Tag Archives: civil rights

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.

Contradictions in the Cause: Glen Echo Maryland 1960

26 Jun
Glen Echo Integration Picket Line: 1960

Protesters demand Glen Echo admit African Americans in 1960.

By Daniel Hardin

The story of the effort to end segregation at Glen Echo Amusement Park in Montgomery County, Maryland 55 years ago is an inspiring one that continues to be celebrated today.

A mixed group of black and white college students from the local Nonviolent Action Group (NAG) began picketing the facility in June 1960 calling for an end to the privately owned park’s policy of barring African Americans.

The neighboring residents of the overwhelmingly white and majority Jewish community of Bannockburn joined them. Together they sustained the picket lines through the summer heat in the face of American Nazi Party counter demonstrators until the owners gave in and finally desegregated the facility the following spring.

The effort involved harassment and arrests and resulted in a precedent setting court case establishing that an off-duty sheriff deputy employed as a park guard conducting the arrests at the behest of the park owners was in fact an agent of the state. Such use of a state agent to enforce segregation was illegal, the Supreme Court ruled in 1964. It was a resounding victory all the way around–both in the social forces involved and the outcome.

Lost in the re-telling of the story is how some white participants worked to depose the black leader of NAG in the middle of the Glen Echo fight and replace him with one more palatable to the Kennedy-Johnson presidential ticket that opposed enacting national legislation on civil rights. The successful attempt, in turn, sowed some of the seeds of the black power movement later in the decade.

Background to Glen Echo Protest

The storied Glen Echo Amusement Park opened in 1891 as a segregated facility featuring concerts and other arts performances. Streetcar service to Glen Echo began the same year. The park didn’t fare well featuring performing arts and converted to an amusement park in the early twentieth century.

At the time Glen Echo opened, the reversal of African American gains during the Reconstruction period was at its peak and both terror and new segregationist laws were enforcing Jim Crow.

The nascent civil rights movement in the Washington area tried a number of tactics to fight the renewed denial of the rights of African Americans ranging from protests against lynching to armed self-defense during the Washington “riot” of 1919.

Scottsboro pickets clash with police at Supreme Court: 1932

An unauthorized march to “Free the Scottsboro Boys” at the Supreme Court in 1932 introduces civil disobedience to the early rights movement.

The tactic of civil disobedience for civil rights was introduced in Washington, D.C. during the Scottsboro campaign in 1932 when communists staged a prohibited march on the Supreme Court.

The boycott was introduced during the 1930s in a campaign to force those doing business in the black community to hire African Americans. District of Columbia residents also employed a wide range of methods in a fight against police brutality 1938-41.

Picket lines and court cases largely de-segregated public facilities within the District of Columbia during the 1940s and 50s, but the suburbs remained bastions of segregation.

The sit-in tactic was utilized at the Alexandria, Virginia public library in 1939, but the approach was not adopted on a widespread basis either in the Washington, D.C. area or around the country.

However, the use of the tactic exploded when four African American students from North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University began a movement when they staged a sit-in at a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina on February 1, 1960.

Origins of the Nonviolent Action Group

At the same time, a 25-year old divinity student was forming a group dedicated to civil rights action at Howard University. Laurence Henry led a small group of Howard students who were joined by students from other area colleges to picket the Capitol in March 1960 demanding movement on a federal civil rights bill. The organization was named the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG).

The picket line was completely ignored and Henry concluded that picketing targets like the Capitol and the White House were a “waste of time,” according to the Washington Post.

Arrested for Arlington Sit-In: 1960

Laurence Henry (right) arrested at a sit-in at Howard Johnson in Arlington, Virginia June 10, 1960 during the desegregation campaign.

Instead Henry decided to emulate the Greensboro sit-ins. He first targeted Alexandria, Va., which responded by agreeing to undertake a quick desegregation study composed of black leaders and white businesses in return for a postponement of demonstrations. Henry agreed and moved NAG’s first sit-in to Arlington, Virginia. On June 9th a small interracial group began a sit in at a People’s Drug Store and quickly spread to other restaurants and lunch counters in that city.

They were confronted by up to 300 residents organized by the American Nazi Party and several arrests by police, including Henry. However the demonstrators continued their sit-ins for two weeks until most major chain stores agreed to desegregate. Alexandria city officials quickly announced that chain stores and restaurants in the town would also desegregate and Fairfax County gave similar notice a week later.

Glen Echo Protests Begin

Kids Celebrate Day at Glen Echo Park: 1947

Washington Star news carriers enjoying themselves in segregated Glen Echo in 1947.

Fresh from victory in Virginia, the group picked Glen Echo Park in Montgomery County, Maryland as its next target. Glen Echo was a high-profile segregated facility and it was believed victory there would start the rest of the dominos in the Maryland suburbs tumbling.

The protests began early in the day on June 30th when two African American young women, Maudie Parker and Louise York, entered the park and were ordered to leave.

After the young women complied with the order, NAG leader Laurence Henry moved toward the gate and was halted by park security chief Francis J. Collins. A WWDC radio reporter recorded the conversation as follows: Collins: “What race do you belong to?” to which Henry responded, “I belong to the human race.”

Collins barred admittance and an integrated group of 60 people set up a picket line, carrying signs that read, “Glen Echo Should Echo Democracy” and “End Jim Crow at Glen Echo.”

Demonstrators enter the park

Henry soon defied Collins and led a group of about two-dozen into the park to The Ranch restaurant, which promptly closed down. About a dozen protesters moved onto the merry-go-round after white supporters bought tickets for the group.

Arrest on the Carousel at Glen Echo Park: 1960

Francis Collins places Marvous Saunders under arrest on the Glen Echo carousel June 30, 1960.

Collins, who was also a Montgomery County deputy sheriff, placed five African Americans under arrest after they refused to leave the ride within five minutes of his order to do so. Those arrested were Gwendolyn Greene (Britt), Cecil Washington, Marvous Saunders, Michael Proctor and William Griffin.

The demonstrations lasted about three hours on the first day, but it was just the first of hundreds of hours of picketing that involved assaults by the American Nazi Party and more arrests by police, Henry was beaten and arrested by police August 3rd in Glen Echo. In the county jail he joined fellow NAG member Dion Diamond in a hunger strike before police released the pair August 5th.

A number of residents from the nearby community of Bannockburn quickly joined in the picketing. Bannockburn was a close-knit progressive community, including many residents of the Jewish faith and several labor union leaders.

Counter demonstrators from the American Nazi Party showed up as well, broadcasting their messages of hate and attacking civil rights demonstrators with their fists from time to time. However, the Nazi’s presence probably increased support for the civil rights demonstrators.

Community brings new resources

Confidence in the Cause: Glen Echo, MD 1960

Nazis counter demonstrat0rs at Glen Echo while lone picket for civil rights passes by July 11, 1960.

The residents built their own support network and began supplying picketers to help sustain the lines. On many days they were the only ones picketing.

Irene Stambler, one of the residents remembered in a 2005 interview with Washington Jewish Week that the Bannockburn community provided food, permitted protesters to use bathrooms in their homes and “served lots and lots of lemonade” during the hot, humid summer weather.

Gwendolyn Britt, one of those arrested on the carousel and an early NAG activist, said, “”I have to applaud the community and the residents for joining in and supporting our action, for insisting that residents did not sit idly by,” according to WJW.

In addition to the logistical support, the Bannockburn community brought political connections that NAG lacked. Herman Bookbinder, another Bannockburn resident who was then a lobbyist for the AFL-CIO and later joined the Kennedy administration, brought high-profile rights activists into the fight.

Some other prominent people also lent support. Entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. agreed to do a fundraiser for legal defense of those arrested, which NAG leader Henry estimated at 43 people at the time. The only African American U.S. congressman, Adam Clayton Powell (D-NY) also weighed in.

Perhaps most importantly, the Bannockburn community began to bring political pressure on the Montgomery County Council to cease busing students to Glen Echo as part of its recreation program. “It was natural that our community was responsive to it…It responded beautifully, both Jews and non-Jews,” Bookbinder said in the WJW article.

Laurence Henry

Jackie Robinson with Laurence G. Henry: 1962

Laurence Henry (right) with baseball great Jackie Robinson in Baltimore in 1963.

Laurence Henry was born in Philadelphia, Pa. in 1934 as one of 11 children to Walter L. and Vera Robinson Henry who raised their sons and daughters to excel.

Henry, an African American divinity student at Howard, was part of a new generation that demanded civil rights now and didn’t have the patience for incremental change that was advocated by many of the movement’s elder leaders.

During the Glen Echo picketing of 1960, Henry attended a meeting on civil rights sponsored by the NAACP in Washington, D.C. that was attended by a number of prominent leaders and celebrities. Jibreel Khazan, one of the Greensboro Four, remembered in a 1979 interview that Henry stood up and said,

I did not come here to drink tea and speak sympathy. I came here to get involved with rights for my people.”

Henry then left the room. Khazan related that people in the room were baffled. They simply had no understanding of what Henry was trying to say. But Henry gave meaning to the words through his actions.

100 Hour Picket at the Hiser Theater in Bethesda, MD: 1960

100 hour picket at the Hiser Theater July 1960.

Henry led other desegregation efforts in Montgomery County that summer, joining Rockville residents led by the Rev. Cecil Bishop in a sit-in at the Hi-Boy Restaurant July 9 that resulted in 25 arrests, but also in desegregation of the restaurant two weeks later.

After four arrests at the Hiser Theater in Bethesda, Henry led a 100-hour picket line July 26-28 to protest the theaters refusal to permit African Americans to view films.

The Civil Rights Bill of 1960

U.S. Senate Democratic and Republican leadership collaborated to pass a weak voting rights bill in 1960. Amendments to make the bill meaningful such as providing for the U.S. Attorney General to file for civil injunctions against officials committing rights violations or for a permanent Commission on Equal Job Opportunity were tabled or defeated by with bi-partisan votes.

NAACP lobbyist Clarence Mitchell wrote, “The Civil Rights Bill passed by Congress failed to meet the NAACP’s standard of a meaningful civil rights bill…” After the bill passed, the Democratic Party adopted a platform at their Presidential nominating convention July 11-15 that contained many of the measures they had fought against adding to the bill. Presidential nominee Sen. John F. Kennedy and vice-presidential nominee Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson were thereby then forced to run on a platform they both opposed.

Bible Answers Race Hate at Sit-In: Arlington VA, 1960

American Nazi Party members and supporters confront Laurence Henry (right) and another protestor during an Arlington sit-in June 9, 1960.

Rights advocates, however, were buoyed by the platform that was not watered down like the usual planks on civil rights.

Republican Senate minority leader Everett Dirksen saw an opening to embarrass Kennedy and Johnson and introduced a series of civil rights measures including federal aid for school districts that voluntarily desegregated and a measure that would establish an agency to enforce equal job opportunity.

Both Kennedy and Johnson, the Senate majority leader, reacted quickly. Kennedy felt he could ill-afford to alienate southern Democrats whom he believed he needed to win the presidency.

Harris Wofford, brought into the Democratic presidential campaign to win the African American vote, devised a strategy for a grand bargain whereby the Democrats would make raising the minimum wage in 1960 their centerpiece while promising civil rights leaders that major rights legislation would be the first order of business for a new Kennedy administration. In the meantime, they would kill the Dirksen initiatives.

They quickly signed up Democratic U.S. Senators and Representatives to support the plan and enlisted liberal Sen. Joseph S. Clark (D-Pa.), a staunch civil rights advocate, to lead the charge. Clark moved to table Senate bill 3823. His motion was adopted by a vote of 54 to 28. This prevented any further action on the bill.

This was the only record vote on civil rights between the adoption of the party platforms and the adjournment of the 86th Congress. Both Kennedy and Johnson went on record voting against taking action on civil rights.

Many of the new civil rights activists viewed this as betrayal. Veterans like Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. and Ralph Abernathy tacitly supported Republican Richard M. Nixon for president. Dirksen had dealt a blow, but it would not prove to be a fatal one.

Henry Plans Sit-in at Democrat’s Office

Henry reacted with outrage and accused Clark of “shaking hands with the devil,” [referring to southern Democrats] when speaking at an August 14 NAACP meeting in the District of Columbia and announced his intention to lead a sit-in at Clark’s office, according to The Evening Star.

Clark denounced Henry’s remarks as “irresponsible.” Some of the Bannockburn residents moved to quickly blunt Henry. At a meeting August 15, they demanded he apologize to Clark. Henry refused–after all as he’d said earlier he wasn’t here to “drink tea and speak sympathy.”

Civil rights leaders bolster line at Glen Echo: 1960

Roy Wilkins, A. Phillip Randolph, Hyman Bookbinder, Laurence Henry and Gwendolyn Greene on picket line at Glen Echo, MD August 17, 1960.

Perhaps coincidentally, perhaps cynically Bookbinder arranged for Roy Wilkins, executive secretary of the NAACP, A. Phillip Randolph, president of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, and William Oliver of the United Automobile Workers to walk the picket line August 17 at Glen Echo. Bookbinder was lobbying for the AFL-CIO priority of raising the minimum wage that was part of Wofford’s “grand bargain.”

Bookbinder’s show of power in bringing national rights leaders to the local struggle had its effects on local rights activists. Later in the week, a meeting was arranged between Clark and members of NAG by Bookbinder. The students gave Clark a written apology that extolled Clark as “a major figure in the battle for civil rights legislation,” according to the Washington Post. However, Henry refused to express regret for his remarks.

Henry Removed from Leadership

Montgomery mug shot photo of Laurence Henry: 1960

Laurence Henry’s mug shot from a Montgomery County MD arrest in 1960.

Members of NAG held a meeting August 19 and removed Henry from leadership and designated Howard physics student Woody Jenkins as president. Jenkins said Henry’s plan to sit-in a Clark’s office was the “height of irresponsibility.”

Henry reacted calmly when speaking to the press, “The whole thing is that they claim they haven’t had enough voice, that I’ve been dictating. They wanted to have a hand in policy making.”

But on August 21st during a speech in Washington, African American Congressman Adam Clayton Powell (D-NY) referred to Henry’s ouster and blasted, “an effort to make a certain young man in this town a captive colored man.” Powell had earlier in his talk used “captive” to mean “Uncle Tom.” Powell promised to “present the facts to the public about the people who were forcing this young man to change his stand,” according to the Afro American. Henry was present during Powell’s speech.

Henry stuck to his principles and announced his intention to continue working to desegregate Glen Echo and was quoted in the Star saying, “It’s my project, I’ll be there until the place closes,”

Henry announced plans to march from Washington to Baltimore demanding a federal court injunction against Glen Echo. Leonard Brown, a spokesperson for NAG, denounced the effort saying, “Anything he does in this fashion, he does on his own,” according to the Star. But Henry went ahead with the 12-hour overnight march to the hearing in Baltimore and a number of NAG members joined him, including Gwendolyn Britt, one of those arrested on the carousel at Glen Echo.

Victory at Glen Echo

Judge James H. Pugh Orders Subversion Probe: 1969

Judge James H. Pugh presided over the trial of Glen Echo protesters in 1960.

Picketing did in fact continue into the fall until the park closed for the season. Three days before the park closed, the Montgomery County government agreed to stop busing white children to the Crystal Pool as part of their recreation program.

The park’s owners, Abram and Samuel Baker were seemingly unmoved. “This has always been a segregated park and we intend to keep it that way,” said a park spokesperson according to the Washington Post.

Judge James H. Pugh convicted the five African American students accused of trespassing for using tickets bought by whites to board the merry-go-round. In open court, Pugh justified his decision saying,

Imagine, college students from New York and college students from other places trying to force your ideas on the way other people run their businesses.

The political pressure, however, was building as public opinion increasingly swung against the segregationists. In early 1961, Bookbinder left his job with the AFL-CIO and took a position as assistant to the Secretary of Commerce and prevailed upon new Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to get involved. Kennedy threatened park owners with revoking the lease that permitted streetcars to service the park.

First Black Children at Glen Echo: 1961

Alfred Beal (l) and Larry Murrell (r) are the first African American children to ride the Glen Echo, MD merry-go-round March 30, 1961.

Shortly afterward, the Baker brothers quietly announced that Glen Echo would open in the spring of 1961 as a desegregated facility. On March 30, 1961 Alfred Beal and Larry Murrell, both age 10, became the first African Americans to ride the carousel at the park.

The case of the five arrested on the carousel made its way to the Supreme Court where attorney Joseph L. Rauh, Jr. argued that the justices should rule the convictions for trespassing were invalid. In 1964, the Court found that Collins was acting as an agent of the County to enforce private segregation and thereby his actions were illegal when he placed the five under arrest.

Kennedy Fails to Keep Promises

Sit-In Vets Demand Civil Rights Legislation: 1960

Veterans of lunch counter sit-ins picket the White House August 15, 1960 demanding action on a civil rights bill.

After tabling the civil rights legislation, Congress also declined to pass a minimum wage increase. The legislative process had failed all participants in the Glen Echo protests in 1960.

Kennedy turned the tables on Nixon by securing much of the African American vote when Wofford convinced him to make a private phone call to Coretta Scott King in October 1960. Mrs. King was expecting a child any day while her husband languished in a Fulton County, Ga. jail. Kennedy expressed sympathy for Mrs. King’s plight and aides promptly leaked the conversation to the press.

The press asked Republican nominee Richard Nixon about King’s jailing and he responded “no comment.” King was released from jail shortly afterward and the word of Kennedy’s unprecedented phone call by a major presidential candidate and King’s subsequent release spread like wildfire through the black community.

Rev. King Sr. quickly switched his endorsement from Nixon to Kennedy and Abernathy urged African Americans to put away their Nixon buttons and vote for Kennedy. Kennedy won the 1960 election by the narrowest of margins, bolstered by an estimated 70% of the African American vote. But he quickly forgot his promise to introduce a major civil rights initiative as the first order of business for his administration.

It would be three years after his initial commitment before he put any weight behind a meaningful bill and another year before it passed Congress under President Lyndon Johnson. In the meantime, the Klan’s terrorist murders, government enforcement of segregation and police violence rained down on civil rights activists.

Henry Continues Activism

Henry continued his civil rights activism with NAG, regaining a leadership position as chair of the planning committee. A young Howard student named Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) joined NAG and began working with Henry on actions. Carmichael would go onto head SNCC and becoming the leading black power spokesperson of his era. Henry organized several hundred people to picket the White House on Nov. 8th –Election Day 1960—around four demands:

  • Compliance with the 1954 Supreme Court ruling desegregating schools.
  • Free elections in the South and Washington, D.C.
  • Complete integration of public accommodations and businesses that receive government contracts.
  • Change the Senate and House rules to remove the filibuster and other obstacles to truly meaningful civil rights laws.
Harris Wofford replies May 29, 1961 to Laurence Henry's request for a meeting.

On May 29, 1961, Harris Wofford offers to meet with Laurence Henry.

In the spring of 1961, Henry sought a White House meeting between the President’s office and direct action rights activists. He received an invitation from his old adversary Wofford who wrote,

…I have heard of your work for a long time and would personally like to meet and talk with you.

Henry later took part in the civil rights marches on Selma and in Montgomery Alabama. He also worked for several years as a freelance photographer documenting civil rights struggles and leaders like Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., growing particularly close to Malcolm.

Henry was beaten within inches of his life in Chester, Pa. by white racists while photographing 1964 civil rights demonstrations in the Philadelphia suburb.

Laurence Henry photo of Malcolm X: 1964

Laurence Henry photo of Malcolm X. Malcolm reportedly “loved it.”

He traveled to the Dominican Republic in 1965 and interviewed Lt. Col. Montest Arache who was then leading the fight against a U.S. invasion of that country. Upon his return, he was treated like an enemy by the U.S. government.

After working on the family run black-oriented publication NOW!, he soon turned back to his divinity degree and returned to Philadelphia where he became a community leader and founder and pastor of Christ Community Baptist Church in Philadelphia before he died in 1980.


Author’s notes: Many activists from that period also knew Henry by his brother Imari Obadele who, until his death in 2010, was president of the Provisional Government of the Republic of New Africa, an organization attempting to turn five Southern states into an independent black nation.

The effort by liberals to depose Henry was one of many such incidents in the civil rights movement that would lead many African Americans to abandon their alliance with white liberals and form a black power movement later in the decade.

The Best Cup of Coffee: Arlington, Virginia 1960

Laurence Henry (far right) joins others for a victory cup of desegregated coffee in Arlington, VA on June 23, 1960.

Time proved Laurence Henry’s stance against tabling Dirksen’s bill in 1960 correct. No major legislation was initiated by the administration until 1963 and that legislation languished in Congress for a year before it passed in the wake the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing that killed four young girls and the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, two of whom were white.

There is no doubt that white liberals contributed critical support in the immediate victory at Glen Echo. Their support, however, came with a price of inaction at a higher level. Activists in the Black Lives Matter movement today are faced with a similar quandary and must carefully consider the pros and cons of enlisting institutional support.

Sources include The Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Baltimore Afro, Ebony, The Indianapolis Recorder, Now!, The Cincinnati Herald, The Gazette, Washington Jewish Week, The Civil Rights Digital Library, The Clarence Mitchell Papers, and The Global Non-Violent Action Database, among others.


ADDENDUM I

Seeds of the Black Power Movement

Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) Delivering a Speech: 1965

Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) in 1965.

The federal government continued its ambivalent commitment to civil rights, sometimes intervening in local cases, but declining to take a comprehensive approach after the 1960 elections.

NAG continued its activism and in the fall of 1960 and a freshman named Stokely Carmichael (later Kwame Ture) joined the Non-Violent Action Group that was by then affiliated with the Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee. H. Rap Brown (later Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin) also joined. Both would become chairs of SNCC and black power advocates.

Carmichael (Ture) leads sit-in at RFK's office: 1962

Stokely Carmichael (3rd from left) leads a sit in at Atty. Gen. Robert F. Kennedy’s office March 16, 1962.

Carmichael worked with Henry following the latter’s removal from leadership of NAG and was undoubtedly aware of Henry’s desire to confront Democrats who paid lip service to civil rights progress while taking no action.

Where Henry was thwarted in 1960, Carmichael seized the opportunity to do so in February 1962 when NAG activist Dion Diamond was arrested for “criminal anarchy” (attempting to overthrow the government) for attempting to speak at Southern University in Louisiana. Carmichael organized a sit-in at U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s office and was forcibly evicted, but drew attention to the passive nature of the federal government in the face of brutal repression and use of state apparatus in the suppression of civil rights.

SNCC Chair Censored in 1963

March on Washington: 1963

Tents are ready for March on Washington Aug. 27, 1963.

Liberal attempts to restrain and utilize the African American civil rights movement for their own purposes were widespread and the most publicized incident occurred when the Kennedy administration insisted on censoring Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee chair John Lewis speech at the 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom.

The Kennedy administration shifted positions from trying to ignore civil rights to finding a way to co-opt the movement into support for the administration. Administration liaison Burke Marshall demanded support for a weak Kennedy civil rights initiative and insisted that Lewis drop references to marching through the south like Sherman.

Protest organizers faced a larger problem when copies of SNCC Chairman John Lewis’ speech were circulated. In the prepared text, Lewis expressed opposition to an administration backed civil rights bill, derided those who urged patience and talked about “the revolution is at hand.” There was particularly strong objection to this passage:

We will march through the South, through the heart of Dixie, the way Sherman did. We shall pursue our own ‘scorched earth’ policy and burn Jim Crow to the ground – nonviolently. We shall fragment the South into a thousand pieces and put them back together in the image of democracy.

Patrick O’Boyle, the archbishop of Washington, who was scheduled to deliver the invocation, objected to Lewis’ speech and threatened to not only walk out, but to take all Catholics with him if the speech was given. John Lewis said he would deliver the speech as written or not at all.

Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers told coalition members,

If John Lewis feels strongly that he wants to make this speech, he can go someplace else and make it, but he has no right to make it here because if he tries to make it he destroys the integrity of our coalition and he drives people out of the coalition who agree to the principles…This is just immoral and he has no right to do it, and I demand a vote right now because I have to call the archbishop.

Lewis dropped the incendiary words and gave a modified speech, but the incident galvanized resentment by black activists toward white liberals. Within a few years, Willie Ricks and Carmichael were popularizing the slogan “Black Power” in 1966 and a large segment of the African American civil rights movement broke away from white liberal influence.


ADDENDUM II

Recognition of the Murdered

The following is a partial list of those murdered by others seeking continued subjugation of black people from the time of inaction on the Dirksen amendments until the 1968 Fair Housing Act was enacted. It is excerpted from a longer list compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

September 25, 1961 · Liberty, Mississippi

Herbert Lee, who worked with civil rights leader Bob Moses to help register black voters, was killed by a state legislator who claimed self-defense and was never arrested. Louis Allen, a black man who witnessed the murder, was later also killed.

April 9, 1962 · Taylorsville, Mississippi

Cpl. Roman Ducksworth Jr., a military police officer stationed in Maryland, was on leave to visit his sick wife when he was ordered off a bus by a police officer and shot dead. The police officer may have mistaken Ducksworth for a “freedom rider” who was testing bus desegregation laws.

September 30, 1962 · Oxford, Mississippi

Paul Guihard, a reporter for a French news service, was killed by gunfire from a white mob during protests over the admission of James Meredith to the University of Mississippi.

April 23, 1963 · Attalla, Alabama William Lewis Moore, a postman from Baltimore, was shot and killed during a one-man march against segregation. Moore had planned to deliver a letter to the governor of Mississippi urging an end to intolerance.

June 12, 1963 · Jackson, Mississippi Medgar Evers, who directed NAACP operations in Mississippi, was leading a campaign for integration in Jackson when he was shot and killed by a sniper at his home.

September 15, 1963 · Birmingham, Alabama Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley were getting ready for church services when a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, killing all four of the school-age girls. The church had been a center for civil rights meetings and marches.

September 15, 1963 · Birmingham, Alabama Virgil Lamar Ware, 13, was riding on the handlebars of his brother’s bicycle when he was fatally shot by white teenagers. The white youths had come from a segregationist rally held in the aftermath of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing.

January 31, 1964 · Liberty, Mississippi Louis Allen, who witnessed the murder of civil rights worker Herbert Lee, endured years of threats, jailings and harassment. He was making final arrangements to move north on the day he was killed.

March 23, 1964 · Jacksonville, Florida Johnnie Mae Chappell was murdered as she walked along a roadside. Her killers were white men looking for a black person to shoot following a day of racial unrest.

April 7, 1964 · Cleveland, Ohio Rev. Bruce Klunder was among civil rights activists who protested the building of a segregated school by placing their bodies in the way of construction equipment. Klunder was crushed to death when a bulldozer backed over him.

May 2, 1964 · Meadville, Mississippi Henry Hezekiah Dee and Charles Eddie Moore were killed by Klansmen who believed the two were part of a plot to arm blacks in the area. (There was no such plot.) Their bodies were found during a massive search for the missing civil rights workers Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner.

June 21, 1964 · Philadelphia, Mississippi James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Henry Schwerner, young civil rights workers, were arrested by a deputy sheriff and then released into the hands of Klansmen who had plotted their murders. They were shot, and their bodies were buried in an earthen dam.

JULY 2, 1964 Civil Rights Act

July 18, 1965 · Anniston, Alabama Willie Brewster was on his way home from work when he was shot and killed by white men. The men belonged to the National States Rights Party, a violent neo-Nazi group whose members had been involved in church bombings and murders of blacks.

AUGUST 6, 1965 VOTING RIGHTS ACT

August 20, 1965 · Hayneville, Alabama Jonathan Myrick Daniels, an Episcopal Seminary student in Boston, had come to Alabama to help with black voter registration in Lowndes County. He was arrested at a demonstration, jailed in Hayneville and then suddenly released. Moments after his release, he was shot to death by a deputy sheriff.

January 3, 1966 · Tuskegee, Alabama Samuel Leamon Younge Jr., a student civil rights activist, was fatally shot by a white gas station owner following an argument over segregated restrooms.

January 10, 1966 · Hattiesburg, Mississippi Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer, a wealthy businessman, offered to pay poll taxes for those who couldn’t afford the fee required to vote. The night after a radio station broadcasted Dahmer’s offer, his home was firebombed. Dahmer died later from severe burns.

June 10, 1966 · Natchez, Mississippi Ben Chester White, who had worked most of his life as a caretaker on a plantation, had no involvement in civil rights work. He was murdered by Klansmen who thought they could divert attention from a civil rights march by killing a black person.

July 30, 1966 · Bogalusa, Louisiana Clarence Triggs was a bricklayer who had attended civil rights meetings sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality. He was found dead on a roadside, shot through the head.

February 27, 1967 · Natchez, Mississippi Wharlest Jackson, the treasurer of his local NAACP chapter, was one of many blacks who received threatening Klan notices at his job. After Jackson was promoted to a position previously reserved for whites, a bomb was planted in his car. It exploded minutes after he left work one day, killing him instantly.

May 12, 1967 · Jackson, Mississippi Benjamin Brown, a former civil rights organizer, was watching a student protest from the sidelines when he was hit by stray gunshots from police who fired into the crowd.

February 8, 1968 · Orangeburg, South Carolina Samuel Ephesians Hammond Jr., Delano Herman Middleton and Henry Ezekial Smith were shot and killed by police who fired on student demonstrators at the South Carolina State College campus.

April 4, 1968 · Memphis, Tennessee Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a Baptist minister, was a major architect of the Civil Rights Movement. He led and inspired major non-violent desegregation campaigns, including those in Montgomery and Birmingham. He won the Nobel peace prize. He was assassinated as he prepared to lead a demonstration in Memphis.

APRIL 11, 1968 FAIR HOUSING ACT


Want to see and read more?

See more photos of the Glen Echo protests

See more photos of the Arlington restaurant sit-ins

Read about NAG member Dion Diamond and see more images

See more images related to Laurence Henry

Raging civil rights struggle leads to union victories: Cambridge MD 1963

31 May
Gloria Richardson: 1964 ca # 2

Gloria Richardson, leader of the Cambridge movement, 1963-64.

By Daniel Hardin

In the midst of ongoing fist fights, rock throwing and gun battles between white segregationists and African American seeking civil rights in 1963 Cambridge, Maryland, there was an astonishing phenomenon.

White workers sought black leadership to aid the struggle to organize and strengthen interracial unions in the town.

 Cambridge Struggle Breaks Mold

The Cambridge, Maryland. civil rights struggle from 1963-67 involved the longest occupation by armed forces of a U.S. town since Reconstruction and presents a far different narrative than that of the Civil Rights movement taught in schoolbooks today.

Early on, the leadership deviated from other concurrent civil rights struggles for legal equality by taking up social justice demands such as good jobs, housing, schools and health care. It was also different because it was an indigenous struggle to the town as opposed to one orchestrated by national rights leaders.

The leadership of the Cambridge Non-Violent Action Committee (CNAC) also did not reject armed self-defense. CNAC, which affiliated with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), was the only chapter led by adults and probably the only one whose principal strategist was a woman.

Much has been written about Cambridge elsewhere and a good blow-by-blow account can be found in Civil War on Race Street by Peter B. Levy.

However, less well-known is how in the midst of violent racial clashes between African Americans and whites in the town, white and black workers united behind the local civil rights leaders in their long quest to form labor unions there.

Background

Frederick Douglas: 1870 ca.

Frederick Douglas, abolitionist leader in the 19th century, was enslaved near Cambridge.

Cambridge, located on the Choptank River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, was the trading center for the plantations that surrounded the area. The abolitionist and political leader Frederick Douglas was born on a plantation about 25 miles north of there. The underground railroad conductor Harriet Tubman was born about 10 miles south of Cambridge.

During most of the first half of the twentieth century, the Phillips Packing Company (a vegetable processing and packinghouse) dominated the town and surrounding farms that provided produce for the plant.

Harriett Tubman: 1911

Harriet Tubman, abolitionist, underground railroad conductor, and rights advocate, also escaped slavery near Cambridge.

Although Maryland is a border state, the economic and social relations were more akin to the Deep South. Racial segregation and prejudice were intense and poverty among both black and white workers was prevalent.

A promising interracial attempt at achieving economic justice began in 1937 when several thousand workers staged a strike at Phillips to form an interracial labor union in the midst of Jim Crow Cambridge.

The strike was defeated by owner Albanus Phillips who set up a company union to ward off the left-leaning CIO union.

A ten-year campaign by the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing & Allied Workers, CIO followed, but also ended in defeat. The union lost a close representation election supervised by the federal government in 1947 in the midst of accusations of communist leadership against the national cannery union.

Union Business Cambridge Strike 1937 – Hi-Res

1937 Phillips Packing Company strike.

Phillips’ company union became the hiring hall for nearly all the plants in Cambridge. Workers were screened for any independent union sympathies. Phillips remained a source of employment for black workers who generally had lower paying and less desirable jobs than white workers until the company’s decline in the mid to late 1950s.

Cambridge Movement Starts

By 1962 the Civil Rights movement was picking up steam around the country and an initial movement by students attempted to desegregate public facilities in Cambridge, a town of about 11,000 people at that time of whom about one-third were African American.

The initial protests were through peaceful picketing and sit-ins. A number of white racists attacked demonstrators but police often arrested the protesters.

These tactics produced few results until 1963 when a woman from a prominent black family in town, Gloria Richardson, was chosen to head up the movement and CNAC.

One of the first things Richardson did was conduct a survey of the black community to help determine priorities. Data were collected door-to-door and analyzed by faculty at Swarthmore College. In a 1994 interview by Peter Szabo, Richardson recalled,

I forget now which was first. What it ultimately meant to us was that we were going to have to attack the whole thing [effects of segregation] at one time-the housing, the health, because it made very little difference. I think maybe health may have come first and housing second, and schools, but it wasn’t that much difference when those compilations came back.

Demand Equality, Jobs & Freedom in Cambridge MD: 1963

1963 Cambridge MD picket line demanding jobs, equality and freedom.

Much to the chagrin of established black leaders, Richardson changed the focus of the protests to demand both economic and social equality—targeting discrimination in employment, poor wages, inferior schools and health care and segregated facilities.

As more militant tactics–such as a boycott of white owned businesses—and new demands were employed, white resistance also increased.

Two 15-year-old students, Dwight Cromwell and Dinez White, were arrested for praying outside a segregated facility. Both were sentenced to indeterminate sentences in a juvenile facility—meaning they could be held for up to six years.

The sentences outraged the black community and increasingly large marches were held that were in turn met by white mobs. State troopers were present, but mostly sided with the white demonstrators.

Armed Self-Defense

At this point, the philosophy of non-violent resistance moved to a philosophy of armed self-defense of the black community in Cambridge. Herbert St. Clair, a prominent African American businessman active in the movement said, according to Peter Levy,

We are not going to initiate violence. But if we are attacked, we are not going to turn the other cheek.

On June 13, 1963 another mass civil rights march was held, this time with armed black men protecting the demonstrators and setting up a perimeter around the black community.

The following night fighting broke out between whites and blacks that included an exchange of gunshots and several people were wounded. Some white businesses were set on fire and when police attempted to enter the black ward, they were driven back by rocks and gunshots fired into the air.

Gloria Richardson: 1964 ca # 1

Gloria Richardson in an undated photograph.

Gloria Richardson noted in 1994,

There were some people at SNCC that [saw non-violence] really, almost as a religion, and that whole Gandhi concept. I never saw it as that. I saw it as a tactic, because certainly you couldn’t start out picking up guns running out in the street or you’d be slaughtered.

But, to create as much chaos as you could with it [non-violence], and if violence was perpetuated against you, that as long as there wasn’t a demonstration going on, you had the right to defend yourself.

It was the men that protected the community, and had to lay out in those fields with guns all night. They understood exactly what was going on and so did the women. Those men that thought they could be non-violent enough to go in the marches did. Those that didn’t did other things.

Cambridge Protester Helped from Scene of Beating: 1963

One of six youths beaten by whites during a sit-in is helped away from the scene.

The administration of Gov. Milliard J. Tawes offered a plan of gradual desegregation that was rejected by CNAC. Tawes then sent in the National Guard for three weeks.

Following withdrawal of the Guard, CNAC resumed protests. On July 12th, a mob of whites attacked a half-dozen protesters sitting in at a restaurant. A brawl ensued as black residents fought back. Later that night a white mob attacked another civil rights march.

When night riders attempted to enter black neighborhoods, they were met with gunfire and shots were exchanged. Twelve white people were wounded by gunfire and some white owned-stores were set on fire.

Cambridge Rally Against Indeterminate Sentences: 1963

Protest in the African American section of Cambridge July, 12 1963.

The Baltimore Afro-American wrote:

For what seemed like an eternity the Second Ward [the predominantly African American area] was a replica of the Old West as men and boys of all ages roamed the streets, stood in the shadows, and leaned out of windows with their weapons in full view.

Gov. Tawes sent the National Guard back in, and they remained for almost two years—the longest occupation of any community since the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. Civil rights activists staging protests were seized and sent to the Pikesville, Maryland Armory 90 miles away for “protective custody.”

 Human Rights, Not White Rights

Guard Moves On Cambridge Rights Protest: 1964

Guard moves to break up protest demanding jobs and aid to low income families February 1964.

Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy brokered a settlement whereby CNAC would suspend protests in return for an end to segregation in public accommodations, desegregation of public schools, construction of public housing, and implementation of a jobs program funded by the Federal government. Kennedy also worked to free Dwight Cromwell and Dinez White after three months in the juvenile prison.

The agreement broke down almost immediately when the all-white Dorchester Business and Citizens Association filed referendum petitions to overturn the agreement.

CNAC leader Gloria Richardson took a principled, but controversial stance, when she announced that CNAC would not take part in the referendum. She said, according to Theoharis and Woodard,

A first-class citizen does not beg for freedom. A first-class citizen does not plead to the white power structure to give him something that the whites have no power to give or take away. Human rights are human rights, not white rights.

In October 1963, the racists won the referendum. In the end the white segregationists had bought nine months of continued legal segregation before the passage of the federal 1964 Civil Rights Act.

 Unity from Below

Preventive Detention for Cambridge Rights Protesters: 1964

Cambridge protesters under preventive detention at the Pikesville Armory in February 1964.

The civil rights campaign and the vote had unanticipated effects that threatened the power structure in town in new ways. Poor and working class whites began to seek out civil rights leaders for help.

After the vote failed to end segregation, African American Congressman from New York Adam Clayton Powell arranged for food and other supplies to be delivered to Cambridge.

Richardson remembered in 1994,

The people [authorities] in Cambridge refused to distribute [the food], so the [National] Guard distributed it.

At that time what happened is white folks started calling us on the telephone telling us that they were on welfare and they needed food, but they [racist leaders] had told them that if they went out and got any of that food, or if they saw them on the lines, they were either gonna fire them or take them off welfare or whatever… and that they couldn’t come, and what could they do?

CNAC proceeded to get cars and loaded them up with food … and went and took the food to them. Subsequently, I think they finally got enough nerve to begin to come out.

 Interracial Union Organizing

Gloria Richardson brushes off National Guard: 1963

Gloria Richardson unfazed by National Guard during Cambridge civil rights protests.

The fight over segregation also led to the victories in union organizing that had failed in the decade 1937-1947. Richardson related in the 1994 interview,

What had happened was we had gone to a couple of meetings over on the other side of town where union organizers had come down from New York, and we had gone in to fight for black folk. And then when we got there, we ended up fighting for them all, because while there were some black folks in there to stand up and voice their complaints, the white folks would stand but they would come up and just go, ‘Would you tell me about that [the civil rights struggle] …?’

You know, it was weird, it was mind boggling. So then everybody stood up and said, ‘She’s gonna stay.’ So, it’s really very strange because we also were fighting these other things that probably most of them, I would assume most of them, didn’t want to go on, in terms of desegregation.

But that was because black and white people both needed more money and needed a union rather than each of them fighting for the other’s job…. They were working together and they had to come out to the black community in order to meet [at the black Rod & Gun Club]. That was the meat packers union…

The United Packing House Workers of America drive at the Coastal Foods plant (the successor company to Phillips Packing Co.) was successful with the support of CNAC.

Leadership Intertwined

Peter Levy noted how the union leadership and the struggle for civil rights were intertwined.

Leroy Banks spearheaded the organizing campaign inside the Coastal Foods Plant and was subsequently elected head of the local. His wife, Marva Banks, served as CNAC’s first treasurer.

CNAC leader Enez Grubb’s relatives had a history of labor activism dating back to the Phillips plant.

Grubb’s own father quit working at the Phillips Packing Company during World War II because the company union treated German prisoners of war who worked in the plants better than it treated native blacks.

Women Strikers in Cambridge Md.: 1937 – Hi-Res

Some activists had relatives who had been active during the 1937 strike at Phillips.

Still others had relatives who had been active in the 1937 strike at Phillips.

George Cephas had been killed during the 1937 uprising. Gilbert Cephas beame a leader in the local union. Still other civil rights and student activists found work with the UPWA.

“All the Way with UPWA” became a slogan for activists. Civil rights volunteers worked the picket lines during the campaign, helping to convince migratory workers not to cross the picket lines.

After the winning drive at Coastal food, District 6 of the UPWA invited Richardson to their convention in New York City where she was greeted with renditions of civil rights songs. In return, Richardson gave a unequivocal pro-union speech, according to Levy.

Proclaiming that a revived labor movement was one of the keys to uplifting workers, especially African Americans, she [Richardson] pledged her continued cooperation with the union.

The unionization of Coastal was followed with successful campaigns at Maryland Tuna and Chun King.

The UPWA drive aggravated the differences between white “moderates” and CNAC. Those whites, mainly medium and large business owners, saw Cambridge’s non-union status as a boon to businesses. Some prominent African American in town were not happy with the unionization drives either. However, both black and white workers overwhelmingly supported UPWA’s drive for higher wages that in turn addressed issues of inequality.

White Garment Workers Stand with CNAC

Maryland Tuna Plant: 1955 ca. #1

The production line of Maryland Tuna Co. in 1955. The civil rights struggle in Cambridge, Md. led to its unionization in 1964.

In another instance, CNAC took up the plight of garment workers at the Rob Roy factory. The International Ladies Garment Workers Union had negotiated lower rates for Cambridge workers as compared to the Rob Roy facilities in New York City that were doing the same work. Richardson said, according to Faith Holseart,

The Cambridge local had both black and white members, but because of segregation, they didn’t usually meet together. But this time the black trade unionists, with support from white workers, asked us [CNAC] to come to the meetings.

For one large meeting of about two to three hundred people, ILGWU headquarters in New York sent people down who supported the wage discrepancy. In the heat of the conflict over this issue, the New York representatives red-baited me [accused of being a communist] and moved to put me out of the meeting.

When they did that, surprisingly, local white ILGWU members who in the day before civil rights demonstrations probably had been throwing stones at us, got up and said, ‘Oh, no. If she goes, all of us go.’

Richardson remembered in an interview with Joseph Mosnier that the white men in the union were afraid to speak up for fear of retaliation by white authorities in Cambridge and asked CNAC if the black men could speak for them.

CNAC representatives, relating the experiences of SNCC workers assisting a 1963 miners strike in Hazard, Kentucky, inspired the white workers to speak up.

Gloria Richardson: 1964 # 3

Gloria Richardson leading a civil rights march in Cambridge, Md in 1964.

Richardson received a visit from New York ILGWU representatives later that week at her home. She said in her interview with Holseart,

[They] told me they were going to call Jim Forman [the executive secretary of SNCC] and have him stop me from interfering with union business. I said, ‘Jim Foreman is not my boss, and he cannot tell me what to do.’

The union leaders responded, ‘Well somebody must be able to tell you, because you need to just stay out of Rob Roy. This isn’t your business.’ They went to far as to say, ‘And you better be careful.’

I replied, ‘Well you know, we are used to threats here. If you think you can get Jim Foreman to get us to stop, you go right ahead.’ I didn’t hear anything more about that from them.

In these instances, white workers were inspired by the CNAC campaign and recognized the power and leadership that it represented.

Black and white unity was achieved on this level not by Robert Kennedy’s intervention, but by the recognition by white workers that the black struggle for freedom represented new power that could benefit them also.

Aftermath

Following the 1962-64 protests, some federal dollars began to flow into Cambridge for parks, schools, streets, public housing and other projects. However, problems in Cambridge were not erased by the passage of civil rights legislation and President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs.

Discrimination continued despite the legal end of segregation. The Cambridge economy was also continuing to slide and African Americans were faring worse in the slumping town than whites.

As protests picked up in 1967 CNAC, now named the Cambridge Black Action Federation, decided to invite H. Rap Brown (Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin) to speak on black power. Brown was chair of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and an outspoken advocate of black power who no longer believed that non-violent change was possible.

CNAC turned to Richardson who had moved to New York City with her new husband in late 1964, but still had relatives living in Cambridge. She knew Brown and invited him to speak in the town.

Brown spoke on July 24, 1967 to a crowd of several hundred people in the African American section of town.

1967 Uprising

H. ‘Rap’ Brown Speaks to Cambridge MD Crowd: 1967

H. ‘Rap’ Brown gives a speech July 24, 1967 to several hundred in Cambridge, Maryland.

Brown gave a fiery speech on black pride, a critique of U.S. white society and willingness of black people to fight for a better life.

Brown stayed in town for another hour or two and at one point escorted a young woman home along with several others. A shot was fired at Brown who was hit by a shotgun pellet, then gunfire began to be exchanged between white gunmen and black shooters.

At one point a carload of whites sped through the black section of town indiscriminately firing weapons.

Scene of the Pine Street Fire in Cambridge: 1967

Aftermatch of the Pine Street fire in Cambridge, Maryland  July 25, 1967.

In the early morning hours, someone set fire to the Pine Street Elementary School in the African American area of town. The white fire department refused to answer the call, and as a result two blocks and 20 buildings in the black section of town burned to the ground.

While the fire was burning, Richardson desperately tried to get help.

I had to end up calling his [National Guard Commander Gelsten’s] wife, who had just talked to him and everything was quiet … I had to finally tell her, ‘My daughter is there, Miss, she’s calling me, the firemen didn’t come in, the coals are flying all over,’ and she finally called him. And then somebody called me from the press and told me that the Guard was on its way….

I think it was finally some people way down, what we consider really racist part of the county, that let them have a fire truck. Because the city wouldn’t.

Throw Away the Key

Guard Arrives in Cambridge: 1967

Maryland National Guard arrives in Cambridge for the third time in four years July 25, 1967.

Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew again mobilized the National Guard and showed up in town the next day saying, “”I hope they pick him [Brown] up soon, put him away and throw away the key.”

Brown was soon charged with inciting to riot, among other charges, and ultimately arrested by the FBI on additional charges of fleeing prosecution and a weapons violation. Brown was scheduled to go to trial on the riot charge in Maryland in March 1970.

On March 9, 1970 two SNCC officials, Ralph Featherstone and William (“Che”) Payne, died on U.S. Route 1 south of Bel Air, Maryland when a bomb on the front floorboard of their car exploded, completely destroying the car and dismembering both occupants. The next night the Cambridge courthouse was bombed.

Brown disappeared for 18 months before being arrested on unrelated charges. The Cambridge “inciting to riot” charge was ultimately dropped.

Cambridge Afterwards

State Police Patrol Cambridge Streets: 1967

Maryland state police patrol Cambridge, Maryland July 25, 1967.

The five-year mass movement in Cambridge ended in the aftermath of the 1967 uprising. Federal representatives offered aid, but Agnew refused to accept it. Richardson remembered that,

Anything else that was left over from the two years or three years before-got agreement on it from Washington … Agnew stopped it. That was it. They did not control him like they did Tawes, and it fell apart at that point. … I think the [federal] government was sincere at that time, but it was just that Agnew said no. He hated Rap Brown. He hated Stokely Carmichael.

Richardson remembered that when Agnew came to town the day after the fire, he maligned all African Americans in the town.

[He said] ‘These were thugs.’ He made the mistake of standing up and calling them thugs. That’s after they’d been up all night long trying to put out the fires.

Agnew went on to further his career seeking to pit white voters against African Americans. Ironically he had initially been elected governor of Maryland when liberals flocked to him in 1964 in opposition to Democrat candidate George Mahoney’s slogan, “Your home is your castle,” a call for resistance to open housing legislation.

Agnew was chosen by Richard Nixon to be his vice-presidential candidate in 1968 and became the mouthpiece for Nixon’s “law and order” crusade against left-leaning African Americans and white antiwar activists.

The hypocrisy of the Nixon/Agnew campaign was revealed when Agnew was forced to resign the vice-presidency in 1973 because he was facing corruption charges and Nixon resigned the presidency in 1974 after his cover-up of crimes committed during the Watergate scandal.

The Pine Street neighborhood, once thriving, has never recovered. As the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries became increasingly polluted and overfished and economic changes made vegetable production less profitable, most of the packinghouses throughout Maryland closed.

While legal segregation ended, economic conditions and opportunities for the vast majority of African Americans in Cambridge improved briefly in the mid 1960s, but little over the subsequent decades.


Author’s Notes

As the Black Lives Matters movement today increasingly makes connections to economic and social repression, it opens the possibility of the movement expanding its influence by taking up the economic and social struggles much in the way Richardson’s CNAC was able to extend its influence and leadership to build more powerful organization.

Unions, besieged today with relentless attacks, have in large part stood on the sidelines of the movement against unwarranted police violence. Perhaps both movements would do well to apply some of the lessons drawn from a small Maryland town some 50 years ago.

The sources for this post include Civil War on Race Street by Peter Levy; Groundwork: Local Black Freedom Movements in America by Jeanne Theoharis and Komozi Woodard; Hands on the Freedom Plow by Faith Holseart; Transcript of H. “Rap” Brown’s 1967 Cambridge Speech by Lawrence Peskin and Dawn Almes; Oral History Project interview with Gloria Richardson with Joseph Mosnie, 2011; Maryland Historical Magazine, Fall 1994; The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun and the Baltimore Afro-American among others.


Postscript

H ‘Rap’ Brown at Press Conference: 1967

H. ‘Rap’ Brown at a press conference two days after his Cambridge speech. Bandage from  shotgun wound is visible.

Some excerpts of H. Rap Brown’s (Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin) 1967 speech in Cambridge:

On the word black:

It takes a lot of effort to love black in America. You’ve been told all your life if you’re black, you’re wrong. If you’re black, there’s something wrong with you. They tell you black cows don’t give good milk; black hens don’t lay eggs. Devil’s food cakes. You know, you put on black to go to funerals. When you put on white you go to weddings.

On taking on the white power structure:

They run around and tell you: “Don’t start no fight with the honky pecker `cause you can’t win. He outnumber you. Hell! Don’t you know they always outnumber us? David was outnumbered when he fought Goliath. He was outnumbered. Hell! Daniel in the lion’s den was outnumbered. Moses was outnumbered. All of us is outnumbered. That don’t make no difference.

FBI Wanted Poster for H. ‘Rap’ Brown: 1967

FBI wanted poster for H. Rap Brown following his Cambridge, Maryland speech in 1967.

On looting that occurs during an uprising:

He run around and he talk about black people looting. Hell, he the biggest looter in the world. He looted us from Africa. He looted America from Indians. Man can you tell me about looting? You can’t steal from a thief. This is the biggest thief going.

On President Lyndon Johnson:

Now we’re gonna talk about Lyndon Johnson. Lyndon Johnson is the greatest outlaw going. He is a two-gun cracker. He killing black folks here and he killing them in Vietnam. That’s Lyndon Johnson, your President. That’s who he is.

And they talk about how bad Hitler was. At least before Hitler burned the Jews he killed them with gas. Lyndon Johnson is throwing napalm on human beings in Vietnam. Burning them to death. He burning babies. He burning hospitals. He can’t be nothing but an outlaw.

Any time a man sends a plane full of napalm over a village of children, over school houses and blow them up and burn children, believe me, brother, the only reason he do it is because the Viet Cong is black, too.

Closing Remarks:

He’s [white man] been running around here letting them do everything they want. I mean, don’t be trying to love that honkey to death. Shoot him to death. Shoot him to death, brother. ‘Cause that’s what he’s out to do to you.

‘Do to him like he would do to you, but do it to him first.’ Like I said in the beginning, if this town don’t come ‘round, this town should be burned down. It should be burned down, brother.

They going to have to live in the same stuff I live in ’cause I ain’t going to make it no better for them. But do this brother — don’t burn up your own stuff. Don’t tear up your own stuff. Whenever you decide to fight the man, take it to his battleground.

One thing that man respects. It’s money. That’s his god. When you tear down his store, you hit his religion. You hit him right where it hurt him on Sunday. In his pocket. That’s his best friend. In his pocket. So, when you move to get him, don’t tear up your stuff, don’t tear up your brother’s store, hear?


Want to see and read more?

Images of Cambridge, MD: 1963-67

Civil Rights images in Maryland

The 1937 Phillips Packinghouse Strike

The 1938 Maryland Crab Pickers Strike


Shootings by DC Police Spark Fight Against Brutality 1936-41

20 Apr

A campaign from 1936-41 against police brutality in Washington, D.C. was led by the local National Negro Congress, which built a broad-based coalition. They won a sharp decline in the number of police shootings, a police review board, and new political power in an early civil rights struggle in the city.


Marchers Gather to Protest Police Brutality in DC: 1941

DC rally against police brutality Sept. 14, 1941. Courtesy of the DC Public Library Historical Image Collection. All rights reserved.

By Craig Simpson

Leonard Basey was out with co-workers on the evening of August 30, 1936 enjoying a respite from the work and barracks life in the Civilian Conservation Corps camp located at 26th and M Streets NE in Washington, D.C. The unit was doing the physical labor to build the infrastructure for the National Arboretum.

Basey was part of a group of young enlistees in Company 1360 in camp NA-1-DC, an African American post with white officers.

That night, Basey was walking with five other men from the camp, who were laughing and joking loudly as they walked along M Street toward Bladensburg Road through a predominantly white neighborhood.

Later testifying that he received a phone call from someone disturbed by the noise, police officer Vivian H. Landrum left his home in the neighborhood and approached the youths near 17th and M Streets NE. Landry placed the group under arrest and walked them to a police call box near Bladensburg Road and M Street NE.

When Basey questioned the arrest Landry reportedly responded, “Shut up, and don’t give me too much lip, or I’ll fill you full of lead,” according to a companion’s later testimony reported in the Afro American.

It was then that he “grabbed Basey, who was standing sideways toward him, spun him around and shot him in the abdomen,” said Basey’s companion, according to the same article.

He was just another black man who was the victim of a police murder in Washington, D.C…. or was he?

National Negro Congress

The first national convention of the National Negro Congress (NNC) took place in February of 1936 in Chicago. The NNC was formed to fill the void left by the NAACP’s reliance on a legal and lobbying strategy and would be more of an activist organization, engaging in pickets, protests and direct action to advance the cause of African American rights.

National Negro Congress Leaders at Banquet: 1940

NNC leaders John P. Davis (left) and A. Phillip Randolph (right) in March, 1940.

The NAACP had often placed a greater emphasis on issues of concern to the black elite, while the NNC was based in the black working class and was composed of many local African American union leaders along with a significant section of the black intelligentsia.

The founding Congress contained a relatively small group of activist ministers. Two national board members of the NAACP, Roy Wilkins and Charles Hamilton Houston, also attended. The NAACP as an organization, however, boycotted the group’s formation, although a number of leaders of local chapters attended.

The NNC attracted members with political views across the spectrum, including Democrats, Republicans, socialists and communists. The NNC selected A. Phillip Randolph, the leader of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, as its president and John P. Davis as executive secretary. Its headquarters was established in Washington, D.C.

Local Washington NNC

In contrast to the national convention, the Washington, D.C. chapter almost immediately gained wide representation among the black clergy.  Rev. William H. Jernagin, the former president of the National Race Congress, a previous broad-based African American organization, lived in the city and attended the first NNC convention.

Longtime Rights Leader Rev. William H. Jernagin: 1940 ca

Rev. William H. Jernagin circa 1940.

Jernagin was also a local rights activist and after the convention he persuaded the influential Interdenominational Ministers Alliance to affiliate with the local NNC.

These ministers were quickly able to prevail upon the local Elks, NAACP, the New Negro Alliance and other District of Columbia groups to join with the local NNC either directly or in coalition. A minister, Rev. Arthur D. Gray, was elected president of the local NNC.

The D. C. NNC began taking up issues of race discrimination in employment and the issue of police brutality.

In the Spring of 1936, during a meeting held at the Metropolitan Baptist Church to call for freedom for the “Scottsboro Boys,” Davis called for expanding the cause to fight police brutality in the city.

According to Erik Gellman in Death Blow to Jim Crow, William Hastie, a Howard University professor, told the crowd,

It doesn’t matter whether a person is hanged by an unauthorized mob or by an organized mob known as the law.

The city commissioners and the police department didn’t know it yet, but a new force had risen to challenge police violence.

Newspapers Report Self-Defense

The day after Basey was shot, the Washington Post reported

…Landrum fired at the man when Basey and several others rushed the policeman to prevent his arrest of another man who was with them.

DC National Negro Congress President Rev. Arthur D. Gray: 1940 ca

Washington branch NNC president Rev. Arthur D. Gray.

Basey died September 1 at the Casualty Hospital at 3rd and B Streets SE. The Afro American initially reported as part of a headline, “Policeman Fires as Gang Demands his Prisoner.”

But the official story began to unravel as witnesses came forward.

In testimony before a coroner’s jury inquest on September 3, white witnesses testified that Landrum was surrounded and did not draw his gun until after the group reached the call box.

One 11-year-old white youth said “Basey had his arm drawn back as if to strike Landrum when he was shot,” according to the Afro American. But the youth admitted that Landrum and another white man had talked to him the following day about being a witness for the defense.

When Landrum himself testified, he contradicted the white witnesses and admitted that the group did not surround him and he drew his service weapon as soon as the group was arrested.

‘Vision’ Flashed Through Policeman’s Mind

He also testified that the reason none of the youths struck him was because he fired his weapon when “a vision of officer Kennedy at Truxton Circle flashed through my mind.” He was referring to a police slaying by three youths at Logan Circle in 1932.

A later letter to the Washington Post characterized Landrum’s testimony thusly,

The officers’ tale resembled that of the sportsman who arrested for catching black bass out of season, maintained that he had taken the fish in self-defense, since they had jumped out of the water and bitten him.

African American CCC Camp Under Construction: 1934

CCC Camp NA-1-DC under construction in 1934.

Landrum’s testimony and that of other defense witnesses was disputed by the other CCC youths, but also by white CCC camp commander Richmond Bowen, who came on the scene shortly before the shooting. A white gas station attendant also testified he was about 40 feet from the group and heard Landrum tell them, “Shut up unless you want some of it too.”

The first inquest jury, composed of four whites and one black person, deadlocked 4-1 in Landrum’s favor and a mistrial was declared.

A second inquest held September 6 heard 29 witnesses give essentially the same testimony, but at 10 pm returned with an inexplicable verdict exonerating Landrum.

We believe the said V. Harry Landrum discharged his gun when he believed his life was in jeopardy, such a belief being initiated by a mental process and not by any overt act or acts on the part of those under arrest.

Press Ramps Up Outrage

NNC executive secretary John P. Davis and A. S. Pinkett, head of the local NAACP, immediately called for the district attorney to ask a grand jury to indict Landrum for the killing and for a police trial board to be convened to dismiss Landrum from the force.

DC Killer Cop is Free: 1936

‘Killer Cop Free.’ Afro American, Sept. 12, 1936.

But the case really began to take on a life of its own when the Afro American published its story September 12 under the headline “KILLER-COP FREE.”

The Afro printed a dramatic report that,

Lawrence Basey was the fortieth colored person shot to death by Metropolitan police since 1925. Every officer involved has been exonerated. Most of the victims were under 21 years of age.

Adam Lapin of the Washington bureau of the Daily Worker jumped on the story.  The Afro shared their research with Lapin so he could detail the victims’ names, dates of death, ages, and officers involved.

Afro Lists Victims of DC Police Killings: 1936

List of the slain. Afro, Oct. 17, 1936.

The national Communist Party paper published the statistics and an accompanying story where Lapin gave additional details on some of the deaths, writing that all forty cases “are similar, indeed, all the police murders of Negroes in Washington follow the same pattern.”

For one example, Lapin wrote,

On December 9, 1933, Policeman Wallace M. Suthard shot in the abdomen and killed Robert Lewis, a Negro worker who had been placed under arrest suspected of breaking into a home. Suthard claimed that he shot in self-defense because Lewis reached for a gun. No gun was found on the dead man.

A furor directed at Washington’s police erupted. Other newspapers around the country, particularly the African American press, began to run stories about the police shootings.

Officials Refuse to Act

Evidence came out during the inquest that Landrum had a past record of shooting at CCC workers and had beaten another African American some years before without justification.

The NNC held a protest meeting at the YMCA at 1816 12th Street NW attended by several hundred people. The NNC called for Landrum’s immediate suspension and for his indictment on murder charges. The group said that Landrum “requires the attention of a psychiatrist” because the officer believed that black people were inherently violent.

Despite the outcry, District Attorney Leslie C. Garnett refused to bring charges against Landrum before a grand jury, telling Lapin he was “not interested in the case,” according to the Chicago Defender.

A. S. Pinkett, the local NAACP secretary, said in a statement,

Thus we have the picture of a policeman arresting men for being disorderly, when there was no disorder; the shooting to death of one of them by the arresting officer; a meaningless verdict by a coroner’s jury and lastly the refusal by the District Attorney to lay the facts before a grand jury.

YE GODS! And colored persons are expected to have faith in their governmental machinery.

The Chicago Defender reported that a few minutes after interviewing Superintendent of Police Major Ernest W. Brown, Lapin announced that,

Major Brown made it perfectly clear despite his professions of sympathy for the colored people that he is opposed to a Congressional investigation or any kind of investigation of police brutality. He won’t even undertake one himself.

The Afro American published an editorial on October 31 saying,

Citizens ought to keep pounding away at Major Brown’s door in an effort to find out whether the police chief sees any connection between the Afro American’s list of fifty deaths, forty of them colored youths, at the hands of quick-trigger white policemen here in the past ten years, and the fact that nearly half of these killings have occurred during his term of office.

We believe they could make him understand that four years is long enough to ‘get away with murder.’

With the issue still boiling in November, the District of Columbia commissioners refused to release data on police killings to the American Civil Liberties Union, according to Gardner Jackson, a representative of the group.

Unable to contain the broadening protests, authorities finally responded by retiring Landrum on a pension. On November 14, 1936, the police department announced during a conference with brutality opponents that Landrum is “mentally and physically unfit for further duty as an officer,” according to the Afro.

Rev. Ernest. C. Smith: 1940 ca

Rev. E. C. Smith (shown circa 1940) lobbied for a Congressional investigation.

Fight Against Brutality Broadens

The city commissioners and the police superintendent may have thought the issue would go away with Landrum’s retirement, but the local Negro Congress continued to pound away.

The city of Washington, D.C.’s affairs were overseen directly by the U.S. Congress, to an even greater extent than today, and in 1937 the NNC began lobbying for a House subcommittee investigation…

…to determine whether and to what extent the use of unnecessary and unlawful use of force by police officers…have become a menace to life, liberty and the general security within the District of Columbia.

The group also organized an effort to lobby for an African American magistrate in the District. The NNC, NAACP, Elks, Afro American, YMCA, Interdenominational Ministers Alliance, Howard University and the Washington Bar Association, along with other groups, lobbied local D.C. officials and President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration.

To ramp up the pressure for a congressional investigation, the alliance named itself the Joint Committee for Civil Rights in the District of Columbia and sponsored a series of weekly radio broadcasts on local station WOL. It was another new tactic in the fight for civil rights in the city.

In an account by the Afro of the second broadcast on March 23, 1937, John P. Davis reminded the listeners of the exoneration of police officer Landrum in Lawrence Basey’s death:

I want you to realize the meaning of such a verdict. A coroner’s jury has held that an officer who has a mental fear for his life has a right to kill another person who has done nothing to cause that fear, who is not armed, and who has submitted peacefully to arrest.

Sociologist E. Franklin Frazier: 1947

E. Franklin Frazier (shown in 1947) was among the leaders of the anti-brutality fight in 1937.

In April 1937, a meeting was held under the banner of the Joint Committee at the Metropolitan Baptist Church protesting three more police killings in recent months. At the meeting William C. Hueston, education director for the Elks, called for organized action to “stop this ruthless brutality on the part of the police,” reported the Atlanta Daily World.

Other prominent leaders included John P. Davis, Judge William Hastie, Rev. William Jernigan, Julia West Hamilton, Rev. E. C. Smith, Dr. E. Franklin Frazier and John C. Bruce. Similar meetings were soon organized around the city while radio broadcasts on the issue continued.

Howard U Dean of Women Lucy Slowe

Lucy Slowe was among those acting as a judge at the mock police brutality trial.

Put Police on Trial

In May the protest effort culminated with a “public trial” of Washington’s “killer cops” at the John Wesley A. M. E. Zion Church. The trial “provided a complete picture of the lawless police terror which has reigned in Washington for the past ten years,” according to the Chicago Defender.

John P. Davis of the National Negro Congress presided. Judges included Major Campbell Johnson, secretary of the YMCA; Lucy Slowe, dean of women at Howard University; Rev. Robert W. Brooks, pastor of the Lincoln Congregational Temple; the Rev. Stephen Gill Spottswood; William C. Hueston, commissioner of education of the Elks; and Dr. Victor Tulane, chemistry professor at Howard University.

Those prosecuting the case included George E. C. Hayes, of Cobb, Howard and Hayes; George A. Parker, dean of the Terrell Law School; and Edward P. Lovett, of Houston and Houston.

Major Campbell Johnson in His Office: 1942

Major Campbell Johnson was another judge in the mock police brutality trial.

“Eyewitnesses to numerous unpunished police murders, citizens who have been beaten by the police and leaders of civic associations and newspaper men who have investigated police brutality gave evidence,” according to the Chicago Defender.

Hundreds had attended each of the previous meetings and even more turned out for the trial, which included a number of whites in attendance and testifying as witnesses.

“This event demonstrated the new-style tactics of the NNC: with the theatrics in front of a large public audience, the mock trial showed how the District ought to protect citizenship rights through democratic governance,” Gellman wrote in “Death Blow to Jim Crow.”

No Victory Yet

But since many in Congress overseeing District affairs had few African American constituents, there was little interest on Capitol Hill in investigating police brutality in the city.

The White House put out trial balloons for the vacant judge position for two men: Hobart Newman, a young white attorney, and William L. Houston, founder of the firm Houston & Houston, whose son Charles was leading the NAACP legal defense effort.

However, local white officials nixed Houston’s nomination and the Roosevelt administration put forward Newman’s name for the position.

The brutality continued through the winter of 1937-38.  Incidents included the beating of a Howard University student by police and the assault by police on a black man and his wife when the man did not move his parked car fast enough. Police shot a twenty-year old African American man to death when he fled a traffic accident.

Police Shoot WWI Vet in Home: 1938

Afro American March 19, 1938 photo of Leroy Keys and the house where he was slain.

New Killing Sparks New Protests

On March 8, 1938 a distraught and delusional African American World War I veteran was making noise at his sister’s house at 2470 Ontario Road NW. When police arrived Leroy Keys began shouting at them, apparently believing they were German troops.

Keys threw small household objects through the window towards the police. Two police officers opened fire and shot him dead, despite the pleas of his sister that he needed help.

Rights groups demanded charges against the two police officers, calling the shootings “wanton and unwarranted,” and said police should have used tear gas or water to subdue the clearly disturbed man, according to the Afro American.

Two coroner’s juries deadlocked and a grand jury refused to indict.

The Afro wrote, “We think Hitler is a tyrant and a brute, a ruffian and a cur. We detest him for the way he is crushing the Jew [but] don’t forget that there is a man right here at home who has his heel on our neck.”

Thirty-six organizations joined the Keys campaign, including the United Federal Workers, which called it an “urbanized form of lynching.” Invited in to the coalition, the local Communist Party (CP) began holding open-air meetings around the city.

Martin Chancey, local CP secretary, told a gathering at 10th & U Streets NW that

We don’t hear of lynchings in Washington in the same manner as in Georgia or Alabama, but lynchings are perpetrated by those who are supposed to protect human life and property–the members of the District police force.

Chancey went on to demand suspension of the two officers involved in Keys’ death according to the Afro.

As the campaign picked up steam, another African American was shot by a police officer, this time over a bag of food.

Shot in the Back

In the early morning hours of Sunday, June 26, officer John Sobolewski saw Wallace McKnight walking north on 15th Street near Massachusetts Avenue NW carrying a package under his arm.

According to Sobolewski’s testimony, he stopped McKnight and questioned him. During the interrogation, McKnight ran away, according to Sobolewski, and he [Sobolewski] opened fire.

McKnight was shot in the back, the bullet passing through his liver, and he died the next day. The package contained a chicken, a pound of butter, a dozen oranges, two pounds of bacon, a dozen bananas, several dozens eggs and some other fruit.  McKnight worked at a restaurant on the 1700 block of K Street NW not far from where he was shot.

The Rev. Robert W. Brooks observed, “Because of the record of the police department for the last eleven years, McKnight not knowing what officer John Sobolewski might do, took [his] chances on running away,” according to the Afro.

Coroner’s Jury Orders Cop Held

Police Commissioner Melvin C. Hazen tried to head off the gathering storm on June 27 by suspending Sobolewski and ordering an investigation of the McKnight shooting and a re-opening of the Keys death matter.

He also ordered a daily roll call reading of police rules on the use of revolvers. It stated: “Members of the force shall not use their revolvers except in the most urgent cases and then only in such a manner as will not jeopardize the lives of innocent people.”

The shifting public opinion also had an effect this time at the coroner’s jury. Police Lieutenant Arthur C. Belt, commanding officer of the Third Precinct on the night of the shooting, tried to save Sobolewski by telling the jury, “I would have done the same thing under the circumstances.” But his statement only added fuel to the fire.

A packed hearing room erupted in outrage at Belt’s statement and the coroner’s jury deliberated only 10 minutes before ordering Sobolewski held for grand jury action.

Edward Felder Urges Police Chief’s Firing During Brutality Protests: 1938

Edward Felder speaking to crowd of 2,000 at 9th & Rhode Island Ave. NW on July 8, 1938. Courtesy of the Afro American, all rights reserved.

Communists Organize March

With only a little over a week’s planning, the local Communist Party organized a march on July 8th beginning at 10th & U Streets NW, led by a car carrying Mollie McKnight, the widow of the slain Wallace McKnight. The local NNC, the New Negro Alliance and other coalition partners endorsed the march, but it was the communists who led the event.

The crowd heard Communist Party speakers including Martin Chancey, Tansell Butler and Calvin Cousins. Police were present and seized signs calling for chief Brown’s ouster, but the crowd made up for this strong arm tactic with their later chants.

Kids Swarm Widow’s Car During Police Brutality Protest: 1938

Children gather on the auto that carried the widow Mollie McKnight during the police brutality demonstration July 8, 1938. Courtesy of the Afro American, all rights reserved.

Over 2,000 people, of whom about 20% were white, marched and chanted “Major Brown Must Go,” “Police Brutality Must Stop,” “Everybody Join the Parade,” and “Stop Legal Lynching.”

Estimates of those who lined the streets ranged from 10,000 to 15,000. They watched marchers carrying signs like, “You May Be Next,” “Stop Police Murders,” “Compensation for Police Victims” and “Washington is not Scottsboro.”

The march ended at Rhode Island Avenue and 9th Street NW. A second rally was held there and speakers including Edward Felder of the Young Communist League urged the firing of Major Brown.

Resolutions adopted at the rally included calls for the suspension and trials of six police officers, appointing representatives of African Americans, civil organizations and labor to the panel of D.C. Commissioners, an impartial investigation into police killings, and compensation to victims’ families.

National marches for civil rights had been held previously in the city in 1922 over lynching and 1933 over the “Scottsboro Boys.”  However, this marked the first mass action in the streets of a significant size over a local African American issue in Washington since the 1919 picketing over the Moen’s school child abuse case.

First White Officer Indicted

In mid-July, the grand jury indicted Sobolewski for manslaughter. The Afro American reported it was the first time in D.C. history that a white policeman was charged in the death of a black person.

The National Negro Congress followed up the Communist Party-led march and demands by organizing a conference of over 100 organizations at the Lincoln Temple Congregational Church on July 31.

Negro Congress Leader Doxey Wilkerson at Town Hall Radio: 1942

Doxey Wilkerson (2nd from left).

The meeting was presided over by Rev. Arthur Gray in preparation for a mass meeting to be held the next day. Among the principal NNC speakers were Doxey Wilkerson of Howard University, former judge James A. Cobb, and former judge William C. Hueston.

Alphaeus Hunton, a Howard University professor, outlined eight proposed demands to be adopted at the mass meeting. They included removal of Major Brown; denial of pension rights to former officer Vivian Landrum, who had killed Leonard Basey two years earlier; suspension and trial for officers involved in shootings and recent brutality; public hearings on police brutality; and compensation for victims.

Ministers Rally 1,200

The next day, 1,200 rallied at the Vermont Avenue Baptist Church under the auspices of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, where the pastor C. T. Murray presided.

John P. Davis, national secretary of the National Negro Congress, as quoted in the Washington Post, spoke of the “terror of urban lynching” which led to an “intolerable state of affairs” as “unwarranted beatings and needless killings were perpetrated by the police.”

NAACP Counsel Charles H. Houston Speaks: 1940 ca.

Charles Hamilton Houston.

Charles Hamilton Houston, counsel to the NAACP, blamed the lack of voting rights of citizens in the District and pledged legal services to help fight police brutality.

The National Negro Congress also announced a petition drive to seek 50,000 signatures to President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress.  A collection of $170 was taken up by Rev. William Jernagin from the ministerial alliance to be divided equally between Mollie McKnight and the NNC.

The petition campaign brought new allies into the fight.  The Washington Insurance Underwriters Association pledged 5,000 signatures to be collected through its 55 agents. The American Civil Liberties Union, the American League for Peace and Democracy, and the United Federal Employees also established committees to seek signatures.

The coalition organized “flying squadrons” that went house to house seeking signatures. Both black and white ministers conducted Sunday sermons across the city to popularize the cause.

Sobolewski was acquitted of manslaughter after two hours of deliberation by an all-white jury in September. In addition, Sobolewski was also brought before a re-constituted police trial board in September where he was again exonerated. The two officers who shot Leroy Keys were also cleared of charges by a police trial board.

However, despite the coroner’s jury verdicts, the grand jury failure to act, an acquittal at trial, and the police trial board whitewashes, change was in the air in Washington.

A Year Free of Police Killings

On June 26, 1939, one year after McKnight was killed, the NNC held a meeting at the Second Baptist Church at 3rd & I Streets NW attended by 1,500 people and hailed “a year free of police killings.”

National Negro Congress leader John P. Davis: 1940 ca.

John Preston Davis.

The meeting was presided over by local NNC president Rev. Arthur Gray.  Police superintendent Major Ernest W. Brown also spoke, trying to assure the group that he took the issue seriously. Other speakers included John P. Davis, Rev. J. L. S. Holloman of the Interdenominational Ministers Alliance, and Eugene Davidson of the New Negro Alliance.

The Washington Tribune saluted the work and said the “job could not have been done had it not been for the tireless energy and leadership the National Negro Congress gave to other organizations in this fight against police crimes on the Negro people of Washington.”

Rev. Gray, the D.C. NNC president, said after the campaign that the new trial board for police officers made a difference, according to Gellman’s book. The board obtained some suspensions and indictments against several police officers and Gray said, “The number of incidents has markedly decreased.”

A. Phillip Randolph Speaks at 1940 Negro Congress Convention

A. Phillip Randolph speaking at the 1940 National Negro Congress convention.

NNC Weakened

During 1939-40, the NNC was weakened by a campaign by U.S. Rep. Martin Dies (D-TX) to smear the group as a communist organization.  Then, in 1940, the president of the NNC, A. Phillip Randolph, refused to stand for re-election at the group’s Washington, D.C. national convention after delegates approved a resolution condemning the “imperialist war” in Europe and another calling for closer ties to the unions of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO).

The NNC’s broad political umbrella was broken. Randolph was president of the AFL Sleeping Car Porters and his departure left the NNC without its most prominent leader. The Dies attack and Randolph’s withdrawal caused a number of organizations, clergy and others to drift away.

Even with its weakened state at the national level, the organization continued to wage an effective campaign in the city to desegregate defense-related employment throughout most of World War II. Further, despite the friction at the national level, the Washington, D.C. NNC continued relatively strong relationships with both the NAACP and the clergy at the local level.

Renewed Brutality in Washington

However, as time passed the initial success achieved during the 1938 police brutality campaign began to fade.

Protests spread to the Capitol Police force after the shooting and wounding of 10-year-old Fred Walker Jr. in the Senate Office Building on June 24, 1940. Sergeant Vernon Deus was quickly suspended while rights leaders demanded his dismissal and prosecution.

A month later the NNC, along with the Elks, several churches, the NAACP and the Washington Committee for Democratic Action, held a series of protest meetings against police brutality in the 4th police precinct in the city.

Over 100 people attended a mass meeting at the Zion Baptist Church at 333 F Street SW on July 18. Leaders, including pastor A. Joseph Edwards, condemned police for intimidation of African Americans in the precinct against attending the rally.

At another rally at the Mount Lebanon Church at 814 25th Street NW on July 29, Dr. C. Herbert Marshall, local NAACP president, urged African Americans to “stick together” to achieve the rally’s purpose, to “stop the cops from beating Negroes,” according to the Washington Post.

The broad coalition against brutality, now re-named the Citizens Committee Against Police Brutality, took up the issue of a laundry workers’ strike at the Arcane-Sunshine Company, where police intervened on the side of strike breakers and beat pickets with their clubs.

On April 30, police officer Francis E. Davis arrested Robert Gray for disorderly conduct near 13th & Q Streets NW. According to Davis, Gray struck him and ran from the scene and when Davis caught up to him a scuffle ensued. Davis then shot Gray twice in the abdomen and Gray later died.

A coroner’s jury quickly cleared Davis, but the NNC demanded that the case be presented to a grand jury.

Three More Killed by Police

Three more African American men were shot to death by police officers in early August.  Police sergeant John Leach came upon an apparent robbery in an alley near the 1300 block of Ninth Street NW. Leach testified that Clarence Whitby struck him and fled, then Leach fired two shots, one striking Whitby and killing him.

Just days later, police officer Donald R. Webber came upon two men in an alley near 14th and Florida Avenue NW, standing beside an automobile.  Webber testified later that when he demanded a driver’s license from the two brothers they told him, “We don’t have to show you our driver’s permit,” according to the Washington Post.

During his testimony before a coroner’s jury, Webber testified he shot Jasper and Edward Cobb August 4 after he tried to place Jasper under arrest for being drunk and the two resisted. There were no other witnesses to the shooting, although Edward Cobb said before he died that he intervened in the arrest when Webber began beating his brother.

Longtime NNC nemesis police chief Maj. Ernest W. Brown was forced to retire just days after the three killings. Brown’s retirement was only tangentially related to the police brutality issue and was mainly due to Congressional concern over District crime rates and an internal police spying scandal.

But Brown’s departure also marked an opportunity for the anti-brutality coalition when Edward J. Kelly was named chief from among several internal candidates. Kelly had enemies within the department and needed broad political support to succeed as its head.

Stephen Gill Spottswood: 1940 ca

Rev. Stephen Gill Spottswood.

More than 1,500 jammed the John Wesley A.M.E.Z. Church August 17 for the funeral of the Cobb brothers. Rev. Stephen Gill Spottswood, pastor of the church declared, “this is not a funeral service, it is a mass meeting, protesting this occurrence,” according to the Afro American.

Spottswood continued, “They are but symbols, these two men, typical of what might happen to any of us, to you or to me. We must cooperate in decisive action to demonstrate our interest in the freedom of black men and women in the nation’s capital.”

Even as outrage against the killings was building during the month of August, coroners’ juries exonerated all the police officers in the three deaths.

Protests Escalate Again

In September, the Citizens Committee Against Police Brutality in Washington called for mass protest.

Crowd Listens to Speakers at Rally Against DC Police Brutality: 1941

Over 1,100 rally at the Metropolitan Baptist Church Sept. 7, 1941. D.C. Public Library Historic Image Collection. All rights reserved.

At the Metropolitan Baptist Church on the 1200 block of R Street NW, a crowd estimated by the Afro American at 2,000 (the FBI estimated 1,100) gathered on September 7th to hear a wide array of speakers denounce police violence.

Doxey Wilkerson, an NNC leader and Howard University professor, presided at the meeting and called the police the enforcers of a system where black people “were segregated in living conditions and public affairs and also discrimination in employment,” according to Gellman.

Wilkerson added, “Police brutality used to be considered a local problem, today it must be viewed in terms of world significance. Police brutality and racial discrimination are part and parcel of this evil we are fighting on an international front,” the Afro American reported.

Hugh Miller, white leader of the Washington Committee for Democratic Action, said “the problems of the Negro were also the problems of the white” and urged the group to fight “Hitler’s theory” of “racial superiority” demonstrated by the killings, according to Gellman’s account.

John P. Davis, the national NNC leader, demanded permanent reforms in the department, shouting, “Don’t take no for an answer,” according to Gellman.

DC Police Chief Kelly Speaks at Anti-Brutality Rally: 1941

DC police chief Kelly speaks at anti-brutality rally on Sept. 7, 1941. D.C. Public Library Historic Images Collection. All rights reserved.

Wilkerson then introduced the new police chief Major Kelly, who addressed the crowd. “As long as I am head of the police department, I will not tolerate violence against any citizen or against any police officer,” he declared, according to the Afro American.

Kelly evaded calls for grand jury action against the officers involved in the three killings by saying he was not in charge at the time and urging the crowd to lobby the district attorney, but agreed with adding civilians to the police review board

Kelly also supported hiring additional African American officers, promoting an African American to captain and ending the police practice of holding people without specific charges.

It was a remarkable achievement for the group to have the police chief at the meeting and respond favorably to specific demands.

Following Kelly, a quartet from the United Cafeteria Workers Local 471 sang spirituals.

J. Finley Wilson, leader of the Elks, led off the second half of the rally saying that government protection of African American soldiers and civilians was necessary before the Elks would “battle and defend America and make it safe for the black and white under the ‘Stars and Stripes,” according to Gellman’s account.

Other speakers included Rev. L. Collins, Curtis Mitchell, Rev. E. C. Smith, pastor of the Metropolitan Baptist Church, and Jack Zucker, representing the Washington Industrial Council.

The rally ended with a call for marches through the streets of Washington the following week that would converge for a single rally against police brutality.

Four Marches Through the City

Protesting DC Police Brutality in Washington: 1941

One of four simultaneous marches marking each victim, Sept. 14, 1941. D.C. Public Library Historic Images Collection. All rights reserved.

A week later on September 14, four marches from different points in the city got underway involving an estimated 2,000 total participants. Each march was dedicated to one of the four recent victims.

Signs carried by protestors included, “Old Jim Crow Has Got to Go,” “Protect Our Civil Rights” and “Police Brutality is a Disgrace to the Nation’s Capital.” A hearse and an undertaker’s automobile carried signs in memory of persons shot in recent months by the police.

The treks converged at 10th and U Streets NW for a rally where about 500 remained to hear a number of speakers including Alphaeus Hunton, professor at Howard University, who reiterated the six demands put forth at the rally that were developed at the previous week’s meeting.

Demands included holding police officer Webber for grand jury action in the Cobb brothers shooting, internal police action to curb brutality, a citizens trial board to replace the current police board, appointment of 50 African American police officers, charges to be placed immediately against anyone arrested, and compensation to be granted dependents of those killed by the police.

Rev. Frank Alstork of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance argued for a peaceful solution but warned, “he who lives by the sword will perish by the sword,” according to the Washington Post.

CIO Union Speaks Against DC Police Brutality: 1941

Craig Vincent of the CIO speaks at anti-police brutality rally, Sept. 14, 1941. D.C. Public Library Historic Images Collection. All rights reserved.

Dorothy Strange of the National Negro Congress and the police brutality committee urged the crowd to sign and circulate a petition to be sent to the District government and the police department with the six demands.

Other speakers were Henry Thomas of the CIO United Construction Workers, Craig Vincent of the local CIO Industrial Council and Frank Donner, chair of the case committee of the brutality group.

In closing the rally, Doxey Wilkerson led chants of “Police Brutality has got to go” with the loudest for “Old Jim Crow has got to go,” according to the Afro American.

Aftermath

The U.S. entered World War II in December 1941 after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and  the subsequent German declaration of war.

The local NNC was weakened shortly afterwards when the National Negro Congress moved its headquarters to New York. In addition, Alphaeus Hunton, a key organizer behind the scenes, also moved to New York City. In 1943 Doxey Wilkerson, another local NNC leader, quit his post at Howard University to take a position with the Maryland Communist Party.

Rally Against DC Police Brutality on U Street: 1941

Crowd begins gather at 10th & U St. NW for anti-brutality rally, Sept. 14, 1941. DC Public Library Historic Image Collection. All rights reserved.

Other NNC organizers entered the armed services. The local NNC continued the fight for integration of war-related industries.  Mass protest activities continued up to the march demanding hiring of African American operators at Capital Transit in May 1943.

While large-scale actions faltered after this point, the local NNC continued to press for rights throughout the war and resumed larger protest activities after GIs began returning after the war ended in 1945.

The police brutality campaign marked a new chapter in the African American struggle for rights in the city. Charles Hamilton Houston of the NAACP summed up the police brutality campaign by writing,

The persistent and forceful campaign, which the Washington Council [of the National Negro Congress] and allied organizations have waged against police brutality in Washington, has been one of the most significant battles for civil rights and personal freedom and security ever conducted in the District of Columbia.

While this campaign achieved some limited reforms and curbed some of the more egregious police brutality, the lasting contribution may have been to bring new forms of mass protest to the local Washington, D.C. civil rights struggle, much as the Scottsboro campaign had done on a national scale just a few years previously.

This post was updated April 21, 2013 to reflect that officer Sobolewski was acquitted of manslaughter in the death of Wallace McKnight.


Author’s notes:

The five-year campaign against police brutality united the disparate elements among African Americans into a single unified local coalition that lasted for a significant span of time.

The effort produced both institutional reforms and an overall reduction in brutality.  Just as importantly, the campaign moved the local civil rights struggle beyond mass meetings in churches and small picket lines into mass marches in the streets. The campaign also used creative tactics from investigative reporting to utilization of radio broadcasts.

The mock trial of police practices involved every strata of the local African American community and attracted significant support from whites as well. Building off the “Scottsboro Boys” campaign, the NNC used a petition campaign to involve those unable or reluctant to join the protest activities.

The Dies Committee designated the National Negro Congress, which led the campaign, as a communist dominated organization in 1941.  Again, in the late 1940s, it was called a communist front group by the Truman administration.

The truth was significantly different. The Washington, D.C. NNC was a truly broad based organization that worked well with other rights organizations in the city.  In addressing its broad character, Thelma Dale, a youth leader and NNC member in Washington, D.C. said in a 2003 interview with Erik Gellman,

Sunday Worker on Sale at Rally Against DC Police Brutality: 1941

A woman sells the Communist Party’s Sunday Worker at an anti-brutality rally  Sept. 14, 1941. D.C. Public Library Historic Image Collection. All rights reserved.

“In Washington in the fight against police brutality, were we going to put a circle around a Communist? Martin Chancey…the head of the Communist Party in Washington, D.C. functioned fully openly. So, who were we to turn them away? We didn’t.”

For activists today, the issue of how to work independently and in coalition with others who hold different viewpoints is just as complex as it was during this era. While conditions faced are vastly different, the same questions arise.

The 1938 police brutality campaign perhaps illustrates how divergent groups can work separately, but also function together around a common goal.

During the campaign organizations independently organized around the brutality issue in the communities, but also worked within the coalition together to strengthen the broad campaign and present a united front. Those on the left did so even when they thought the demands put forward by the coalition were limited and the tactics passive.  Likewise, participants who opposed left-wing political views and sometimes their militant tactics welcomed their help in building a campaign around the brutality issue.

In this instance, it produced an ongoing movement that began to break down the worst aspects of Jim Crow in the city.

Sources for this article include Erik Gellman’s book Death Blow to Jim CrowThe Chicago Defender, The Washington Post, The Afro American, The Atlanta Daily World, The Washington Herald, The Washington Star and The Crisis. 


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.


Related Posts:

“Scottsboro Boys” – New Tactics & Strategy for Civil Rights
The Fight Against Jim Crow at Capital Transit
A DC Labor & Civil Rights Leader Remembered: Marie Richardson


Spark 1st Quarter in Review

3 Apr

Missed Our Earlier Posts? Catch Up Here!

The historic events we’ve highlighted over the last three months have striking relevance to some questions of today:

  • Can there be ongoing social change without an organized movement?
  • How can a small group spark social change?
  • How much has male-dominated culture changed in 40 years?
  • Is abortion right or wrong?
  • Confront the right-wing or ignore them?
  • Civil disobedience or reliance on the courts?
  • What relationship should the U.S. have with Native Peoples?

Find some of the answers in the 1st quarter 2013 posts.


Standing Against the Maryland Klan in 1971

Klansman Slapped, Robe Torn: 1966By Bob Simpson
Posted January 2

Bob writes a personal memory about his fears on the day he joined others to picket the Ku Klux Klan in Rising Sun, Maryland in 1971.

While not as strong as in the Deep South, the Klan has had a long, violent presence in Maryland. Should organizations that are similar to the Klan be ignored today in the hope that they’ll go away or should they be confronted? Read it here.


The 1969 Counter-Inaugural

Antiwar Protestor With Nixon Mask: Counter-Inaugural 1969By Craig Simpson
Posted January 9

The anti-Vietnam-War movement was on its heels. Its leaders were trying to regroup while thousands of youth, ready to toss the American system out, were on their way to Washington, D.C. to confront the newly elected President.

It was three days of confusion, confrontation and exhilaration involving peace, a pig, horse manure and rocks thrown at the Presidential limousine during his Inaugural parade. Read it here.


A Personal Abortion Experience in 1972

Demonstration for Women’s Rights: 1970By Anonymous
Posted January 15

PreTerm, the District of Columbia’s first abortion clinic, opened for business in the city in 1971. Anonymous writes in detail about her own decision to have an abortion and her personal experience at the clinic, then reflects on her decisions 40 years later.

The article was originally printed in the February 1972 Montgomery Spark. Read it here.


Crazy Dion Diamond: A Rights Warrior in 1960

Bravery at Arlington Virginia Lunch Counter: 1960Posted January 20

A small group of Howard University students, joined by white students from other schools in the Washington, D.C. area, tired of picketing the Capitol for civil rights legislation and being ignored.

Instead, they began using direct action in the suburbs where Jim Crow was still widespread. They gained quick success in Arlington, Va. and Montgomery County, Md. desegregating restaurants, a movie theater and the Glen Echo Amusement Park. The group, including Dion Diamond, showed exemplary bravery in the face of arrests and physical confrontation with Nazis.

Many of the group drew on this experience when they went south to join the Freedom Rides in 1961. Read about it here.


The 1922 Silent March on Washington

Silent Anti-Lynching March on Washington: 1922By Craig Simpson
Posted February 6

As the privileged classes of the South sought to re-subjugate African Americans in the last part of the 19th Century and the first part of the 20th Century, lynching became the principal weapon of intimidation.

Long before the seminal 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, African Americans organized their first march on Washington on June 14, 1922 to demand basic civil rights. First and foremost they demanded the passage of a federal anti-lynching law.

The campaign ultimately failed when Southern Democrats staged a filibuster in the Senate. The failure caused an abandonment of the use of mass action for civil rights for ten years before the communists revived it in the case of the “Scottsboro Boys.”  This post is the first of a series on marches on Washington and rallies at the Lincoln Memorial that laid the basis for the landmark 1963 demonstration. Read it here.


Cock Rock: The Rape of Our Culture

Cock Rock Illustration edited reversedBy Bob Simpson
Posted February 12

An encounter with rocker Mike Quatro before a Montgomery College concert causes the writer to reflect on rock music and the subjugation of women. The article was first published in the October 1972 issue of the Montgomery Spark.

The post reflects a man’s early attempt at consciousness-raising about the role of culture in the oppression of women. One of the 1972 editors finds that the premise of the article is equally applicable today. Read it here.


Scottsboro: New Tactics & Strategy for Civil Rights

4,000 March in Washington to Free ‘Scottsboro Boys’ – 1933By Craig Simpson
Posted February 19

The labor and women’s suffrage movements had used direct action prior to its adoption by the Communist Party in the case of the nine youths condemned to death in Alabama dubbed “The Scottsboro Boys.”

But the 1932-34 campaign led by the communists marked the revival of the mass march and the first use of high-profile civil disobedience in the civil rights movement. It was not without controversy and the debate continued over strategy and tactics all the way up to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. This is the second of a series on marches on Washington and rallies at the Lincoln memorial that laid the basis for the 1963 march. Read it here.


1930 Protest by Unemployed at the White House

Unemployment Rally in DC: 1930Posted February 26

The worldwide March 6, 1930 protests against unemployment marked the first organized response to the Great Depression. In Washington, D.C., police attacked and dispersed a relatively small picket line in front of the White House.

There are striking photos and film footage of the Washington demonstration starting with a rally at the Communist Party headquarters and ending with police clubs and tear gas at the picket line. Read and watch it here.


Police Raid Progressive Party Event in 1948

Demonstration Protests DC Police Raid on Veterans Dance: 1948By Craig Simpson
Posted March 6

As the post-World War II “red scare” began in earnest, Washington, D.C. police broke up interracial gatherings and began compiling lists of names of suspected progressives, socialists and communists.

In this event, over 30 police officers broke up a fundraising dance for third party presidential candidate Henry Wallace over a raffle for 2 fifths of liquor. They took hundreds of names and arrested more than a dozen people.  Leaders were prosecuted for minor alcohol violations.  It was indicative of what was to come as many left-leaning activists were fired from their jobs, blacklisted, and often jailed for their political beliefs.  Read it here.


1939 Concert is a Blow to Jim Crow

Marian Anderson Sings at Lincoln Memorial: 1939 # 3By Craig Simpson
Posted March 14

The 1939 Marian Anderson concert marked the first mass civil rights rally using the backdrop of the Lincoln Memorial to symbolize freedom.

The fight to get Anderson a venue in the city, after both the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Washington, D.C. school board rejected her, was part of a long struggle to desegregate performing arts theaters in the city.

Anderson’s concert marked a turning point in the battle against Jim Crow, both locally and nationally.  This is the third of a series on marches on Washington and rallies at the Lincoln Memorial that laid the basis for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Read it here.


The WWII Women Streetcar Operators

100 Women Operators Needed: 1943By Craig Simpson
Posted March 20

The labor shortage that developed during World War II opened up many previous white-male-only jobs to African Americans and women. But the Capital Transit Company bitterly resisted hiring black people as streetcar operators.

Instead they embarked on an ambitious effort to recruit white women to a “Women’s Auxiliary Transit Service” (WATS) that would fill in for white male streetcar and bus operators who had gone to war.

As the by-product of another struggle, the women’s groundbreaking role was quickly eroded after the war. By 1948 only ten remained and all were gone with the end of streetcar operations in the city in 1962. It wasn’t until five years later, during the social upheaval of the 1960s, that women broke through the barriers in large numbers as transit bus and rail operators. Read it here.


Native Americans Seize BIA in 1972

BIA Spokesperson at Trail of Broken Treaties Protest: 1972By Bob Simpson
Posted March 26

Native Americans fed up with corruption involving tribal leaders, Congress and large corporations launched a “Trail of Broken Treaties” caravan that crisscrossed the country before arriving in Washington, D.C. with a twenty-point program demanding a new relationship with the federal government.

Interior Department officials gave permission to the demonstrators to stay in the Bureau of Indian Affairs building past the normal closing time. But government security forces instead attacked the protestors in another betrayal of U.S. promises.

The result was a week-long armed occupation of the building by Native Americans They studied and removed and thousands of documents that proved the corruption they alleged, then publicized them. The article was originally published in the November 1972 Montgomery Spark. Read it here.


Looking for More? Check out 2012 Spark 4th Quarter in Review


‘Scottsboro Boys’ – New Tactics & Strategy for Civil Rights

19 Feb
4000 March in Washington to Free ‘Scottsboro Boys’ – 1933

4,000 march on Washington on May 8, 1933 to “Free the Scottsboro Boys.” ©Bettman/Corbis.

By Craig Simpson
2nd of a series

During the height of the Great Depression, on May 8, 1933, a crowd of 4,000 people marched more than six miles through steady rain in Washington, D.C. demanding freedom for the “Scottsboro Boys” and other prisoners.

More than ten years had passed since the last predominantly African American mass march in the nation’s capital centered on a call for anti-lynching legislation and basic civil rights.

The “Scottsboro Boys” were nine African American youths accused of the rape of two white women in Alabama. Eight of them were convicted and sentenced to death. A mistrial was declared for the ninth, 13-year-old Roy Wright, after the jury deadlocked on the death penalty.

‘Scottsboro Boys’ with Attorney Leibowitz: 1933

‘Scottsboro Boys’ with Attorney Leibowitz: 1933

An all-white crowd packed the courtroom during the trials while thousands more gathered outside. When the first verdicts were announced, a band began playing, “It’s going to be a hot time in the old town tonight.”

The case inspired unprecedented activism in black communities across the country and cast a worldwide spotlight on treatment of African Americans in the United States.

The tactics used in the fight to free those accused also set off a years-long,  acrimonious public debate between the Communist Party (CP) with its legal arm, the International Labor Defense (ILD), and the NAACP.

Communist Party Takes Control of Case

During the initial trial a local lawyer, hired with the assistance of a ministers’ group allied with the NAACP, did a poor job of representing the Scottsboro defendants. The ILD attorneys then took control of the case with the support of the youths and their mothers.

Eight of the defendants had been sentenced to death on April 11, 1931 and were scheduled for execution on July 10th. The CP acted quickly to organize protests across the country, characterizing the trial as a “legal lynching.”

Blacks, Whites Protest Job Losses: 1930 No. 2

Solomon Harper shown at a 1930 picket line at the White House. National Photo Company, courtesy of the LIbrary of Congress

In Washington, D.C. meetings and rallies were held, including one on May 29, 1931, led by ILD District of Columbia leader Solomon Harper at Fisherman Hall (320 F Street, SW).

Harper outlined the holes in the prosecution’s case, pointing out, for example, that three trial witnesses had placed the defendants in different locations.   Harper also  addressed those criticizing communist involvement by calling for a united front to aid the youths. Ada Wright, mother of two of the defendants, also spoke and appealed to the crowd for aid in freeing the youths. Wright’s 17-year-old son, Andy, was scheduled for execution in six weeks.  Her other son Roy, 13, was still in jail, awaiting sentencing.

Letters and telegrams poured in to the county, the courts, the attorney general, the governor, Congress and the President to free the young men.  Nationwide direct action—including civil disobedience—was employed on an extraordinary scale in the quest for the young men’s freedom.

Communist parties in other countries also led marches and rallies to demand release of the youths, including a July 1931 rally of 150,000 German workers who heard Wright speak and plea to save her sons.

In addition to the mass pressure, the ILD challenged the initial guilty verdict in the courts on three broad grounds: that the trial had taken place under mob intimidation, that the defense was incompetent and had deprived the young men of a fair trial, and that African Americans had been excluded from the jury pool.

NAACP Leader DuBois in Washington: 1932

W.E.B. DuBois, shown at an Alpha Phi Alpha dinner, blasted communist tactics of mass action. Photo by Addison Scurlock, courtesy of National Museum of American HIstory.

NAACP Blasts Tactics

The NAACP was initially reluctant to take on an appeal. However, once the communists brought public attention to the youths, they fought bitterly to regain control of the case, even offering the services of famed trial lawyer Clarence Darrow at one point.

W. E. B DuBois, editor of the NAACP’s The Crisis magazine, blasted the ILD in a 1931 article, “If the Communists want these lads murdered, then their antics of threatening judges and yelling for mass action. . . is calculated to insure this.”

The NAACP also didn’t believe any significant legal principles were involved in the case. NAACP executive secretary Walter White wrote in a letter to field secretary William Pickens, “It is equally true that there is no broad legal principle to be established in the cases. The principle involved in them was established by us in the Arkansas Cases…ruling that a trial in a court dominated by mob influence is not due process of law.”

However, events proved the NAACP leadership wrong.

Case Goes to Supreme Court

The communists directly challenged every institution involved in the case—local officials, state officials, judges and the federal government—denouncing them as tools of the ruling class.

The CP engaged in high profile civil disobedience when they staged a banned demonstration at the Supreme Court on November 11, 1932–the day the Court was due to deliver its first decision in the case. A captain of the Capitol police, Stephen Gnash, refused to issue a permit because the protest “might be interpreted as an attempt to coerce the Supreme Court.”

The ILD held the demonstration anyway and police broke it up with clubs and tear gas, but not before the pickets threw a few counter-punches at the police.  Reports of the clash were met with horror by more conservative elements in the African American community.

7 'Scottsboro Boys' Win: 1932

Protestors are arrested at the Supreme Court prior to the ruling reversing the Scottsboro verdicts, November. 1932.

Precedent Set by Court

But in a precedent-setting ruling, the Supreme Court found that the defense provided the Scottsboro youths was incompetent and ordered a new trial. Justice Felix Frankfurter said at the time that the ruling was “the first application of the limitations of the [fourteenth] amendment to a state criminal trial.”

The Court also rejected the mob intimidation legal theory with the majority writing, “It does not sufficiently appear that the defendants were seriously threatened with, or that they were actually in danger of mob violence. . .” This was another blow to the NAACP and White, who had earlier written this was the sole basis for overturning the convictions.

The Alabama prosecutors then split the defendants into different groups for retrial,  where eight of the youths were again found guilty.

March on White House and Capitol

The CP continued its campaign to free the youths, their efforts climaxing in the 1933 march on Washington.

The night before the march, several thousand African Americans mixed with several hundred white supporters at the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church located at 3rd and I Streets, NW. There they heard Ruby Bates, one of the accusers of the youths who had recanted her testimony during the second trial, say,

They were framed-up at the Scottsboro trial, not only by the boys and girls on the freight train, of which I was one, but by the bosses of the southern counties.

Scottsboro March Rates Four Photo in Afro American: 1933

Afro American publishes four photos of the 1933 march on Washington.

The next day the lengthy march began at Florida and New York Ave NE and wound through the city before heading toward the White House and then on to the Capitol, where it was to disband near the House office buildings. Ruby Bates and Janie Patterson, the mother of defendant Haywood Patterson, led the group.

Marchers also called for freeing labor leader Tom Mooney, a Maryland African American named Euel Lee who was also facing the death penalty, and Angelo Herndon, a black communist labor organizer charged with insurrection in Georgia.

Roosevelt Refusal Angers Demonstrators

The demonstrators were angered when President Franklin Roosevelt refused to see a delegation. Instead the White House appointments secretary received representatives who presented a petition with 145,000 signatures. The crowd paused their march and gathered outside the White House where they sang The Internationale and shouted, “Free the Scottsboro Boys.”

Delegation Demands Justice Depart Action on Lynching: 1940

William D. Patterson, 2nd from left, shown in 1940. Photo by Addison Scurlock, courtesy National Museum of American History.

They then marched to the Capitol where a delegation led by William D. Patterson (no relation to defendant), a leader of the ILD, met briefly with Speaker of the House Henry Rainey and Vice President John Garner. They presented more petitions demanding freedom for the Scottsboro Boys and for the passage of an anti-lynching law.

Rep. Oscar De Priest (R-IL), the only African American in Congress at the time, continued the debate over tactics. He rebuked Patterson, telling him the case “cannot be settled by your parading in the capital: it is a case for the state and your presence in Washington fails to help the cause.” DePriest, who also opposed higher taxes on the wealthy and federal relief programs, was defeated in an election the following year.

Louise Thompson Patterson - late 1920s, CRC Worker, Former Wife of Wallace Thurman

Louise Thompson said the 1933 Scottsboro march was only the beginning and predicted a million would return. Photo: Carl Van Vechten.

The march concluded with a rally at Seaton Park near the Capitol where the throng heard a dozen speakers, including Louise Thompson. She told the crowd this was “only the beginning” and that “another time will come when 500,000, even a million marchers” will descend on Washington.

Mothers Return to D.C.

On the morning of Mother’s Day, May 13, 1934, four of the mothers and Ruby Bates returned to Washington and spoke at churches throughout the city.  In the afternoon, they were refused an audience with the President or any of his representatives. That evening several hundred people rallied in support of the Scottsboro defendants at the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA, 901 Rhode Island Avenue, NW.

'Scottsboro Boys' Mothers: 1934

Four of the Scottsboro mothers and Ruby Bates at the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA in Washington, DC in May 1934. Photo by Addison Scurlock, courtesy of National Museum of American History.

Janie Patterson, whose son had three times been sentenced to die in the electric chair, told the crowd, “The President wouldn’t see me and he is supposed to be my President too.” Viola Montgomery, mother of defendant Olen Montgomery, stated, “If a colored woman had been attacked by white men, nothing would have been done.”

Ida Norris, mother of Clarence Norris, praised the ILD, “If it hadn’t been for them, our boys would have been electrocuted or lynched long ago. If you are ever going to vote, vote nothing but the Communist ticket.”

The group went back to the White House the following day and was received by the President’s representatives.

Court Rules Jury Exclusion Illegal

The case came back before the Supreme Court as Norris vs. Alabama on February 15, 1935. The Court overturned the guilty verdict again in another precedent-setting decision, finding that Alabama’s exclusion of blacks from the jury rolls violated the “equal protection” clause of the Constitution.

“Scottsboro Boys Must Not Die,” DC Mass Meeting: 1934

Flyer for a 1934 Washington, D.C. protest meeting on the ‘Scottsboro Boys.’ Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

By this time, the ILD had made its own mistakes in handling the case, including two ILD members being caught trying to bribe the principal accuser of the youths.  In addition, the NAACP was under pressure by its members to end its fight with the communists.

A joint legal defense committee, supported by both groups, the ACLU and others, was finally formed in 1935 to take charge of the case. With the legal defense under a unified banner, the CP and ILD continued to organize mass pressure.

Partial Victory

Patterson’s fourth trial, in January, 1936, resulted in another rape conviction, but this time he was sentenced to 75 years—the first time in Alabama that a black man had avoided the death penalty after a conviction for the rape of a white woman.

In July, 1937, prosecutors dropped charges against Montgomery, Willie Roberson, Eugene Williams and Roy Wright after they had spent six years in prison. Wright, 13 at the time of the events, had been imprisoned all that time, even though he was never tried again after the first mistrial.

During an altercation, a deputy shot and wounded Ozie Powell in 1936 while he was being transported to a prison. Powell eventually pled guilty to assaulting the deputy and the rape charges were dropped as part of the plea deal. Powell was released in 1946.

The other three were convicted of rape. Clarence Norris, Andrew Wright and Charlie Weems were eventually paroled in the 1940s, and Patterson escaped in 1948. Wright was sent back to prison for a parole violation and wasn’t released until 1950.

New Rights, New Tactics

The debate over tactics would continue for decades, but the Scottsboro campaign established that direct action could produce change.  The defendants weren’t all acquitted, but they were all saved from the death penalty. Two new important precedents were set: the right to competent defense counsel and a prohibition against excluding African Americans from juries.

145,000 Protest Scottsboro to Roosevelt: 1933

The May 10, 1933 New York Amsterdam News headlines the Scottsboro mass protest.

Equally important was the communists’ use of mass protest and civil disobedience alongside a strident legal defense. Charles Hamilton Houston, who served as the first NAACP special counsel from 1935-40, summarized the Scottsboro case and put the Communist Party/ILD approach in perspective when he wrote in 1935:

By its uncompromising resistance to Southern prejudice the ILD has set a new standard for agitation for equality. Through its activity in the Scottsboro case the ILD has made it impossible for the Negro bourgeoisie in the future to be as complacent and supine before racial injustices as it was prior to Scottsboro. It has introduced the Negro to the possibilities and tactics of mass pressure.

Years later, Houston reflected that Scottsboro marked “an historic departure” and that African Americans

were made to feel that even without the ordinary weapons of democracy…[they] still had the force…with which they themselves could bring to bear pressures and affect the result of the trial…

Nobody who ever sent a telegram of protest to any of the Scottsboro judges…ever inside himself accepted the fact that he was willingly from then on going to tolerate the system and the oppression to which he hitherto had been unresistingly subject.


This is the second part of a series on civil rights marches on Washington and rallies at the Lincoln Memorial that laid the basis for the landmark 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom. Next Installment: The 1939 Marian Anderson Concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

Read Part I, Before 1963: the 1922 Silent March on Washington

Read Part III, DC’s Old Jim Crow Rocked by Marian Anderson Concert


Author’s notes:

In 1976, Norris, the last living defendant at that time, was pardoned with the support of the NAACP and civil rights groups across the country. The Scottsboro Museum and Cultural Center was opened in the town in 2010, acknowledging the history of the youths’ ordeal.

This year, two bills were introduced into the Alabama legislature that would finally clear all the defendants.  A resolution would find the Scottsboro youths “victims of a series of gross injustices” and declare them exonerated. The other legislation would grant the state parole board the power to grant posthumous pardons, a legal prerequisite before pardons to the now deceased defendants could be issued. Though 82 years late, observers predict that both bills will pass.

The quotes by Charles Hamilton Houston are excerpted from Genna McNeil’s, “Groundwork: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Struggle for Civil Rights.” Quotes by the Scottsboro mothers, Ruby Bates and Louise Thompson are from articles from The Afro American. Quotes from Walter White and W.E.B. DuBois came from “Remembering Scottsboro: The Legacy of an Infamous Trial” by James A. Miller. Other sources include: The Crisis, The Afro American, The Washington Post, The Washington Star, The Chicago Defender and The Amsterdam News.


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.


Before 1963: The 1922 Silent March on Washington

6 Feb
Marian Anderson at Lincoln Memorial: 1939

1963 March? – Marian Anderson 1939 concert. Photo: Robert Scurlock,

By Craig Simpson

The August, 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a watershed moment for the modern civil rights movement.  The effort galvanized upwards of 250,000 people for the largest demonstration in the city up to that time.

Sometimes called “The Great March on Washington,” it was the scene of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and helped spur the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The groundwork for that massive march on the nation’s capital for basic civil rights was laid over the course of decades, and the symbolism of the Lincoln Memorial figured prominently in those early efforts.

A fierce debate over tactics and strategy to achieve equality raged during those years between left-leaning advocates of direct action who were based in the black working class and those more rooted among African American professionals who urged reliance on legal efforts and lobbying.

By the time of the 1963 march, it had become clear that a “Courts and Congress” strategy by itself would not bring equality.

This is the first article in a series outlining some of the prior marches on Washington and rallies at the Lincoln Memorial that laid the basis for 1963 March on Washington.

1922 March Against Lynching in D.C.

Silent Anti-Lynching March on Washington: 1922

1922 anti lynching march on Washington © Bettman/Corbis

Five thousand African Americans staged a silent protest march on June 14, 1922 parading past both the Capitol and the White House with placards denouncing lynching and urging a federal anti-lynching bill.

Rep. Leonidas Dyer (R-MO) sponsored a bill that was pending in the Senate to require federal penalties for those state and city officials who failed to protect against lynching, as well as those committing the act.  It would also have forced counties to pay damages to the victims’ families.

Reversal of Post-Slavery Gains

By 1922, many of the gains African Americans made during the Reconstruction era after the Civil War had been reversed.  And in the 45 years since the end of Reconstruction, over 3,000 black Americans had been lynched.

President Woodrow Wilson capped the drive to re-subjugate black people after his election in 1912 when he segregated most government facilities in the capital city. He told a New York Times reporter in 1914, “If colored people made the mistake of voting for me they ought to correct it.”

Black leadership was not mute during this period, but the NAACP did use the tactic of a “Silent March.” It organized the first mass demonstration by African Americans in the twentieth century when 10,000 paraded in New York City in 1917 after a brutal attack by a white mob on African Americans in East St. Louis, Illinois.

A New Militancy – 1919

African American soldiers returning from World War I gave a new militancy to the fight for rights. When white mobs attacked black people in Washington, DC and Chicago in 1919, the veterans organized the armed defense of black neighborhoods.

White leaders were shocked when 10 whites, including two police officers, were killed during the clashes in Washington, compared to five black people.

DC Teen Kills Detective in Her Home: 1919

Johnson home at 220 G St. NW. Photo: Washington Times

Carrie Minor Johnson, a 17-year-old African American woman, became a cause celebre in black working class Washington when she and her father held off a mob of whites during the riot, then shot and killed a detective after police officers invaded their home.

Both were wounded in the shooting on the second floor of their residence and charged with murder. Charges were subsequently dropped against the father, but Carrie Johnson’s first trial resulted in a conviction for manslaughter. A second trial was granted and prosecutors dropped all charges after the new judge agreed to admit defense evidence that the young woman was in terror for her life.

In the Chicago attack, whites gained the upper hand against a fierce defense by African Americans.  The official toll was 23 black people dead compared to 15 whites.  A dozen blocks were destroyed in African American sections of town. Other cities and towns across the country were often overwhelmed by white mobs in the “Red Summer” of 1919, but the fighting spirit in Chicago and Washington brought hope and pride to the black communities.

Poem Extolls African American Resistance: 1919

Ode to DC’s defenders. From Afro American 8/15/1919.

James Weldon Johnson, then a field secretary for the NAACP and later the organization’s leader, wrote “In previous race riots they [African Americans] have run away and have been beaten without resistance, but now they will protect themselves.”

Chapters of the African Blood Brotherhood (ABB) organized by New York leader Cyril Briggs were established around the country. The ABB was organized as a semi-secret body and was a militant alternative to Marcus Garvey’s back-to-Africa movement; it favored armed self-defense of black people in this country. The ABB peaked during this period at upwards of 3,000 members in several dozen cities across the United States.

White Mob at the Scene of Final Assault on Greenwood: 1921

Part of white mob at scene of final assault on Greenwood at Frisco rail yard: Tulsa, Oklahoma June 1, 1921.

Tulsa Outrage -1921

In Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, an armed group of African Americans went to the courthouse to protect a black man charged with assault of a 17-year-old white woman. A black man had been taken from the authorities’ custody in 1920 and lynched and the group was determined to prevent another murder.

As the evening went on, shots were exchanged with a white mob. Several people on both sides were killed and wounded.

One of the worst attacks against black people in the nation’s history was about to begin. Oklahoma had a strong Ku Klux Klan and hundreds of whites were organized to assault the black Tulsa neighborhood of Greenwood. Black ex-servicemen organized the defense, placing armed men at strategic defense points around the neighborhood.

Defenders largely held off the white mob on the evening of May 31, but they were overrun on the morning of June 1. The white mob had overwhelming numbers and firepower, including a machine gun and an airplane.

Ruins of Greenwood Section of Tulsa: 1921

Greenwood in ruins after white mob assault in Tulsa: 1921

As they gained territory, the white mob systematically looted each house, business and church and then burned them to the ground, sometimes murdering the homeowners they found. The National Guard, which had been mobilized and spent the night and morning protecting white neighborhoods, moved to end the mob violence around noon.

The actual death toll is not known. Estimates ranged from 10 white and 26 black, to several hundred African American dead. The entire Greenwood section of the city was burned to the ground.

Early NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson: 1920 ca.

NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson led the fight for Dyer bill. Photo by Addison Scurlock.

Dyer Bill – 1922

The increasing violent clashes put pressure on Republican Party leaders who still nominally advocated the rights of African Americans.

While there was no serious talk of Congress over-riding state Jim Crow laws, the campaign against lynching and the armed clashes gave new impetus to a federal anti-lynching bill that had been introduced in one form or another since 1901.

African American leaders had successfully lobbied the Republicans to include an anti-lynching plank in their party platform.  In 1922, the party controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency.

The House of Representatives passed Dyer’s bill, strongly lobbied by the National Association for Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), on a 231-119 vote on January 16, 1922.

Mary Church Terrell as a Young Woman: 1920 ca

Mary Church Terrell, one of the organizers of the 1922 march on Washington. Photo: Addison Scurlock.

Mainstream civil rights organizations that had been leading the anti-lynching fight stepped up their tactics. In addition to the traditional meetings held in churches and letters written to newspapers and elected officials, these leaders made another foray into the street.

The Washington march included many fraternal organizations:  Masons, Elks and Knights of Pythias and Odd Fellows, along with veterans of the Civil and Spanish-American wars and World War I. Over 700 automobiles brought up the rear of the parade.

The District of Columbia march was organized by a “Committee of 100” mainly composed of D.C. residents. It featured a number of prominent women in the leadership, including Mary Church Terrell, a founder of the NAACP, Rosalie F. Cook, a member of the District’s board of education and M. A. McAdoo, head of the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA.

After the march, the NAACP took out full-page ads in major newspapers across the country on November 22 and 23, including the New York Times and The Atlanta Constitution. Despite the backdrop of armed clashes, the lobbying efforts, the 5,000-person march, and the follow-up ad campaign, the Dyer anti-lynching bill died in December 1922, after Senate Democrats staged a filibuster.

Aftermath

While similar bills were introduced in subsequent years, the Ku Klux Klan reached the height of its power in that period during the 1920s. They effectively blocked any legislation through their successful electoral program in the south and intimidation of any white official within their range of influence who considered breaking with them.

NAACP Anti-Lynching Advertisement in New York Times: 1922

NAACP ad in New York Times Nov. 22, 1922 during campaign for Dyer anti-lynching bill.

The devastating defeat of Tulsa’s armed resistance put a damper on this form of resistance and began the decline of the ABB. Briggs ultimately merged the organization with one of the two communist parties in existence at the time.

The failure of public mass pressure to result in victory during the anti-lynching campaign discouraged leaders from widespread use of this tactic during the 1920s.

It would be another ten years before African American activists again embraced the tactics of nationwide marches and demonstrations and renewed the push for federal anti-lynching legislation.


Read Part II: “Scottsboro Boys” – New Tactics & Strategy for Civil Rights
Read Part III: DC’s Old Jim Crow Rocked by 1939 Marian Anderson Concert


Author’s Notes: Most of the material in this article is taken from The Washington Post, The Afro American, Washington Times, Washington Star, Washington Bee, Amsterdam News, New York Times, Chicago Defender, “The Tulsa Race Riot Report” by the Oklahoma Commission and other public sources.


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.


Crazy Dion Diamond: A 1960 Rights Warrior in the Suburbs

20 Jan
Bravery at Arlington Lunch Counter: 1960

Dion Diamond sits calmly while Nazi Party chief George Lincoln Rockwell hurls racial insults at 1960 Arlington, Virginia Drug Fair sit-in. Photo by Gus Chinn, courtesy DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.


Campaign in Arlington, Virginia

Dion Diamond was one of a small interracial group that broke Jim Crow’s back in the Washington, DC suburbs in 1960.

The sit-in movement in the area began June 9, 1960 at a People’s Drug Store counter at Lee Highway and Old Dominion Drive in Arlington, Virginia.

Thirteen people, seven African American and six white, were refused service and the management closed the counter. Half the group, including 19-year-old Howard University student Diamond, then moved to the Drug Fair at 5401 Lee Highway, where they were also refused service.

However, this time a crowd of white teenagers gathered to harass the group, who had named themselves the Non-Violent Action Group (NAG). Someone alerted the American Nazi Party, headquartered nearby at 928 North Randolph Street. Lit cigarettes and other items were tossed at those sitting-in.

No arrests were made until the next day when Diamond and Laurence Henry sought service at a Howard Johnson at 4700 Lee Highway. They were arrested there for trespassing.

Victory Within Two Weeks

While business, civic and political leaders negotiated, NAG held another round of sit-ins. The demonstrations resulted in victory on June 22 when five major Arlington businesses — including People’s and Drug Fair — announced the end of their segregated practices. The next day restaurants in Alexandria followed suit, and Fairfax County did the same shortly after.

The group then turned to the Glen Echo Amusement Park in Montgomery County, Maryland, and began picketing on June 30. The picketers were faced again by American Nazi Party-organized counter-demonstrations, arrests for trespassing, and police harassment. Diamond was among those arrested.

White neighbors in the nearby community of Bannockburn joined the desegregation protestors and helped sustain the picket line through the rest of the summer.

Confidence in the Cause: Glen Echo 1960

Dion Diamond braves counter-demonstrators organized by Nazis in Glen Echo, MD in 1960. Photo: Walter Oates, courtesy of DC Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

Jim Crow Falls in Maryland Suburbs

The demonstrations branched out to other suburban Maryland targets that summer, including the Hi-Boy restaurant at North Washington and Frederick Street in Rockville. Hi-Boy gave in after two weeks of picketing, sit-ins and arrests.

The Hiser Theater at 7414 Wisconsin Avenue in Bethesda was the target of nearly 100 consecutive hours of picketing during one of the protests to mark the years that had passed since the Emancipation Proclamation.  Longtime owner John Hiser sold the theater in September and the new owners desegregated.  Picketers also targeted the Fair Lanes Bowling Alley in Hyattsville.

Glen Echo ended the 1960 season in the fall still segregated. During the off-season, however, under the cloud of lawsuits, political pressure and the threat of renewed picketing, the owners gave in and opened in 1961 as a desegregated facility.

The battle against Jim Crow at restaurants, theaters and amusement parks in Montgomery and Arlington was largely over, although sit-ins continued in Prince George’s County through 1962. Further, it wasn’t until 1966 that another group took on desegregation of housing in the Washington suburbs in an even tougher fight.

Diamond Heads South to Freedom Ride

When Diamond heard about the Trailways bus burning in the Spring of 1961 that nearly killed many in the first group of Freedom Riders in Anniston, Georgia, he quickly joined the second wave. He was arrested with others in Jackson, Mississippi for trying to integrate interstate transportation and was sent to the Mississippi State Prison in Parchman with the other riders.

Diamond served as a Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) field secretary in Mississippi and Louisiana from 1961-63. He was arrested more than 30 times during his civil rights activism, most famously at Southern University in East Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Several Southern students had joined in local desegregation demonstrations and were expelled from the historically black college by the administration. A student strike was organized and when Diamond arrived on campus to urge the students to continue resistance, he was placed under arrest for disorderly conduct.

To Overthrow the Government of Louisiana

The charges were changed to “criminal anarchy” – attempting to overthrow the government of Louisiana. Two other SNCC workers who visited Diamond in jail were also charged with insurrection…

…with force of arms, in the Parish of East Baton Rouge feloniously did… advocate in public and in private opposition to the Government of the State of Louisiana by unlawful means and are members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, an organization which is known to the offenders to advocate, teach and practice opposition to the Government of the State of Louisiana by unlawful means.

Diamond’s bail was raised to $12,000 – an enormous sum at the time. Another young activist, 20-year-old Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael), led a sit-in at Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s office in Washington seeking Diamond’s release.

Bail was ultimately secured for Diamond and the criminal anarchy charges were dropped after a long fight, but Diamond did eventually serve 60 days in jail for the original disorderly conduct charge.

Diamond went back to school in the fall of 1963. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin and later received a degree from Harvard. He lives in Northwest Washington, DC.

Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) on Diamond:

Dion Diamond Freedom Rider Mugshot: 1961

Dion Diamond mug shot after Freedom Ride arrest in Jackson, Mississippi May 1961.

I had a lot of experience in jails since this time. But this one? Whoa, it was unforgettable. This one was very, very strange.

We’re in the cell, unable to get to sleep. About two o’clock in the morning we hear footsteps approaching. I turn over to see a young white cop staring at us. He’s holding a pump-action shotgun, which he loads. As he does this, he’s staring at us and cursing. Dion and I exchange glances. Now what?

“So you the two _____ ______ _____ little sons of bitches who started this, huh? Wal, tonight you some dead niggers. I’ma kill yore black _____ _____ _____.”

He cocks the gun, cursing all the while. His eyes are bloodshot and staring as he moves the gun back and forth. First on me, then on Dion.

We are frozen. Dion in one corner of the cell, me in the other. The gun swings from one to the other. The cop is ranting and cussing. I’m stiff as a board trying to watch the guy’s eyes, his trigger finger, and the yawning muzzle of the shotgun at the same time. I watch as it swings away and back over to Dion. Then I hear Dion’s mouth, I cannot believe my ears.

“Come on, you cracker so-and-so, shoot. Pull the damn trigger. Ain’t nobody scared of you. Shoot. I’m ready to die if you bad enough. Shoot, white man. Do it.”

Dion just goes off, and as I see from the corner of my eyes, he’s steadily advancing on the gun. A veritable torrent of language flowing out of his mouth, defiant, challenging, non-stop language. Talk about putting me through some changes.

One minute I’m sure I’m dead, the next I’m absolutely certain that I’ve gone out of my mind. I can’t believe Dion. I remember thinking, “F” God’s sake, Dion, shut up. Please. This man is drunk. He’s crazy. You fixing to get us killed, Dion.”

The cop stares at Dion, begins to tremble, and swings the gun back over to my corner. What could I do? Having no choice, I start up too.

“Yeah, cracker, go ahead. Pull the _____ trigger. We ready to die. Are you? Pull the trigger.”

The policeman really started to shake then. Which was, if anything, worse. Now two voices are coming at him. Silently he lowers the weapon, turns, and walks away. I sink down on my bunk, listening to the footsteps recede.

I can’t describe the range of emotions. Fear. Anger. Disbelief. Relief, then exultation, then anger again. At Dion. I will not repeat exactly what my first words to him were—in effect, Dion, you crazed so-and-so….that’s my life you messing with. You understand that your crazy self damn near got us killed?

“Me,” said Dion. “Me crazy? Negro, we alive, aint’t we? Did he pull the trigger? Boy, you should be kissing my feet for saving yo’ shiftless life. Best you never forget this, Negro. When in doubt, jes’ follow me. Always follow the kid.”

For some reason, I found myself laughing. “You de man, bro, I’ma follow you. I’ma follow you.”

Crazy-assed Dion Diamond.

–Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) on Nashville, Tennessee arrest 1961.

Excerpt from Stokely Carmichael, John Edgar Wideman & Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, “Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture),” Scribner, November, 2003.


See more photos of Dion Diamond and the Glen Echo protests


MoCo Gay Teacher Fired 1972; Justice Denied for 40 Years

20 Dec
Joe Acanfora Winter 1972

Joe Acanfora, winter of 1972. Courtesy of the Joe Acanfora collection, all rights reserved

By Craig Simpson

On August 29, 1972, Joseph “Joe” Acanfora III began his teaching career at Parkland Junior High School in Rockville, Maryland, instructing students in earth science.

The Montgomery County school system was not his first choice as he prepared to graduate from Penn State University the previous June.  He had hoped to teach in Philadelphia, but the Montgomery County, Maryland schools were considered strong and Acanfora was excited to begin his career.

All seemed to be going well in the classroom. Acanfora developed a rapport with his students and they seemed to be interested in what for many students was a tedious subject.

However, less than a month after starting, Acanfora was handed a letter informing him that he had been transferred to “a temporary alternate work assignment” at the school system headquarters.

Acanfora was gay.

Campus Activism

Gay activism was still in its infant stage in 1972, but it was spreading rapidly across the country, fueled in part by the energy of a generation that questioned every existing institution.

The Stonewall rebellion in New York, often cited as the birthplace of the new activism, had occurred only three years before. An explosion of varied gay and lesbian groups, from the Gay Liberation Front to the Furies, challenged the foundations of society.

The first known campus group chartered was the Student Homophile League at Columbia University in 1967. By 1971, there were at least 150 student groups across the country with names like FREE (Fight Repression of Erotic Expression) at the University of Minnesota and RAGE (Rutgers Activists for Gay Education). Many just went by Gay Activist Alliance or Gay Women’s Alliance. Some provided a comfortable social setting for gay people while others were activist organizations. Most performed some degree of both functions.

Capping off 1971 at the  National Student Association convention, Warren Blumenfeld led the successful effort to establish a National Gay Student Center to be “staffed by gay people who were chosen by gay people and responsible to gay people on campuses throughout the nation.”

Penn State Joins Upsurge

Penn State was part of this upsurge and in 1971 students formed a campus group called Homophiles of Penn State (HOPS). Acanfora soon became its treasurer. The group was granted a charter by the student government in April, 1971, which meant the group could utilize campus facilities for meetings and post materials. Acanfora told his parents of his homosexuality shortly afterwards.

Penn State Gay Rights Banner

Homophiles of Penn State banner. Courtesy of Joe Acanfora collection, all rights reserved

The university moved quickly against the group.  In May, administrators tore down the group’s bulletin boards, suspended its charter, and opened an investigation into the legality of a gay organization.

Students rallied to defend HOPS and staged a picket line in front of the administration building, supported by the student government and nearly two dozen other organizations.  “We are protesting the very fact that an investigation is being made,” Acanfora was quoted in the campus paper The Daily Collegian. With that quote he became a public spokesperson for gay rights.

Acanfora hadn’t started at the University as an activist. He had graduated from Brick Township High School in New Jersey as class valedictorian in 1968 and entered Penn State in the fall on a Navy ROTC scholarship.

By 1970, he was wrestling with his choices in life and with his own sexuality.  He quit his NROTC scholarship and changed his major to education.  He had his first date with another gay man.

As he agonized over his sexual attractions in a rigidly straight society, he sought advice from Penn State’s student counselors on what it meant to be gay and how to meet other gays. In an amiable conversation he was urged to read as much as he could on the subject, but counselors could suggest little on meeting other gays except, in so many words, to cruise downtown and make eye contact.

Acanfora knew something was radically wrong. He attended a “Free University” class on homosexuality in the fall of 1970 that first brought him into contact with others who thought like him.

Public Fight Over Homosexuality Ensues

The university completed its investigation of the student group by the fall semester and on September 1, 1971, denied a charter to HOPS.

They wrote in part, “We are advised that, based upon sound psychological and psychiatric opinion, the chartering of your organization would create a substantial conflict with the counseling and psychiatric services that the University provides to its students and that such conflict would be harmful to the best interests of the students of the University.” At that time, mainstream psychiatry regarded homosexuality as a mental disease.

Acanfora at NYC Gay Pride Parade 1972

Acanfora at NYC Gay Pride, 1972. Courtesy of Joe Acanfora collection, all rights reserved.

As HOPS kept up its fight for campus recognition, Acanfora began his student teaching assignment at Park Forest Junior High School in State College, Pennsylvania, in January, 1972.

On February 11th, HOPS filed suit against Penn State, attempting to reverse the school’s denial of recognition as a campus group. Acanfora was one of the plaintiffs and was quoted in the Pennsylvania Mirror as saying that HOPS was “primarily educational in nature.”

Penn State reacted quickly and terminated Acanfora’s student teaching contract on February 14th. Local school officials acknowledged that there was, “no question as to [Acanfora’s] performance as a student teacher,” according to the Pennsylvania Mirror. However, they requested his removal alleging HOPS objectives “are not compatible with the educational policies of the public school.”

Acanfora responded in the Mirror that,  “I am completely in the right—morally, socially, legally and constitutionally.” He filed for a court injunction against the removal and won.

When he returned to the classroom after a little more than a week, he was greeted with “abundant ‘we’re glad to see you back,’ and ‘glad things turned out the way they did,’” according to the Daily Collegian.  Acanfora was quoted as saying, “…if someone has courage to stand up for his rights even in the face of a powerful oppressor they can win.”

Acanfora’s words were compelling, but the fight had just begun.

The publicity throughout the state helped set off a debate in Pennsylvania over whether homosexuals should be allowed in the classroom, and it put Joe Acanfora at the center of the issue.

Acanfora received letters both pro and con. One person wrote, “I bet your parents wish many times they should have aborted you.” Another, who asked for forgiveness for not voicing public support, expressed admiration for “…the courage you have shown in standing up for your rights as a human being in the face of some formidable efforts to intimidate and silence you.”

He was already contemplating the difficulties he might face obtaining employment and told the Asbury Park Press, “I won’t tell anyone about it [homosexuality] unless I’m asked because I don’t think it has any bearing. If I’m asked, I won’t hide it.”

Penn State Stalls on Certification

Acanfora completed his student teaching assignment and received a B+ for his grade. He submitted a standard application to obtain a Pennsylvania teaching certificate, a normally routine process.

Once again, Penn State threw up obstacles.

Abram VanderMeer, dean of the College of Education, questioned whether Acanfora had the requisite “good moral character” as a self-described homosexual. He convened a university teacher certification council composed of the deans of six colleges at the university.

The panel met several times and at one point two dozen HOPS supporters crashed an education meeting and peppered several deans with pointed questions about the delay in Acanfora’s certification.  The Daily Collegian reported that Robert Lanthrop, associate dean for resident instruction, told them, “It is pointless to pursue this at the university, people are not ready to accept this [homosexuality].”

The certification council called Acanfora before it for questioning. He resisted before agreeing to appear with his lawyer.

At the meeting on July 10, VanderMeer quickly got to the point:

VanderMeer: Then, I would like to ask further: What homosexual acts do you prefer to engage in or are you willing to engage in?

Acanfora: Which homosexual acts?

VanderMeer: Yes, which acts of expression of love, as you put it, for male friends?

Acanfora: Well, there’s a certain tradition of respect for privacy in our country, and especially in an academic community, and I would think that I would ask you to withdraw that question with respect to that.

VanderMeer: I don’t withdraw the question, but you obviously don’t have to answer any questions you don’t want to answer.

The questioning went on in this vein and resembled an inquisition more than an attempt by academics to gather information. Afterwards, the council members deadlocked 3-3 on whether Acanfora met the test of “good moral character” and decided to forward his application to the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education without a recommendation.

Montgomery County Schools

Acanfora applied to numerous school systems in April when he realized that his Pennsylvania teaching certification was going to be delayed. Among the systems he applied to were the Montgomery County and neighboring Prince George’s County schools in Maryland.

The Montgomery County school system asked for his “professional, service and fraternal organizations,” and for a list of “extracurricular activities” he had engaged in while in college.  Other school systems asked similar questions.  Acanfora did not list his membership in HOPS on any of them.

Acanfora interviewed with both systems seeking an earth sciences (geology) assignment with secondary students.  The Prince George’s system contacted him and offered a job, but Acanfora waited a few days before accepting to see if any other offers came in.

Frank Massey, an assistant principal of Parkland Junior High School in Montgomery County, telephoned Acanfora and asked him to come in for a second interview.  Acanfora declined because he didn’t want to jeopardize the Prince George’s job where he had only a few days before the deadline to accept.

At that point, Massey offered him the job and Acanfora accepted. A written contract was concluded on August 7th.  Acanfora began teaching earth science at Parkland on August 29, 1972. He was assigned five classes of eighth graders in addition to a home room and occasional bus monitoring.

Acanfora Wins in Pennsylvania

Pittenger Telegram Awarding PA Certification

Pittenger telegram awarding Pennsylvania teacher certification. Courtesy of Joe Acanfora collection, all rights reserved.

On Friday, September 22, a telegram arrived from Pennsylvania Secretary of Education John Pittenger informing Acanfora that his “performance academically and in the classroom as a student teacher fully meets the requirements of the laws of the Commonwealth” and that a Pennsylvania teaching certificate would be issued.

Acanfora had won. Pittenger called a press conference the same day to announce the decision.

After receiving phone calls from his attorney and from reporters, Acanfora notified the Parkland assistant principal that the issues surrounding his Pennsylvania teaching certificate might become public knowledge in Montgomery County.  He was interviewed by Parkland principal Guy Smith later in the day and was informed that the information would be passed on to his superiors.

Over the weekend, articles appeared in the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, Asbury Park Press, Washington Evening Star – Daily News and other newspapers with headlines like “Homosexual Gains Authority to Teach.”

Acanfora told the Asbury Park Press, “I’m happy not because it allows me to teach but because it permits all individuals to choose their own life styles.”  Pittenger indicated in his press conference that homosexuals who were not criminals would be issued certificates.  Acanfora responded in the Asbury paper, “I’m sure the ‘criminal’ pertains to heterosexuals also.”

County Removes Him From Teaching

By Monday, school officials in Montgomery County reacted to the press reports by recommending that Acanfora be removed from the classroom. While in the middle of teaching his last class of the day on Tuesday, September 26, 1972 Joe Acanfora was called to the office and handed a letter by Stephen Rohr, who had initially interviewed him for the job.

The letter, signed by Deputy Superintendent of Schools Donald Miedema, gave him “a temporary alternate work assignment” in the main county school administration offices until “we gather information and assess the circumstances relating to this matter.”

The letter concluded by saying that “This is in no way to be construed as a punitive action. You will receive full salary while you are in this temporary work assignment.”

Acanfora first sought to persuade local administrators and the elected school board to return him to the classroom.  The Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) and its parent body the National Education Association (NEA) both sent letters requesting his reinstatement.

A petition asking for Acanfora’s return to the classroom was circulated among teachers at Parkland and 61 of 83 teachers signed; 140 students at the school signed a student petition. Both were given to the assistant superintendent of schools in charge of personnel.

On October 25, the Gay Activist Alliance passed out flyers demanding reinstatement of Acanfora at a Montgomery County school board candidate forum held at Walt Whitman High School.

The irony of the venue was lost on the candidates. One ultimately unsuccessful candidate, Robert Brodie, responded, “I feel these people are sick and need help. I do not believe they have any place in the classroom,” according to the Star-News. Other candidates were more reserved, but none openly supported Acanfora’s return.

DC Blade Covers Acanfora 1972 vol 4 no 2

DC Gay Blade covers Acanfora, Nov. 1972.

The alternative press also weighed in.  “Joe Acanfora…no longer teaches; now he’s pushing a pencil at school headquarters in Rockville. Why? Because Joe is gay and admits it openly,” wrote The Gay Blade.

The Montgomery County Spark wrote, “Joe teaches a class in Earth Sciences, which has nothing to do with sex. His sexual preference has nothing to do with his job. He is not preaching homosexuality, but even if he were, he would be only one voice against all those who not only preach heterosexuality, but expect it of everyone, even homosexuals.”

Acanfora Files Suit in Federal Court.

However, these efforts did not persuade the administration or the school board to act, despite the statement of a board spokesman who said “there was never any question about his teaching ability,” according to the Washington Post.

On November 7th, Acanfora filed suit in federal court, with the help of NEA, seeking reinstatement to the classroom.

Once again, media coverage followed with articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post and local papers in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Acanfora’s parents went on a public television segment to support him. Joe Acanfora Sr. recounted that when his son told him he was gay he’d said: “I loved you then, I love you now, and I’ll love you afterwards…we’re with you,” according to The Advocate.

At a Parkland Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meeting, some parents stood up and opposed gays teaching in the schools.  “I don’t want a homosexual teaching my boy sexual behavior”. Another added, “I don’t want any of those 61 teachers who signed the petition supporting Acanfora teaching my child…” Principal Smith added his two cents, “I personally feel what I do outside the school has to do with what I do within it,” according to the Montgomery County Sentinel.

On January 24, 1973, Penn State University entered into a settlement with HOPS to recognize the group as a bona fide campus organization. The original battle that led to Acanfora’s teaching woes had been won.

The CBS television show 60 Minutes produced a segment on the Acanfora case that aired February 25. The show featured Parkland teachers, students and parents speaking in a positive way about Acanfora.

“I’m interested in a good teacher for the kids and I saw every indication that he was exactly that. She [my daughter] really enjoyed him as a teacher in his class. His private life – I didn’t know anything about it, and I didn’t care,” said one parent on the show.

County: Wouldn’t Have Hired a Gay

Acanfora Hate Mail: 1973

Acanfora received both support and hate mail. Courtesy of the Joe Acanfora collection, all rights reserved.

The proceedings got underway with a hearing in February on the school board’s motion to dismiss the case and Acanfora’s motion for an injunction that would return him to the classroom.

Robert S. Bourbon, attorney for the Montgomery County school district, argued in the pretrial hearing that Acanfora was “militantly activistic” as a result of appearances on television shows.  He went on to say that the board believed there were not only grounds for transfer but also sufficient grounds for dismissal because “if Acanfora had admitted he was a homosexual…they would not have hired him in the first place.”

Miedema, the deputy superintendent, filed an affidavit with the court stating that, “It is likely that he (Acanfora) will not be recommended for continuation of hire for 1973/74 nor will he be recommended for tenure.” According to the Sentinel, Miedema further indicated, “if Acanfora’s homosexuality had been known in the first place, the teacher wouldn’t have been hired and the defendants wouldn’t be involved in this litigation.”

Judge Joseph H. Young did not grant either motion and set the case for trial.

Acanfora did not back off making public statements after the hearing. According to the Daily Collegian when “asked what he thought of homosexual marriage Acanfora said he thinks it is fine, citing tax breaks married individuals receive as one reason why.”

County Testimony Calls Acanfora a “Hazard”

The hearings on Acanfora’s suit began in Federal District Court for Maryland on the cold, icy morning of April 12, 1973. Acanfora was joined in the Baltimore courtroom by family, friends, gay activists, several teachers, and a group of seminarians.

The county laid out three basic arguments for transferring Acanfora: Acanfora’s homosexuality would influence children in an undesirable way, Acanfora’s public statements forfeited any protection, and Acanfora had withheld relevant information on his employment application.

MoCo School Chief Opposed Gay Teachers

Montgomery County, MD School Superintendent Homer Elseroad in an undated photo (center) testified that gays should not be teachers

Superintendent of schools Homer Elseroad confirmed that he would not hire a gay teacher or put Acanfora back in a classroom without a court order “because teachers have a tremendous impact on students and it is not possible to separate where a teacher stops being a teacher and acts as a counselor, chaperone at social functions or as a coach.”

Dr. Reginald S. Lourie, professor of child health at the George Washington University School of Medicine, testified that Acanfora’s return to the classroom would be a “hazard” to their development and would deny them “free choice” of their sexuality. He argued that Acanfora would serve as a “model” that “vulnerable” boys would seek to emulate.

Acanfora Wanted “Equal Par”

Acanfora sought to counter this testimony by taking the stand himself and bringing in his own expert witnesses to testify about the positive effects having a homosexual teacher in the classroom would bring. His attorneys offered court cases in support of his rights.

“I never did discuss my own private sexual beliefs or feelings or I never discussed the sexuality at any level with any student in or out of the classroom,” Acanfora said under oath.

Acanfora explained that he did not list HOPS on his teaching application because “It was based primarily on the experience I had just had with the State College School Districts. I realized I had just completed four years of training to become a teacher and was judged perfectly qualified; and I realized had I put down the Homophiles of Penn State as an organization or as an extracurricular activity that I would not be given a chance to even go through the normal application process for a teaching job; that I would not be considered on an equal par with all other applicants and, in fact, would guarantee that I would not receive any sort of teaching job.”

One of Acanfora’s attorneys introduced the transcript of the 60 Minutes program, stating “…we have never subscribed to the relevancy of the post-September activities of Mr. Acanfora. It is being offered in response to the School Board’s position that he is an active, militant homosexual, as reflected on his television and radio appearances. We want the Court to have the record before it, as to what was said on those occasions.”

Dr. William R. Stayton, a psychologist and sex counselor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, testified that Acanfora’s presence in the classroom would help in “breaking down homosexual stereotypes” and “affirm the self-image” of those students who were gay.

The trial concluded after four days of testimony.

Judge: Acanfora Beyond “Bounds of Propriety”

Acanfora Loses MD 1st Round 1973

Washington Post headline June 1, 1973 after court ruled against Acanfora.

In his May 31st decision, Young blasted Acanfora’s appearance on 60 Minutes and ruled that his public statements and appearances after the transfer were beyond “the bounds of propriety which of necessity must govern the behavior of any teacher, regardless of sexual tendencies.”

In language that provided some consolation, Young also wrote that the “mere knowledge that a teacher is homosexual is not sufficient to justify transfer or dismissal. In addition, the homosexual teacher need not become a recluse, nor need he lie about himself. Like any other teacher, he may attend public gatherings and associate with whomever he chooses.”

Asked for comment by the Sentinel after the decision, Acanfora responded, “The judge said my appearances incited controversy.  I say my appearances, in fact, allayed controversy. I talked about a homosexual teacher fighting for civil liberties.”

Acanfora quickly filed an appeal with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals with the help of the NEA and the American Civil Liberties Union.

But on August 15th Acanfora got more bad news when the Montgomery County board of education voted 4-0 against renewing his contract because his job was “no longer existant.”

Board member James Daugherty questioned the move saying, “when a position is eliminated and the person has performed well in that position we usually make extreme efforts to find other jobs” for him.  Daugherty was not present for the final vote.  Of the 20 non-tenured teachers that were not brought back, only Acanfora was dismissed because the job no longer existed.

Appeals Court: Must Disclose Homosexuality

Acanfora With NEA Caucus Shirt

Acanfora with Gay Teachers Caucus NEA t-shirt. Courtesy of Joe Acanfora collection, all rights reserved.

In a February 7, 1974 ruling, the 4th Circuit Court upheld the county school board on the transfer, but switched its reasoning. The judges held that Acanfora should have disclosed his membership in HOPS on his employment application.

“Acanfora purposely misled the school officials so he could circumvent, not challenge, what he considers to be their unconstitutional employment practices. He cannot now invoke the process of the court to obtain a ruling on an issue that he practiced deception to avoid,” the decision concluded.

The ruling was puzzling for several reasons. The county had confirmed in open court Acanfora’s beliefs that they would not hire him if they had known he was gay.  Further, HOPS was not a recognized campus group at the time Acanfora applied and the county did not raise the issue of the employment application during the transfer process nor did Judge Young when he made the initial ruling on the case.

However there was important language in the decision. It read, “There is no evidence that the [news media] interviews disrupted the school, substantially impaired his capacity as a teacher, or gave the school officials reasonable grounds to forecast that these results would flow from what he said. We hold, therefore, that Acanfora’s public statements were protected by the first amendment and that they do not justify either the action taken by the school system or the dismissal of his suit…”

Acanfora commented after trial to the Pennsylvania Mirror, “They try something new every time.” He went on to note in regard to the application, “I didn’t put that I was a member of the Peace Coalition either.”

The End of the Road

The NEA’s DuShane Foundation agreed to fund an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and it was filed in June, 1974. Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc., to help bolster the case, filed an amicus curiae brief.

But in the fall the Court denied certiorari, which effectively upheld the lower court decision and ended the case. Three and a half years after becoming involved in trying to gain recognition for a campus gay rights group, Joseph Acanfora was barred from teaching in Montgomery County without further appeal.

Acanfora never taught again. “I was not motivated to fight another uphill battle trying to secure another teaching position — remember, this was 1973-75,”Acanfora said in a recent interview.

He found work in the Washington, DC, area after losing his teaching job, then relocated to California in 1978. He began a 25-year career with the University of California — first in contract and grant administration, and later in technology transfer (patents & intellectual property management).

Acanfora had a 22-year relationship with a man in Berkeley and “dabbled in gay politics over the years – taking the lead in getting Oakland, California’s gay non-discrimination ordinance on the books; helping set up administrative systems at the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in its beginning days…”Acanfora said in the interview.

Joe Acanfora with Husband

Joe Acanfora with husband in 2011. Courtesy of Joe Acanfora collection, all rights reserved.

Joe Acanfora retired from the university in 2003 and now lives in Saigon in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam with his Vietnamese partner, whom he married in South Africa in 2011. Acanfora writes mainly about his passion for food in his blog and also occasionally reports on the gay life in the country.

When asked recently how he views the tumultuous period of his life in the early 1970s, he responded,

“It changed my life.  Established a very supportive relationship with my parents and sisters. I learned so much — but feel I helped “teach” so many people beyond the classroom about gays and justice and personal conviction. Overall, one of the most meaningful and important events of my life — one I’d repeat again in a minute.”

Forty years have passed since Joe Acanfora was transferred out of the classroom and ultimately lost his job. Despite the changing attitudes toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the country as a whole and in Montgomery County, Maryland, in particular, Acanfora has never received any acknowledgement from any official in the county that actions taken against him were wrong nor have they offered to let him teach again.


Author’s Notes:

Acanfora’s battle was one of many waged across the country that brought the issue of LGBT rights to forefront and forced many people—gay and straight—to confront their own feelings and prejudices. That process has resulted in tangible progress in civil rights, but that fight also continues today.

While Acanfora’s teaching career ended 40 years ago, it’s not too late for Montgomery County to admit the position they took was fundamentally wrong and acknowledge the role he played in breaking down barriers.

Most of the information for this article can be found on Joe Acanfora’s website.  A recent interview with Acanfora also contributed to the material.


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.

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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