 crabmeat pickers—of whom about 100 were white—from 22 crab-picking plants joined the strike.

They had the backing of a racially mixed group of oyster shuckers whose season was about to begin and who feared their rates would also be reduced. The U.S. Department of Labor, US Conciliation Service’s Georgia Johnson stated, “Much solidarity is reported between all workers, white and colored…”

Johnson went on to say that, “The operators are holding out, because they wish continued wage reductions through the oyster-shucking season which opens today; and that this reduction is chiefly to fix oyster shucking wages through the autumn, winter and spring seasons.”

The owner of one of the three largest seafood businesses in Crisfield, J. C. W. Tawes, was quoted as saying that “…rather than submit to the strikers’ demands he would sell out and leave Crisfield.”

Tawes demanded that Mayor William H. Bradshaw order out the police, arm the citizens or order out the militia, ostensibly to protect black women who he claimed didn’t want to strike.  He alleged they were intimidated by a mostly white, male group of oyster shuckers.

Instead, Bradshaw brokered an agreement where some packinghouses agreed to a compromise rate of 30 cents per gallon. Both the packers and the strikers were dissatisfied with Bradshaw’s deal and the packers quickly reneged and kept the rate at the 25 cent reduced level.  The strike had ended in defeat.

Labor Unrest Continues

Women Picking Crabmeat in MD: 1940 ca

Crab pickers at Milbourne Oyster Co., Crisfield, MD, 1940 ca. Image courtesy of Maryland State Archives, educational use only.

Labor unrest continued in subsequent years and there were allegations of intolerable working conditions and of the exploitation of children. Worker advocates called for crab pickers and oyster shuckers to be classified as wage workers and paid an hourly rate.

In response to federal inquiries, the packers raised the rates back to the 35 cents per gallon level.

However in February, 1934, packinghouse owner Carson told a National Recovery Act administrator that crab pickers in Crisfield were lying about conditions.  He insisted that it was not rates that were to blame for poor conditions of workers in Crisfield, but instead the federal government: “I can prove that one family there is getting $15 a week federal aid.  The wife won’t pick crabs and the husband won’t shuck oysters.”

He went on to say that the rate for crab pickers should be about 5 cents a pound and that he was opposed to an hourly rate.   He reasoned that the crab harvest was unpredictable and thus could not be subjected to an hourly wage.

In December, 1935 the packers again unilaterally reduced rates and 100 workers struck, temporarily closing all but three packinghouses that had not reduced rates.

CIO Organizing on the Shore

On Maryland’s Eastern Shore unions were scarce and organized African Americans were almost unheard of. But by 1937, the CIO was leading a movement that organized male and female, black and white workers into single industrial unions.

Union Business Cambridge Strike 1937

Black & White workers at the Phillips plant in Cambridge MD unite during 1937 strike. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The first big battle in the packing industry on the Shore occurred at the massive Phillips packing plant in Cambridge, MD, during a strike in 1937. Over 2,000 black and white workers united and waged a vigorous two-week struggle demanding wage hikes and unionization.

At one point a group of several hundred white and black strikers marched on the city jail and freed a black striker. They ultimately lost the strike and did not achieve a union independent of the company, but the effort was well publicized throughout the Eastern Shore.

The United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America, CIO that had been active in the Phillips strike began organizing in Crisfield.  In November 1937, three organizers of the cannery union were run out of Crisfield by a crowd of about 50 whites while trying to organize among oyster shuckers.

Leif Dahl, east coast organizer and national executive board member of the union, telephoned Governor Harry W. Nice and asked for protection for Michael Howard, secretary-treasurer of the Baltimore Industrial Council, and his other organizers.

Crisfield Chief of Police Willard Laird claimed no knowledge of the incident but Mayor Bradshaw said he told the organizers to “withdraw peacefully” from the town because it “was not the proper time for their efforts”, according to the Washington Post.

Dahl vowed that the organizers would return to Crisfield, and the union representatives came back to organize quietly among oyster shuckers and crab pickers. Despite the intimidation, one of the smaller crab picking houses was organized in 1937.

The Strike Begins

In 1938, pickers’ pay was back up to 35 cents per gallon. At that rate many pickers earned between $1 and $1.50 weekly, although faster pickers could make as much as $5 per week or more. Out of these earnings, workers paid 35 cents weekly for removal of the crab shells they had picked.

A reduction back to 25 cents a gallon meant many workers’ already meager earnings would be cut by as much as a third.

The packinghouse owners announced the cut April 4, with the exception of Nelson R. Coulbourn’s packinghouse that continued to pay the old rate of 35 cents per gallon.

Pickers at every packinghouse except Coulbourn’s walked out April 6 and the packinghouses shut down.

The packers may have initially thought that the women would cave after a few weeks and the houses would be open in time for crab season that was to begin May 2.

The packers may also have considered the timing of their rate reduction.  The 1931 rate reductions occurred just before the beginning of oyster season and threatened the rates of oyster shuckers.  This reduction occurred near the end of the oyster season, making the oyster shuckers’ support of a strike less of a factor.

Shiloh United Methodist Church, Crisfield: 2012

Shiloh ME Church, Crisfield, MD shown in 2012. The CIO crab pickers union held meetings in the church & the grassy area in foreground is where a union organizer’s car was overturned & burned.

Local stores were pressured to cut off credit to the strikers, but Howard organized a food committee and began raising funds and food for strikers among the CIO unions and churches in Baltimore.

The workers—mostly African American women—held meetings to keep the strike organized and cope with their lack of income at the Shiloh ME (United Methodist) Church just off Route 413 on N. Fourth St. at the entrance of the town.

As the strike began its third week, Robert W. Knadler, a field examiner for the National Labor Relations Board, arranged a meeting between the packers and Howard. The conference quickly broke up when Howard demanded a contract guaranteeing rates for a definite period.

As the strikers held firm, the packinghouses, watermen and farmers combined forces. The watermen who set the lines to catch crabs were nearly all white, and the season was about to start with the packinghouses closed. Local farmers feared the cannery union would organize agricultural workers like it was attempting in New Jersey.

Mob Terrorizes Community

A white crowd estimated at between 100 and 300 gathered near a black section of town on N. Fourth Street on April 21. The mob broke into the home of two sisters who were on the strike committee, Eleanor Coulbourne and Martina Cooper.

Afro on Crisfield Strike with Headline, Article & 3 Photos: 1938

Afro American April 30, 1938 with banner headline “Troopers Halt Crisfield Mob,” story, “600 Girls on Strike” & 3 photos of strike, including Howard’s overturned & burned auto.

Mob leaders declared they would “ruin” Cooper and Howard if they found them, according to the Afro American newspaper. They broke into at least one other house on the street, but couldn’t find Cooper, Howard or another strike leader whose name they said was Terry Fowler.

Unable to find the strike leaders or the CIO organizers, they turned to the Shiloh Church on N. Fourth St. where Howard’s auto was parked. The mob overturned Howard’s car and set fire to it in front of the church.

The Associated Press reported, “The men were said to have been incensed because the organizers had been seen often in the Negro settlement.” According to oral history in Crisfield, Howard was hidden in Upturf, another black neighborhood located on Collins Street, about a half mile north of the church.

The local strike leaders stayed at home during the day, but took refuge with friends at night. Unable to find any of the organizers or strike leaders, members of the mob threatened to “burn the whole block,” according to the Afro American.

Mayor Bradshaw blamed the incident on “radical” and “hot-headed” persons, according to the Associated Press. The Afro American reported that Bradshaw said he was “not sure” whether the mob burned the car at all or whether it “caught fire itself.”

Union Organizers Forced Out of Town

Crisfield Sheriff William Dryden said he and his deputies were out of town during the car burning and when they returned did not make any arrests. The next day, Dahl reported from Salisbury that he had been “forced out of town” by vigilantes. He sent a telegram to Governor Nice requesting protection. Mayor Bradshaw denied any knowledge of Dahl’s eviction from the town.

Upturf Area, Possible CIO Refuge in Crisfield: 1938

Upturf area of Crisfield where CIO organizer Michael Howard may have been when his car was overturned & burned. Original photo courtesy of Crisfield Heritage Foundation, all rights reserved.

The following week, another CIO organizer was accosted. The men stopped an unidentified Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA) union representative in front of Boycraft factory, where 200 shirt makers were employed.

He was taken down a dirt road to the Somerset County line and was warned not to try to organize workers.  “We don’t want to hurt you, but you got to get out of town,” said one member of the mob.  According to the Washington Post, the departing organizer stood up in his automobile and said, “I am a CIO organizer and I don’t want to get hurt, but I’m coming back.”

Federal Conciliator Evicted From Crisfield

On April 28, the same day the ACWA organizer was run out of town, federal mediator Stanley White was also ushered out.

In the morning, a group estimated at 150-200 men, who thought he was Howard, stopped White and detained him, then let him go.

When he went back to his lodging, proprietor James Byrd ordered him out of the Somerset Hotel.

“I ordered him out because back of him there was possible trouble. For three days he has been riding around town with Michael Howard and has been a bigger nuisance than Howard. He has even started more trouble,” Byrd said, according to an account in the Washington Post.

Byrd contacted US Rep. Thomas Goldsborough (D-MD) and asked him to get White recalled by the federal government.  A telegram arrived to that effect several hours later.

Before he left town, White went to a meeting where town officials, packinghouse owners and union representatives were to meet and confer.

A. Stengle Marine, Maryland Commissioner of Labor and an Eastern Shore resident, was asked by the governor to attend to help attempt a settlement. Governor Nice also dispatched Major Elmer P. Munshower, commander of the state police, to Crisfield to “report the true facts.”

Before Marine or Munshower arrived, some of the vigilante crowd began tossing firecrackers at White, the federal mediator. The situation became uglier and White left the meeting and went to his car.  When he cranked the ignition, a blast was heard and the auto rocked violently.  Someone had rigged a type of loud explosive to go off when the car was started, although no actual damage was done to the auto. White was then escorted out of town.

The crowd, unsatisfied at evicting White turned their attention to Howard. After much shouting and firing weapons into the air by the crowd, Howard was also escorted out of town.

Mob Violence Begins to Backfire

The anti-strike group had overplayed their hand. Running union organizers out of town usually didn’t attract a lot of attention, but evicting a federal mediator not far from Washington, DC was perhaps like poking a sleeping bear.

Crab Pickers Union Meeting in Crisfield: 1938

Meeting of CIO crab pickers union at the Shiloh M E Church May 1938. Original photo courtesy of Crisfield Heritage Foundation, all rights reserved.

The Baltimore Sun editorialized, “One need not pass judgment on the merits of the strikers’ demands to insist that a community has failed in its duty when its police do not protect a labor organizer or an official interested in settling the strike. The situation at Crisfield is confused by the race issue, since the crab pickers are almost entirely Negro women, but that fact, while it may explain the antics of the vigilantes, does not excuse them.”

The Afro American was more direct: “Observers here point out that the defiance of the packers is one of the most open revolts against the National Labor Relations Act and are watching to see what the NLRB will do in the Crisfield situation where both labor and racial rights have been invaded.”

“So grave is the situation that the slightest untoward happening, it is said, would act as a spark to begin an orgy of lynchings, murders, burnings and the general destruction of property,” the Afro American wrote.

An in-depth article in the Baltimore Sun by Alfred Charles, an Eastern Shore resident, was published April 30 with the headline, “Crisfield Merchants and Citizens Lay Crab Pickers Strike to CIO.” The piece gave the impression that the packers might be willing to settle the strike, but not to bargain or sign a contract with the CIO.

Food Shipments to Strikers Blocked

Vigilantes began stopping all cars coming into Crisfield and demanding that occupants state their business.

Howard had collected 1,000 pounds of food to distribute, but was prohibited by town authorities from moving it in, according to the Afro American. Dahl asked Gov. Nice to provide an escort for the food, but Nice stalled for time.

The Afro wrote, “Crab packers, who have openly defied all constituted authority, together with local officers and leaders, have resorted to the tactics of starving the striking crab pickers out in order to force them back to work.”

N R Coulbourn: Packinghouse Did Not Reduce Rates: 1938

Virginia Lankford or Jackson at N. R. Coulbourn packinghouse in May 1938. Coubourn did not reduce rates and workers did not strike this plant. Original image courtesy of Crisfield Heritage Foundation, all rights reserved.

Throughout the strike, the women had not engaged in picketing and had instead organized quietly out of the public view.

Five smaller packinghouses opened back up with the start of the crabbing season May 2, one paying the old rate of 35 cents and the other four paying the reduced rate, in addition to the N. R. Coulbourn house that had operated continuously since the strike began. This first chink in the strikers’ armor now put some pressure on the strikers, although the large packinghouses remained closed.

Perhaps coincidentally with the reopening of some of the packinghouses, twelve extra state troopers began appearing in Crisfield, assigned by Munshower to keep order in the town. In any event, no arrests were reported of those involved in illegal activities designed to intimidate the striking women.

Women Head to Washington

On May 3, the striking women made their next move. Three of the striking crab pickers, along with Howard, traveled to Washington. There, Senator Robert La Follette (Prog.-WI) promised careful consideration of their request for an investigation after hearing of the deplorable working conditions and the violence directed toward the strike organizers and leaders. The women, whose identities were closely guarded, also met with Maryland’s two senators, Labor Department officials and federal conciliators.

The packers again failed to appreciate the politics of their actions. The Afro reported that “Packers have let it be known that the women sent to Washington to complain to the government won’t be safe if they return to Crisfield.”

The same day, the union filed charges that eleven Crisfield packing companies were violating the National Labor Relations Act.

Packers Change Their Tune

Now understanding for the first time that the tide was beginning to turn against them, the packers altered their public position.

Back in Crisfield, Marine reported the packers did not attend scheduled meetings on April 30 or May 3 to attempt to settle the strike because—they now claimed—the plants were closed because of unprofitable operations and not because of any refusal to deal with the CIO.

Marine went on to report that J. C. W. Tawes told him, “When we are ready to operate we will deal with the representatives of the workers.”

The women were holding firm while pressure was mounting on the packers. The widespread press exposure of mob activity and resistance to the Depression-era labor laws brought political pressure from both the Governor and the federal government to settle the strike..

As the strike moved into the crab season, watermen were forced into longer, more expensive trips to sell their crabs elsewhere and the Crisfield packinghouses were losing money to packers in other towns.

Victory for the Strikers

CIO Union Wins at Crisfield: 1938

May 13, 1938 edition of the Labor Herald, an independent Baltimore based labor newspaper.

On May 9, most of the large packers broke ranks and gave in.  Meeting at the Cambridge home of Marine, representatives of eight packinghouses and Howard agreed to the terms of a contract.

The agreement was signed May 10 to restore the rate to 35 cents a gallon and recognize the CIO cannery union as the bargaining agent for the workers.  Howard, whose auto had been burned and who had been run out of town more than once, signed for the union.

Tawes, who once said in 1931 that he would close the plant rather than accede to strikers’ demands, was a signatory.  The N. R. Carson Company, which had led the drive to reduce the rates, was another signer.  In all, the agreement signed by eight packinghouses covered well over half of the crabmeat pickers in Crisfield. It was among the first large seafood worker contracts on the East Coast.

Aftermath

The national cannery union had only been formed in 1937 and achieved explosive growth, particularly among African Americans in the South and migrant workers in the West. By the Spring of 1938 it had 347 locals and 118,000 members. The cannery union also made progress in Crisfield and was able to organize oyster shuckers at a number of plants in Crisfield by 1942.

The cannery union quickly came under attack for communist influence. US Rep. Martin Dies (D-TX), who chaired the House Special Committee on Un-American Activities, took testimony before his committee that named Dahl as a member of the Communist Party in 1938. In 1941, the Washington Post reported that the Dies committee named Michael Howard as a communist.

Leif Dahl, East Coast Cannery Union Leader: 1936

Leif Dahl, in charge of East Coast organizing for the CIO cannery union shown at a New Jersey meeting of agricultural workers in 1936. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The American Federation of Labor, in a bitter rivalry with the CIO at the time, sent in its own organizers to try to wrest some of the packinghouses from the CIO union and organize the unorganized. They gained a foothold at several packinghouses in Crisfield in the early 1940s, including the W. T. Handy Co., one of the larger packinghouses where the CIO had not obtained an agreement.

In 1944, the cannery union became the Food, Tobacco, Agricultural and Allied Workers of America (FTA) and was by then a leader among unions for the rights of women. Sixty-six percent of the contracts nationwide contained “equal pay for equal work” provisions, 75% contained maternity leave without loss of seniority provisions, and 44% of its elected representatives in the food service division were women.

However, after World War II, the FTA came under vicious red-baiting attacks by AFL unions, employers and elected officials, and it began losing units as quickly as it had gained them in the late 1930s.

By 1948, the AFL Meat Cutters & Butcher Workman’s Seafood Workers Local 453 were voted as the exclusive bargaining agent for nearly all packinghouses in Crisfield including J. C W Tawes & Son and C W. Howeth, completely supplanting the CIO union.

In 1950, the FTA was expelled from the CIO with nine other unions for alleged communist influence. Already in decline, it fell apart quickly after the expulsion and its few remaining workers were folded into the Distributing and Processing Workers of America.

Seafood Workers Local 453 continued to represent the workers in Crisfield and made significant improvement in wages and working conditions from the 1950s until the end of the 1980s. However, the ongoing decline of the Chesapeake Bay crab and oyster harvests and the related closure of nearly all packinghouses meant a long, slow decline in membership.  The closure of a Mrs. Paul’s frozen fish plant put an end to the union in March 1990.

(This post was updated 12/10/2012 to include Addendum 2 as part of this post.)

(This post was updated 12/28/2012 to include the Labor Herald image  in Addendum 2)

Author’s Notes

This 1938 strike led by black women workers that ended in a tangible victory is remarkable for many reasons and it represents one of the few victories on Maryland’s Eastern Shore by African Americans fighting against determined resistance prior to the modern civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s.

The material for this article is derived mainly from resources in the Maryland State Archives, the National Archives, The Crisfield Heritage Foundation, The Baltimore Sun, The Afro American, The Washington Post, Pedersen’s The Communist Party in Maryland 1919-57, Reutter’s Making Steel, & Feltault’s It’s How You Pick the Crab.

Accounts of this strike would be strengthened by original material from the strikers themselves—oral history, letters, diaries etc.  Hopefully future researchers will bring more of this remarkable story to light.

Craig Simpson is a former Secretary-Treasurer of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 and has a BA in labor studies from the National Labor College.  He can be contacted by email at washington_area_spark@yahoo.com.


Addendum I: Crisfield Heritage Foundation – “Returning Home: Photographs from 1938”

In Aug. 2009, a photography instructor in California who had historical images of the Crisfield area contacted the Tawes Museum.

They are well composed, high quality images taken during or immediately after the strike (a wall calendar in one of the photos is turned to May 1938). However, the photographer, purpose and how they ended up on the West Coast are unknown.

The style, subject matter and medium are similar to US Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information photographs from that period and cover most aspects of life in Crisfield.

Ten of the images are on permanent display at the Tawes Museum at 3 Ninth St. in Crisfield. Call ahead at (410) 968-2501 to arrange to see all of these stunning photos (there are 88 total images).

The images shown from the collection on this site are low-resolution, distorted versions of the photos and it is worth the trip to see the whole collection and the detail portrayed in the collection. The images shown on this site do not do the originals justice.

One of photos in the collection may show the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters marching in Crisfield, while others show farm life, scenes of the town, industry and the people who lived in that period, including a number of photographs related to the crab pickers strike.

The photographs in this series are property of the Crisfield Heritage Foundation. All rights are reserved.


Addendum 2: Michael Howard – Fighter for Workers

Crab Pickers Union Meeting in Crisfield: 1938

Union meeting at Shiloh ME Church in Crisfield MD, May 1938. Speaker is possibly Michael Howard. Original photo courtesy of Crisfield Heritage Foundation, all rights reserved.

Michael “Mike” Howard (formerly Smith—he took his wife’s last name when they married) joined the Young Communist League in 1932.

By 1936 he had joined the Communist Party (CP) and secured work at the Eastern Rolling Mill, a steel plant of about 1,000 workers just outside of Baltimore. Bethlehem Steel owned the plant and was fighting unionization tooth and nail at all its locations.

Howard put the first chink in the company armor when he successfully led a strike at the mill in 1936 that led to wage and benefit gains for the workers.  In 1937, he obtained union recognition for the Amalgamated Association of Iron, Steel & Tin Workers Local 1245 and signed the first contract as president of the local union.

He served as secretary-treasurer of the Baltimore Industrial Council, the umbrella group for CIO unions.

As an organizer for the cannery workers’ union, he traveled constantly through hostile territory on Maryland’s Eastern Shore . He helped guide the largely African American women crab pickers to victory in their 1938 five week strike against the Crisfield, Maryland packinghouses, despite being run out of town on several occasions and having his car overturned and burned.

In 1936, as a member of the CP, he helped a team recruit new CP members from Cumberland, MD at the huge Celanese Mill. They ended up forming much of the core for the successful CIO organizing in Western Maryland.  Howard became the liaison between the CIO and the Communist Party in Maryland.

Eastern Rolling Mill Strike Won: 1936

Howard led the strike at Eastern Rolling Mill to victory in 1936. Labor Herald, Vol. 1, No. 5, June 26, 1936.

As a CP member in 1936 he also volunteered to go door-to-door in East Baltimore to gain support for unionization at Sparrow’s Point, the massive mill in Dundalk outside of Baltimore. He worked briefly as an organizer for the United Mine Workers of America before securing employment himself at the Point.

He worked hard to persuade his co-workers to vote for the Steel Workers Organizing Committee in a 1941 National Labor Relations Board election. Following the union victory, he was elected zone committeeman in charge of all grievances for 2,400 workers in the open hearth department, the biggest in the mill.  Notably while there he fought for promotions for black steelworkers. Eventually he was chosen to chair the whole mill’s grievance committee.

When President Harry Truman seized the coal mines during a 1946 strike and the Taft-Hartley anti-labor, anti-communist act passed in 1947, Howard felt Truman was moving to reverse all the gains that labor had made. He threw himself into the third party candidacy of Henry Wallace in 1948 and quit attending CP meetings when he felt they were not sufficiently backing Wallace’s candidacy.

The steelworkers union was backing Truman and promptly removed Howard as zone committeeman on trumped-up charges of malfeasance. In 1951 he was called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) where he refused to answer questions about individuals, despite the CP expelling him three years earlier.

The company didn’t fire him as he expected, but he was stung when his coworkers, whom he had fought so hard for, stopped speaking to him. Many eventually came back around but, in a 1982 interview with author Mark Reutter for the book Making Steel, he reflected:

Really, I thought I was fighting on a different level. I was fighting on a level which went to my Marxist beliefs, and I was working for them on a level which represented only their particular interactions with the company. And perhaps it shows what a poor job I did in radicalizing and politicizing the people in my department. Perhaps I should have done a better job of bringing the two together. I’m sure I could have done a better job than I did.

Isolated from his coworkers and his comrades and frozen out of his union, Howard quit the plant in 1953, went back to school, and later worked conducting experiments with precision instruments that he had first encountered in the steel mills. Michael Howard died on June 30, 1986.

A DC Labor & Civil Rights Leader Remembered: Marie Richardson

19 Nov
Marie Lucinda Richardson (Harris)

Marie Richardson, a labor & civil rights leader in the 1940s, was imprisoned during the McCarthy era for 4 1/2 years. Photo D A Harris, ©Afro American Newspapers.

By Craig Simpson

Marie L. Richardson (Harris) was a leading organizer for civil rights and labor unions in the District of Columbia from the late 1930s until 1950.

Her pioneering work helped to organize the predominately African American Washington red caps union and their women’s auxiliary while still a teenager. She was a leader of the early fight to integrate Capital Transit operator jobs.  She was an active member of the National Negro Congress and served as the executive secretary of the local branch.   

According to the Afro American newspaper, she was the first African American woman to hold national office in a major labor union. In her role as national representative of the United Federal Workers, CIO she helped lead the union’s organizing drives and battles against discrimination inside the federal government in the District.

The price she paid for her leadership was four and a half years in a federal penitentiary, a victim of  McCarthy-era persecution.

Fighter In Her Youth

Marie Lucinda Richardson was born September 4, 1920 to Mattie and Griffin Richardson in Washington, DC and grew up in a row house at 1638 Florida Ave. NW along with her brother Thomas “Tommy” Richardson.  She attended the segregated District of Columbia schools, graduating from Morgan School in 1932, Garnet-Patterson Junior High School in January 1935 and Cardozo High School in January 1938.

DC Red Caps Union: 1938

Griffin Richardson (back row, 2nd from right) with Washington red caps union in 1938. Photo: Scurlock, courtesy National Archives.

Her father had been a baggage handler at Union Station since it opened in 1907 and was an officer in an early association of red caps. On July 5, 1933, he was a founder of the Washington Terminal Station Porters, a red caps unit fighting for better working conditions.

While still in high school, Marie Richardson helped her father organize the group into a union. The effort inspired red caps in other cities and in January 1938, they banded together to form the International Brotherhood of Red Caps later renamed the United Transport Service Employees.

In 1939, Richardson helped organize the women’s auxiliary of the union and was chosen as a national officer of the auxiliary in January 1940.  She was re-elected in 1942.

Youth Organizer and Early Work

After graduating from high school, Richardson attended Howard University and Terrell Law School and during that time worked at the dean’s office at Howard for two years. From 1940-42, she worked at the Office of War Information as a messenger and the Naval Gun Factory at the Washington Navy Yard as a machinist, where she was also active in the United Federal Workers (UFW), CIO.

Cardozo High School Class: 1938

Marie Richardson (3rd row, middle, surrounded by those in white) with Cardozo High School 1938 mid-year class. Photo: Scurlock, courtesy National Archives.

In 1941, Richardson was an organizer for the National Conference of Negro Youth and served as acting secretary of the “Washington Initiating Committee” of the conference.

She led the organizing of the three-day November conference of the organization enlisting the support of prominent civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune, popular entertainer Fats Waller and arranging for First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to speak at the conference.

In her role as youth organizer, she began fighting to desegregate government and industry in the District. “Our purpose is to give special attention to Negro young people who have been discriminated against in Washington or who have been working at jobs not commensurate with their qualifications,” she said in a statement.

Richardson’s committee began the early work on ending Jim Crow hiring at Capital Transit by soliciting letters and petitions from groups and individuals in support of hiring African American streetcar and bus operators. This work laid the groundwork for the eventual integration of operator ranks at the company in 1955.

First Black Woman National Representative at Major Union

She was selected national representative of the United Federal Workers (UFW), CIO in the Spring of 1943, becoming one of the first (perhaps the first) African American women to serve at that level in a major labor union.

Richardson worked to organize federal workers and the cafeteria workers employed by quasi-private contractors in federal and defense department cafeterias.  She helped lead the UFW organizing efforts and fights against discrimination at Freedmen’s Hospital, teachers at Howard University, the Bureau of Engraving, Federal Security Agency and US Treasury Department.

During the World War II years she also volunteered for the Office of Civilian Defense where she received two commendations for her work as a sector air raid warden.

Executive Secretary of DC National Negro Congress

Richardson had been active in the local chapter of the National Negro Congress (NNC) since the late 1930s.  The NNC was a broad civil rights organization based in the black working class that emphasized direct action in contrast to the legal strategy of the NAACP.

She was selected as executive secretary of the District of Columbia unit of the NNC in 1945 where she continued work on police brutality, voting rights for District of Columbia residents and desegregating the operator jobs at the Capital Transit Company.

When Charles Hamilton Houston resigned from the federal Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) in protest of President Harry Truman’s thwarting an order forcing the transit company to hire African American operators, Richardson drafted a letter from the local NNC blasting Truman.

The letter charged that Truman’s actions were “in substance, a declaration of support of the Jim Crow laws in operation” in the District. “Your letter [Truman’s] is a cynical welcome for colored veterans returning to their homes in Washington looking for fair employment without discrimination,” the letter continued.

Marie Richardson at Home at Her Desk

Marie Richardson at Florida Ave NW home in 1946. Photo: D. A. Harris Jr.©Afro American Newspaper.

While at the NNC, Richardson led the local campaign to pass a bill for a permanent federal FEPC. Despite the Capital Transit debacle, the FEPC had helped to desegregate some of the defense related industry during World War II.  When a filibuster was conducted in the U.S. Senate to stop the bill, Richardson led picketing at the home of each Senator blocking the bill (see photo of Richardson picketing here, click “browse this newspaper” & navigate to Feb 2, 1946 edition, page 24).

The bill ultimately died in the Senate. However, President Truman issued an executive order in 1948 prohibiting employment discrimination in the federal government.

She organized an outdoor anti-lynching rally in July 1947 that drew 500 people where Savannah Churchill, a popular singer, declared that “people must unit themselves to stop the terrible crimes” of lynching. As organizer of the event, Richardson offered resolutions adopted by the group in support of federal anti-lynching legislation and condemning discrimination in the District of Columbia.

In late 1947, the NNC merged into the Civil Rights Congress (CRC), a group that had originally been created to pursue legal and legislative strategies.

Richardson’s work with the NNC spilled over to the CRC and she helped build support for the strike over wages and benefits by Local 471 of the United Cafeteria Workers (UPW, CIO) union in 1947 and again in 1948 when the union waged an 11 week strike after a government-sponsored corporation refused to bargain with a “red union.”

In 1948, she took a job as campaign manager for Joseph Rainey, Progressive Party candidate for Congress in Philadelphia.  Rainey’s grandfather was the first black congressman during Reconstruction and Rainey had been elected magistrate in Philadelphia and had served as president of the Local NAACP chapter. Rainey lost, but out-polled Progressive Party presidential candidate Henry Wallace in the district.

After returning to Washington, Richardson assisted Henry Thomas’s Building Laborer’s Local 74 in their one-day strike in June 1949.  In the post WWII years, Richardson was also active with the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Council of Women and the Committee to Abolish the Poll Tax.

In 1950, Richardson moved to New York City with her husband, Rev. Benjamin Harris who became the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Philadelphia in Long Island.  The two operated a dry cleaning establishment to make ends meet.

Federal Loyalty Oath

In March 1947, President Harry S. Truman issued an executive order requiring loyalty oaths of all government employees.  Current and prospective employees were required to pledge they were not members of the Communist Party and to disclose, in writing, current and past membership in organizations deemed “subversive” by the Attorney General.  It was the opening salvo in a series of actions that drove most communists and other left-wing activists out of jobs in government and private industry and out of the labor and civil rights movements.

The initial “subversive list” was published in the federal register March 20, 1948 and included the National Negro Congress, the Civil Rights Congress and the Communist Party.

The order did not provide criminal penalties, but set up “loyalty boards” to fire employees it deemed guilty of disloyalty.

Shortly after the order went into effect in 1948, Richardson applied for and was hired for a temporary clerical job at the Library of Congress where she worked for three months.  In May 1949, she re-applied and was hired again for a clerical job at the Library where she worked for several months before her move to New York.

Markward Infiltrates Communist Party

Long before the loyalty oath, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was spying on left-wing organizations, including the Communist Party.

Mary Markward Testifies Before HUAC: 1951

Mary Markward testifies before HUAC. Her testimony helped convict Marie Richardson and send her to prison. World-Telegram & Sun Newspaper Collection, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The FBI approached Mary Stalcup Markward in March 1943 to infiltrate the District of Columbia Communist Party after the FBI determined that several of her beauty shop customers were associated with the group.

Markward worked diligently at routine Communist Party tasks and was elevated to local treasurer and a member of the governing board of the Maryland-DC state party. Markward was in charge of membership, including the collection of dues from District of Columbia party members.  During this time Markward made regular reports to the FBI.

In June 1951, Markward began testifying in secret before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) about communist activities in the Washington area, ultimately naming over 200 people as members of the Communist Party.  In July, Marie Richardson and her father Griffin were named in newspapers as members of the Communist Party identified by Markward.

Richardson Indicted, Faces 40 Years

By November 1951, it was the height of the Korean War where the US sent troops against communist-led forces. Eleven national unions had been expelled from the CIO labor federation for alleged communist ties, along with numerous members of individual AFL and CIO unions. Julius & Ethel Rosenberg had been sentenced to death for allegedly passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union.

Leaders of the US Communist Party were jailed under the Smith Act and many more members and left-leaning activists were under investigation or facing trial.  None were convicted for any specific alleged acts to overthrow the government, but were instead jailed for alleged communist beliefs or membership in the Communist Party.

Some were jailed for contempt when they refused to answer questions in Congressional hearings about their beliefs, organizations they belonged to or people that they knew or may have known. Others had their names and addresses published in newspapers, were fired from their jobs and blacklisted.

Richardson was indicted November 30 for “false and fraudulent statements” stemming from her signed loyalty oaths and her job applications for the library clerical jobs in 1948 and 1949.  She faced a $10,000 fine and five years in prison for each of eight counts that charged she had not revealed past membership in “subversive organizations.”

Critics of loyalty oaths contended that they accomplished little and the government was determined to prove them wrong.  Richardson’s imprisonment would show that the loyalty oath program worked.  Further, jailing Richardson who no longer lived in the area or worked for the federal government would bolster the message that anyone who was affiliated with left-leaning unions and civil rights organizations were not safe unless they renounced other members and the organizations.

William Hitz, Assistant United States Attorney sent out a chilling message that, “he expected there would be many more [indictments] here and elsewhere.”  He made a point to say that Richardson was “uncovered” during a “routine” FBI loyalty check, although authorities were well aware of Richardson for years.

Among the organizations Hitz cited in support of the indictment were Richardson activities with the National Negro Congress, American Youth Congress, Americans for Peace Mobilization and the Americans for Democratic Action along with the Communist Party.

Arraignment & Suppression of Defense Committee

At Richardson’s December 14 arraignment, she was released on $1,000 bond pending trial set for January 17, 1952.  Before she could leave the courthouse, Richardson was detained by US Marshals who demanded the names of those who had helped her with bail money.  Richardson refused to answer their questions.

Ralph Powe, a prominent CRC attorney from New York, represented her at the arraignment and charged that it was “…another attempt on the part of the government to silence outspoken colored leaders.”

If anyone doubted the government’s desire to make an example of Richardson, that notion was quickly dispelled.

Committee to Defend Marie Richardson Pamphlet: 1952 ca

Committee to Defend Marie Richardson pamphlet, 1952 ca.

January 13, 1952, police raided a party to raise money for Richardson.  Twelve police officers broke up the party attended by about 60 persons and arrested one for selling whiskey without a license.  According to the Afro-American, police seized an envelope marked “Marie Richardson Defense Committee” containing $980 as evidence.

Richardson was detained, but not arrested by police.  However, police took the names and addresses of all persons at the party “in case witnesses were needed,” and confiscated the list of contributors.

The drive to sandbag defense efforts later resulted in the 1953 attorney general listing of the Committee to Defend Marie Richardson  as a subversive organization.

Trial and Conviction

Powe put together a strong legal defense team for Richardson.  James A. Cobb was a former municipal court judge and a vice-dean of the Howard University law school. George A. Parker founded the Robert H. Terrell School of Law in 1931 and later was appointed as a federal judgeBarrington Parker was law partner with his father, defended Paul Robeson and W. E. B DuBois and was later appointed by President Nixon as a federal judge. George E. C. Hayes was the lead attorney on the Supreme Court case that desegregated Washington, DC public schools in 1954.  Powe was a veteran civil rights attorney.

However, the team was only able to obtain a brief postponement to prepare and the trial began February 18 before Judge James R. Kirkland and a jury of eight whites and four blacks

The short time between arraignment and trial resulted in long hours for the defense team.  Barrington Parker told the Afro-American newspaper that most of each night was spent in research, resulting in little sleep for any of them.

The government’s called only three witnesses.  The first, Leon W. Seidner, chief of operations at the Library of Congress, testified Richardson denied communist affiliations in applying for clerical jobs in 1948 and 1949.

The legal case against Richardson hinged on the testimony of Markward and that of Henry Thomas, the laborer’s union president who quit the Communist Party in 1949 and denounced those he alleged to be members to HUAC in 1950.

Thomas testified that he had known Richardson since 1939 and had been at meetings of the Young Communist League with her. Thomas further testified that he and Richardson had been at a number of different meetings with high profile Communist Party leaders over the years.

DC Home of Marie Richardson: 2012

DC home of Marie Richardson where she grew up and stayed during her trial shown in 2012.

Under cross-examination defense attorneys quickly had Thomas back peddling on a number of assertions.  He recanted numerous dates and places of meetings when challenged and admitted that he or his wife had invited many of the communist leaders to the meetings, some of which had been meetings of the NAACP. At times Thomas was uncertain whether Richardson had even been present.

Markward’s testimony was more crucial, given her job as keeper of the Communist Party membership records.  Markward testified she [Markward] filled out Richardson’s membership card in her own handwriting in 1946. However, Markward said that Richardson never picked up the card. Markward further testified that she kept the card in her own possession. The card was entered into evidence by the prosecution.

Under cross-examination Markward admitted that she saw no documents signed by Richardson indicating that she was a party member, “I have never seen Mrs. Richardson fill out a party card,” Markward acknowledged.

In other evidence, Markward testified that Richardson once gave a report on the local National Negro Congress of which Richardson was then executive secretary.  Under cross-examination, Markward admitted the aim of the Congress was to “better the status of negroes,” but also testified that the organization received support from the Communist Party.

Defense attorneys challenged her motivation and branded her as a paid informant, but Markward said her work was “without compensation” and denied receiving any funds from the FBI, other than incidental expenses, and said her motives were patriotic.

When the trial ended after more than a week, no Communist Party membership card in Richardson’s writing or dues payment records with Richardson’s name were produced and defense attorney Hayes told the jury there was “no evidence anywhere that Mrs. Richardson ever joined the Communist Party.”

Hayes went on to say that Richardson’s long association with the National Negro Congress only showed that she “dedicated herself to do something for a race of people with which she was identified.”

The jury began deliberations late February 28 and the elder Parker expressed the belief that a hung jury would result.

However, after six hours of deliberations the jury returned to the courtroom. Each juror stood and read his or her verdict on each count.  Two of the African American jurors hesitated for a long moment before softly saying guilty, but Richardson was convicted on all counts. The anti-communist hysteria of the day was ultimately too much to overcome.  Kirkland refused bond and remanded Richardson to jail pending sentencing.

Sentence & Further Degradation

On March 7, Kirkland sentenced Richardson to a prison term of 28 months to 7 years and fined her $2000.  Kirkland gave gushing praise to Markward saying, “she gave valiantly of her services. She deserves to take her place alongside of Molly Pitcher, Barbara Fritchie and Clara Barton.”

He blasted Richardson and admitted he was sentencing her for her beliefs, “Your teachings at your mother’s knee and your American father should not have permitted you to embrace such false doctrines.  You, a highly educated woman, have brought this upon yourself.” Kirkland again refused to set bond during appeal and remanded her to jail.

In another apparent attempt to degrade her and send a message to others, she was hauled before a grand jury investigating drug trafficking almost immediately after sentencing.  When Richardson said she wanted to consult a lawyer, she was not questioned, but the incident was publicized by the local newspapers. Assistant United State Attorney Thomas Wadden, Jr. declined to state to the Washington Post why he was calling Richardson. Richardson was never recalled to testify.

Appeals and Prison

Richardson’s defense team eventually secured her release on $5,000 bail.  David Rein and Joseph Forer, attorneys with extensive experience defending accused communists, assisted with the appeal. A number of grounds for overturning the verdict were raised, but most significantly that Markward had misled the jury on a key point.

After the trial, documents were discovered that showed Markward had been paid a little over $24,000 by the FBI–which equates to about $207,000 in 2012 dollars or about $30,000 per year—at odds with the small-reimbursed expenses Markward claimed during trial.

Nevertheless, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that “the contentions made by [the] appellants are insubstantial.  There is no reversible error and the judgment of conviction and the order denying the motion for a new trial must and hereby are affirmed.”

Richardson’s attorneys appealed back to Judge Kirkland for a reduction of sentence and sought a US Supreme Court review.  They were turned down on both counts.  In July 1954, Richardson was ordered to jail and sent to Alderson Federal Penitentiary in West Virginia.

Richardson’s Release

Richardson was denied parole several times and served four years before a group of African American ministers persuaded the parole board to reconsider their decision.

Appearing before the parole board on Richardson’s behalf were Rev. Ct. T. Murray, pastor of the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church, The Rev. N. H. Travis, Salem Baptist Church; the Rev. Andrew Fowler, president of the Baptist District Convention, the Rev. J. H. Randolph, chairman of the Fraternal Council of Churches and the Rev. Wendell C. Somerville, representing the Baptist Ministers Conference.

Richardson was finally released from prison in October 1958.

Richardson died without fanfare March 6, 1987. Richardson’s final viewing was held March 12, 1987 at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in Washington, DC and her final resting place is in Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, MD.

Author’s notes:  Richardson’s contributions to the District of Columbia labor and civil rights movements were lost in the anti-communist frenzy of the 1950s. Her pioneering stint as perhaps the first African American woman to hold a major national trade union office receives scant attention in labor, civil rights and women’s histories. The injustice of four and a half years in prison related to a loyalty oath that was overturned by the Supreme Court years later has also been forgotten.

Most information for this article came from the Washington Afro American, Chicago Defender, Atlanta Daily World, Washington Post, Washington Star, Ginger & Christiano’s “The Cold War Against Labor,” court documents and HUAC transcripts.

Craig Simpson is a former Secretary-Treasurer of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 and has a BA in labor studies from the National Labor College.  He can be contacted by e-mail at washington_area_spark@yahoo.com. 

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