Tag Archives: civil rights

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.


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“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. 

MD Marriage Equality: Over 50 Years in the Making

14 Nov

Fifty years ago sodomy laws made lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships illegal—defined by authorities at that time as sexual perversion.  LGBT individuals were routinely arrested, fired from employment from both the federal government and private employers and condemned as mentally ill by psychiatrists.

A few images from the early battles in the Washington, DC area…

White House Picket for Gay Rights: 1965

White House Picket for Gay Rights: 1965

The Mattachine Society, the first homosexual rights group in the modern era in the Washington, DC area, was formed by Franklin Kameny and Jack Nichols in August 1961. On April 17, 1965, the Mattachine Society held the first organized public demonstration for gay and lesbian rights in at the White House.

Pictured above is Ernestine Eckstein at the third White House picket sponsored by the Mattachine Society, October 23, 1965.

For some other great images of the early Mattachine Society picket lines at the US Civil Service Commission, the White House and the Pentagon and other actions, please see the Barbara Gittings & Kay Tobin Lahusen gay history papers and photographs on the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Image from Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen gay history papers and photographs.  Photo by Kay Tobin Lahusen.  Courtesy of the New York Public Library Digital Collection. Permanent link at NYPL: http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/id?1605764

DC Gay Liberation Front 1970

Washington, DC Gay Liberation Front: 1970

This photo is undated and at an unidentified location. It is probably at an anti-Vietnam war demonstration in Washington DC in December 1970 or January 1971, judging by the clothing worn and the slogan “set the date” which was not in widespread use until late 1970.

The image was used to illustrate a Washington Star in-depth story entitled, “The New Radicals,” published January 24, 1971 about the DC Gay Liberation Front (GLF).

The article summarized the Nov. 28, 1970 demonstration at the Zephyr Bar on upper Wisconsin Avenue after four GLF members were refused service.  Several dozen GLF members and supporters came to the restaurant and staged an impromptu demonstration chanting slogans inside the restaurant.  Some minor property damage occurred and twelve GLF demonstrators were arrested, although charges were later dropped.

The Star feature story also outlined the early Nov. 1970 GLF disruption of a conference on the “psychiatric treatment of homosexuals” at Catholic University and the role GLF played in the Black Panther’s Party sponsored Revolutionary People’s Constitutional Convention also in Nov. 1970.

See the history of the DC GLF and GLF photos on the Rainbow History site.

Explore the many faceted history, documents and photographs of the LBGT movement in Washington at Rainbow History.

Photo by Joseph Silverman published January 24, 1971. Courtesy of the DC Public Library Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

Gay Alliance Protests US Park Police: 1972

Gay Alliance Protests US Park Police: 1972

On January 5, 1972, members of the Gay Activist Alliance staged a demonstration against US Park Police near the Iwo Jima memorial in Arlington Virginia.

Police had arrested over 60 people in a wooded area of the park in the preceding five months for “obscene and indecent” acts.  The Washington Blade reported many of those detained complained they had been entrapped by the eight undercover officers assigned to conduct arrests.

A group of about 20 activists rallied at North Meade St. in Arlington, VA and marched to the memorial chanting and alluding to the entrapment by carrying signs like, “Don’t Expose Yourself, You May be Impersonating an Officer.”

Park police arrested six protesters for “demonstrating without a license.”

In that time period sodomy laws were used to jail anyone deemed guilty of “sexual perversion.” Sexual perversion was defined by police and courts to include anyone gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

This demonstration marked one the earliest open revolts against the use of police to break up activities of consensual adults in the DC area.

See the Gay Activist Alliance press release on entrapment at Iwo Jima. Explore the many faceted history, documents and photographs of the LBGT movement in Washington at the Rainbow History site here.

Photo by John Bowden. Courtesy of the DC Public Library, Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

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