Tag Archives: Maryland

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

2 Jul

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

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

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

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

Battle Near Rockville

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wheeler captured, convicted & escapes

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

Bill Wheeler convicted in MD slave insurrection: 1845

Wheeler is convicted of insurrection.

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

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

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

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

Mark Caesar’s Trial

Mark Caesar sentenced for MD slave rebellion: 1845

Caesar is sentenced to 40 years.

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

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

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

Aftermath

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

Prison record of revolt leader Mark Caesar: 1850

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

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

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

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

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

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


Editor’s notes:

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

Long live Mark Caesar and Bill Wheeler.

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

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

 

 

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


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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?


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Images of Cambridge, MD: 1963-67

Civil Rights images in Maryland

The 1937 Phillips Packinghouse Strike

The 1938 Maryland Crab Pickers Strike


1937 Phillips Packinghouse Strike – Promise & Defeat

18 Sep

By Daniel Hardin

Union Business Cambridge Strike 1937 – Hi-Res

Strikers in front of Phillips Packing Co. Factory F, June 1937

“Down here on the Shore, where in the past the only time whites ever visited a jail in connection with a colored prisoner was to lynch him, a group of white strikers went to a jail and made police turn a colored striker loose.”—William N. Jones, 1937, Baltimore Afro-American newspaper.

A strike by hundreds of workers at the Phillips Packing Company in Cambridge, Maryland in June 1937 brought hope to the struggle for racial and economic justice in an area where African Americans were subjected to worst aspects of Jim Crow and unions were to be crushed mercilessly.

Climate of Racial Intolerance

Jones wasn’t exaggerating. Maryland’s Eastern Shore had been a slave labor, plantation-based economy before the Civil War and Jim Crow afterwards.

At the time of the strike, the brutal lynching of Matthew Williams in Salisbury in 1931 and George Armwood in Princess Anne in 1933 had just occurred a few years earlier.

The two-year legal battle of Euel Lee, also known as “Orphan Jones,” involved an attempting lynching at Snow Hill and ended with the legal lynching (no African Americans served on his jury) of Lee in 1933.

Matt Williams Barbarically Lynched in Salisbury Md: 1931

Matt Williams Brutal Lynching on Md Eastern Shore in 1931

Lynchings Enforced Economic Oppression

Jim Crow kept workers divided and helped keep wages on the Shore low. When challenged, racist leaders used terror to keep workers divided.

In 1931, a September strike by 800 predominantly African American crab pickets in Crisfield was supported by predominantly white oyster shuckers–showing the potential for unity.

The racist leaders on the Shore got their opportunity to send a message about standing up for higher wages in December. In the official version of the story, Matthew Williams allegedly shot his white employer in Salisbury in a dispute over wages, wounding himself during the altercation. While there was a more plausible explanation that involved the employer’s son doing the shooting, this mattered little.

Williams was dragged from dragged from his hospital bed and brutally lynched in front of the courthouse in front of a crowd of 2,000. Body parts were cut from him as souvenirs. His dead body was later dragged through the street by a rope and his body set afire. What remained of his charred corpse was hung from a lamp pole in an African American section of town as a warning.

Once again, in the official story, Green Davis and his family were slain in Taylorville in 1931 in an alleged dispute over wages. Euel Lee, an African American who worked for Davis was arrested. White International Labor Defense attorney Bernard Ades and companions were beaten outside the courthouse in Snow Hill when a white mob couldn’t get their hands on Lee.

Despite Ades’ efforts in winning a precedent-setting Maryland retrial based on exclusion of African Americans from juries, Lee was hanged in Baltimore October 28, 1933.

CIO Organizer Leif Dahl 1936

Leif Dahl of the CIO Cannery Workers Union

New Unions of CIO United Workers

However, barbaric, racially motivated violence wasn’t the only force in play in the middle of the Great Depression.

New unions that ultimately became the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) were organizing workers into single industrial unions of all races and sexes–not along the craft lines of most unions affiliated with the American Federation of Labor (AFL), where African Americans and women were often excluded. The new unions were also winning wage gains from employers.

In 1937, a single employer, the Phillips Packing Company that employed over 2,000 workers canning vegetables grown on local farms, dominated Cambridge. The CIO, through the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing & Allied Workers, headed locally by Leif Dahl, had begun to organize the plant covertly and at least one organizer had obtained work at the plant.

The Cannery union was a recent arrival on the shore, but was already well known to workers for its attempts to organize migratory field workers and seafood workers.

Wildcat Strike Begins

On the evening of June 23, 1937, a relatively small number of workers at the can-making factory within the massive Phillips plant struck after the company announced plans to reduce the workforce. The strike quickly spread to the rest of the workforce that was engaged in packing.

Loading Stringbeans for Packinghouse Near Cambridge: 1937

Migratory field workers initially joined the strike

That night, a crowd of 1,000 marched through the streets rallying support and overturning trucks carrying vegetables. The workers were majority African American with a substantial minority of whites. For the first few days of the strike they convinced migratory bean pickers who were destitute and lived in farmer provided shanties to join the strike.

AFL Unions Try Quick Deal

Strikers Rally Cambridge Md: 1937 – Hi-Res

A woman, possibly Anna Neary, speaks to a crowd of strikers.

The next day on June 24, Anna Neary (the only high-ranking female AFL organizer) appeared and the company president Albanus Phillips opened negotiations with her and concluded a quick agreement that included a relatively small 10% wage increase and the recognition of the AFL union.

Many CIO supporters believed that the company had invited the AFL to undercut them and that the wage increase was too small. At a mass meeting, the proposal was voted down.

March on Jail Frees Black Striker

That night, 1,000 predominantly white strikers and their supporters gathered at the jail to demand the release of James “Midnight” McKnight who had been arrested earlier in the day during a confrontation with truck drivers. McKnight was charged with disorderly conduct after a trucker was hit with a rock.

Overturned Truck During 1937 Cambridge Strike – Hi-Res

Overturned vegetable truck at Phillips Plant B

The sheriff, confronted with the likelihood of more violence, released McKnight on the promise of the strikers to refrain from more violence that night. It was probably the only instance of a predominantly white crowd marching on a jail to free (and not lynch) an African American south of the Mason Dixon line since Reconstruction.

The victory, however, was short-lived. On the following day of June 25, John Cephas, an African-American, was killed by a truck loaded with vegetables that swerved and struck him beside a road near the plant. Cephas was an occasional worker at the plant who had come out to support the strikers.

Over the next few days, the strikers tried to rally support, enlisting favorable merchants and closing the stores of those opposed the strike.

Union Business Cambridge Strike 1937 – Hi-Res

Phillips workers apparently signing union cards

Strike Falters

By June 30, the strike was beginning to falter. When police arrested one of the strikers, a crowd of only 200 was mustered at the local police station and held back by a dozen local policemen. The strikers eventually raised enough bail money to get him out. Meetings were attended by less than 300.

The AFL tried to set up a number of different unions—for cannery workers, truck drivers and packing workers—further dividing workers. Neary claimed to the company that she could settle the strike without a vote by workers and would accept the previous offer of a 10% increase.

Phillips rejected Neary’s offer and violence increased. Strikers stoned trucks and guards fired on the strikers, wounding James Powell. Police then arrested Powell.

Strikers also clashed with police who broke up their picket line. One striker, James Roberts, suffered a three-inch gash from a police club. Several more strikers were arrested.

Truck Overturned During Cambridge Strike 1937 – Hi-Res

Strike sign on the pole reads, “We can’t live on $9.80 a week, 40¢ no less.”

Company Union Created

Phillips, through a Merchants Association, set up a company union called the Cambridge Workers Association. He quickly recognized the bogus union and “settled” the strike for the original offer of 10%. A quick trial of Powell, the striker who was shot, resulted in a 12-month jail sentence for Powell.

The strike began to crumble and Phillips re-opened some of the plant. Phillips filed suit against the town for damages as a result of the strike. By July 9, the strike was over. A number of strikers were sentenced to jail by the local courts.

The AFL and CIO settled their differences over the Phillips plant in the aftermath of the strike with the CIO taking jurisdiction over the packing house workers while the AFL accepted truck drivers.

The National Labor Relations Board twice ruled against Phillips’ company union and ordered several strikers reinstated, but the cause was lost. The CIO Cannery union lost a final close vote in 1947 to the company union at a time when the Cannery union was accused of communist leadership.

Gloria Richardson brushes off National Guard: 1963

Gloria Richardson brushes off the National Guard: Cambridge, Md., 1963

Victory in the 1960s

The company-inspired union continued to “represent” the workers and acted as a hiring hall and helped to screen out workers who may try to organize a union that would act more forcefully.

The Phillips Company continued to dominate Cambridge until the mid 1950s when the company began to layoff workers. The company was sold to Consolidate Foods in 1957. The United Packinghouse Workers finally broke into non-union Cambridge when it organized the Coastal Food Plant in the 1960s when local civil rights activists led by Gloria Richardson joined their efforts.

A Third View of Factory F: 2014

Phillips Packing Company Factory F in 2014

Editors Notes:

Looking back at this strike and its ultimate failure is an agonizing exercise in “what ifs?”

The CIO organizing drives of the 1930s provided hope to thousands of workers on the Shore, both black and white. The defeat at the Phillips Packing Co., however, insured that any organizing would not fundamentally challenge Jim Crow.

Today little remains of the packing industry in Cambridge, Maryland. Visiting the site of this great failed strike requires a bit of imagination.

Location of Phillips Packing Factory B: 2014

Phillips Packing Co. Factory B occupied the upper left corner of the intersection of Washington St & these tracks in Cambridge, Md.

In 1965, Factory B and a number of other buildings burned, leaving only a small administrative office that still stands today and is occupied by the Coastal Gunite Construction Company at 16 Washington Street (across the street from a Wawa).

The massive Phillips complex that was composed of several dozen buildings is now reduced to the administrative office and Building F on Dorchester Street (the building next to Packing House Antique Mall and a small vacant building where two smokestacks still stand. Also standing is some of the boiler building and a smokestack across the railroad tracks behind Building F.

________________________________________________

For additional images related to the strike, see https://www.flickr.com/photos/washington_area_spark/sets/72157631308678086/

For a related article, see “600 Black Women Stand Strong, the 1938 Crab Pickers Strike,” https://washingtonspark.wordpress.com/2012/12/05/600-black-women-stand-strong-the-1938-crab-pickers-strike/

 

Standing Against the Maryland Klan 1971: A Personal Memory

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

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

by Bob Simpson
Cross-posted at The Daily Kos

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

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

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

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

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

St Marks Church Target of Klan in 1967

Laurel, MD church target of Klan attack in 1967.

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

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

Maryland, My Maryland: A legacy of white supremacy

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

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

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

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

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

Women Break Up Klan Rally: 1966

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Entrance to Town of Rising Sun, MD: 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demonstration Day Arrives

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

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

Part of Former Boyle Farm in Rising Sun, MD

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laurel MD Arms Against Klan: 1967

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

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

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

Damn, that news felt good.


Author’s Notes:

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


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


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


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.

600 Black Women Stand Strong: The 1938 Crab Pickers Strike

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

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

By Craig Simpson

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

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

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

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

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

Climate of Racial Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Racial Solidarity in 1931 Strike

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

Housing at W. T. Handy Packinghouse 2: 1940

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labor Unrest Continues

Women Picking Crabmeat in MD: 1940 ca

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

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

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

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

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

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

CIO Organizing on the Shore

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

Union Business Cambridge Strike 1937

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Strike Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shiloh United Methodist Church, Crisfield: 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Mob Terrorizes Community

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Union Organizers Forced Out of Town

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

Upturf Area, Possible CIO Refuge in Crisfield: 1938

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

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

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

Federal Conciliator Evicted From Crisfield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mob Violence Begins to Backfire

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

Crab Pickers Union Meeting in Crisfield: 1938

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

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

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

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

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

Food Shipments to Strikers Blocked

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

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

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

N R Coulbourn: Packinghouse Did Not Reduce Rates: 1938

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

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

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

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

Women Head to Washington

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

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

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

Packers Change Their Tune

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

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

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

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

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

Victory for the Strikers

CIO Union Wins at Crisfield: 1938

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

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

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

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

Aftermath

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

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

Leif Dahl, East Coast Cannery Union Leader: 1936

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author’s Notes

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Addendum 2: Michael Howard – Fighter for Workers

Crab Pickers Union Meeting in Crisfield: 1938

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eastern Rolling Mill Strike Won: 1936

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Washington Free Press Battles Suppression 1969-70

7 Nov
Judge James H. Pugh Orders Subversion Probe: 1969

Judge Pugh’s grand jury probe of Free Press “subversion” sets off battle. Photo courtesy of DC Public Library, Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

By Craig Simpson

The Washington Free Press, an alternative newspaper of the late 1960s, published for only three years.  Its legacy was an epic clash with local authorities that ended in a blaze of glory as the tabloid’s battle against suppression gutted Maryland’s McCarthy-era anti-subversive law and helped roll back the definitions of obscenity.

Its greatest victories and defeats came after Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James H. Pugh ordered a grand jury investigation into the newspaper in March 1969 for advocating, “the destruction of the state and destruction between the schools of this county and the duly constituted law enforcement agencies thereof.”

Background

The Washington Free Press started as an intercollegiate paper but began publishing as an alternative newspaper on a two-week basis in March 1967. The issues contained New Left, Old Left, pacifist and anarchist opinions and information mixed with mysticism, advocacy of psychedelic drugs, cultural writings, artwork and poetry.

Alternative newspapers of various stripes were published in practically every sizable city and town in the country during a time when black militancy, the  “counter-culture” and anti-Vietnam war protests and were sweeping the nation.

The Free Press was sold at head shops and other sympathetic outlets, but most of the 20,000 copies each issue were sold on street corners by individuals who paid ten cents per copy to the Free Press and sold the paper for 20 cents.  Often the newspapers were advanced to sellers who were expected to repay out of their proceeds.  Both display and personal advertisements also helped finance the paper. Staff turnover was constant, the newspaper paid only a small stipend per week and most staff lived communally.

The paper began to directly challenge authorities in 1968 when a majority of the staff embraced the Youth International Party politics of cultural and political confrontation.

Newspaper More Provocative

There was always police harassment of street corner sellers and two people hawking the Free Press were arrested for selling obscene material in Rehoboth, DE in 1967, but authorities largely ignored the newspaper.

However, by 1969 the Free Press published the names, addresses and photos of alleged undercover agents, regularly used four letter words and called police pigs. They published articles on how to grow marijuana and wrote about revolution. In the process, they developed a large following among high school students.

Authorities in Montgomery County, MD began a counter-attack in February 1969 when three students were suspended at Gaithersburg High School for distributing the paper.

Police followed up by arresting David Kramer for selling the paper outside of Northwood High School a week later.  They charged Kramer with not having a permit for sales within 500 feet of a school.   However, charges were quickly dismissed against Kramer, the son of Montgomery County council member Rose Kramer, when a judge ruled that the permit requirement was aimed at food trucks and similar businesses.

Judge Pugh Orders Grand Jury Investigation

Undaunted by this legal setback, the county pressed on.  On March 3, Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James H. Pugh, citing the 1949 Maryland “Ober Law,” told a grand jury it was a felony to commit “any act intended to overthrow, destroy or alter, or to assist in the overthrow, destruction or alteration of” a political subdivision of the state “by revolution, force or violence.”

He told the grand jury that if they found the Free Press had violated this law, they should, “indict the staff, publishers and printers of the paper,” according to the Washington Post.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) quickly denounced the Free Press investigation.

Pugh was already a well-known opponent of social justice advocates.  In 1960, Pugh imposed fines on five people convicted of trespassing during the picketing demanding integration of Glen Echo Amusement Park telling them, “Imagine, college students from New York and college students from other places trying to force your ideas on the way other people run their businesses.”

He presided over the 1961 rape trial of James & John Giles, after impanelling an all-white jury.  The Giles brothers were accused of raping a white woman.  After they were convicted, Pugh sentenced the brothers to death. The case went to the US Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial.  After a six-year fight by their defense committee and lawyers, prosecutors dropped charges against the Giles brothers in 1967.

Pugh also sentenced a Chevy Chase bookstore owner to six months in jail in 1961 for selling a copy of Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, telling Samuel Yudkin he had “flagrantly violated the laws of Maryland.”

When a District man came before him in 1965 for stealing $461 worth of lead bars, Pugh served notice that “the overflow of the criminal element from Washington” can expect harsh sentences.

“This court wants you to know that when criminals such as you come out here to Montgomery County, MD, you are going to be dealt with severely,” he told Eddie Terrell as he sentenced him to a 10-year prison term.

Cartoon Ruled Obscene, 6 month Jail Sentence: 1969

Free Press response to Pugh’s subversion inquiry. From page 7, March 15-31, 1969 issue.

The Free Press Raises the Ante

Free Press responded to the grand jury investigation in its March 16-30 edition by publishing a seven page attack on the judicial system that began with a relatively small caricature of Pugh masturbating while sitting behind a dais where instruments of torture hung.  The drawing was entitled “He’ Comm D’Judje” (sic).

One of the articles specifically criticized Pugh and printed his unlisted phone number and Chevy Chase address advising readers to call or visit him.

The County responded March 21 by having police seize 100 copies of the paper at an Empire Records store on Old Georgetown Road for obscenity.  Owner Jim Seward was told that the paper was “no longer approved,” according to the Washington Post.

Police Arrest Dillingham

That evening Montgomery County activist J. Brinton “Brint” Dillingham began selling the newspaper outside of the Bethesda police station after hearing of the Empire Records confiscation.  Police quickly arrested Dillingham and a 17-year old companion and charged them with possession of obscene literature.  Dillingham was released on bail and a trial date set for April 17.

The Free Press’ printer refused to run another issue and the paper scrambled to find a way to publish the paper before securing a New York print shop.  The delay and subsequent increase in cost forced the paper to publish its next issue two weeks late.

Picket Judge Pugh’s Home Over Subversion Inquiry: 1969

Demonstrators picket Judge Pugh’s home April 4, 1969 over subversion probe and obscenity arrest. Photo: Pike. Courtesy DC Public Library, Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

April 4, more than thirty demonstrators picketed Judge Pugh’s home.  Joe Forer, a longtime attorney of left-leaning defendants who also led the successful appeal of the Giles brothers’ conviction, filed suit in federal court to overturn the sections of the “Ober law” cited by Judge Pugh.

On April 7, Dillingham was tried in a courtroom packed with more than 100 supporters, including one wearing a copy of the Pugh cartoon pinned to his shirt.

During the trial, Forer introduced evidence that Phillip Roth’s best selling novel Portnoy’s Complaint containing explicit sexuality was sold at a Walden Book Store managed by Montgomery County state’s attorney William Linthicum’s wife.  Linthicum, who was prosecuting the case, stipulated that he had no intention of prosecuting the store’s proprietor.

Forer noted that he believed the only reason this case was being tried is because it lampooned a judge.

People’s Court Judge Willard J. Nalls convicted Dillingham of passing out obscenity and sentenced him to six months in jail. Nalls told Dillingham, “I don’t think you have to be an art critic or write for a newspaper to determine whether something is obscene. I think this picture falls clearly within that language.”

Dillingham Convicted of Obscenity in Free Press Case: 1969

Sister, mother & brother of Dillingham outside Bethesda court April 7, 1969. Photographer: unknown. Courtesy of DC Public Library, Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

Judge Nalls set a $5,000 bond for Dillingham prompting Forer to respond, “You’re kidding! I’ve seen murder cases where it wasn’t that high.  As Dillingham was being led away, Dillingham supporter Richard Crouch began rhythmic clapping. Nalls shouted, “You’re in contempt of court!” Dillingham supporter Michael Mage responded, “You’re in contempt of us.” Nails cited and fined both for contempt of court.

A Montgomery County Bar Association resolution condemned the Free Press and supported Judge Pugh saying they were “…outraged at the vilification of a member of our bench.“

Bar president Richard B. Latham, went on to say, “It is inconsistent for persons to flout some parts of our Constitution and then seize upon other parts of the very same Constitution for their protection.”  Forer responded, “They talk about flouting the Constitution.  My opinion is that the constitutional rights of those who publish and distributed the Free Press have been grossly flouted.”

Meanwhile nearly every jurisdiction in the Washington area began a concerted drive against the Free Press.

The Montgomery County Council passed a resolution to investigate Free Press distribution in the high schools.  Prince George’s state’s attorney Arthur “Bud” Marshall called for an injunction against Free Press distribution to anyone under 18.

On April 8, a Washington, DC Free Press salesman was arrested at 16th & K Streets NW after being stopped by police.  His crime was using obscenity when he told an officer, “Arrest me if you want to, I’m tired of this s__t.”  A Kensington youth was charged with possession of obscenity when police stopped him for a traffic violation and found two copies of the paper in his car on April 11.

The Paper Fires a Second Round

The Free Press responded with perhaps its biggest “stick in the eye” when in published its April 16-30, 1969 edition.  It placed a large, self-censored version of the Pugh cartoon on the front cover as a “connect the dots” illustration along with the admonition:

Free Press Response to Obscenity Conviction

Free Press ups the ante in their April 16-30, 1969 issue by placing Pugh cartoon on front cover.

Hey, gang! Connect the numbered dots and display your artwork at the institution of your choice. (Evaporated milk and a sponge will do the job.) The name of the game is “Subversion-Perversion”.

The District opened an investigation of the paper for operating without a corporation franchise license.  The District police carried out a court-ordered search of the newspaper office citing the Free Press publication of excerpts of documents obtained during a Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) takeover of the Sino-Soviet studies offices at George Washington University.  Police found nothing.

Two more Free Press peddlers were arrested in Salisbury, MD, April 26 for distribution of obscene material.  District police arrested another two at 15th & New York Ave NW for vending without a license May 12.

Dillingham Repeatedly Arrested

Dillingham’s appeal of his obscenity conviction to Circuit Court was scheduled for June 9 where a trial by jury would take place. Dillingham operated Freedom House, a youth activities center located at 4927 Cordell Ave. in Bethesda as director of Compeers, a social action group.  Police were determined to shut Freedom House and through the landlord had obtained an eviction notice.

Police began harassment of young people in the area of Freedom House on June 3 and continued for next three nights. On June 6 police arrested 21, including Dillingham, in front of the group’s house to “forestall vandalism” and for “loud noise, profanity and general disorder.” A spontaneous demonstration outside the Bethesda police station was staged by about 50 people as word spread throughout the county.

While the arrests were taking place in Bethesda, Detective Gabriel C. Lamastra, who originally arrested Dillingham March 21, appeared before the Society of the Holy Name at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rockville. Lamastra appealed to those present to attend Dillingham’s upcoming circuit court trial and passed out copies of the Free Press that contained the caricature of Judge Pugh masturbating.  Lamastra was not arrested.

On June 7, Dillingham was arrested again when police confronted youths at a county parking garage across the street from Freedom House.  Dillingham was charged with “failure to move off public property when ordered by a police officer.” In response, 75 young people marched on the Bethesda police station.

By the end of the week, Dillingham had been charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, creating a public nuisance and making excessive noise in addition to the failure to move charge.

Dillingham Re-Tried Before Jury for Obscenity

Dillingham’s re-trial in circuit court began on June 9.  The cartoon was “a shameful and morbid interest in sex, nudity and excretion” and thereby aroused “prurient interest,” according to state witness Ralph P. Oropollo, a Kensington psychologist.

Defense witness Frank Getlein, an art critic for the Washington Star, testified that the caricature was “clearly a political attack on a political figure on the grounds that the severity of his decisions is related to a perverted sexual condition.”

Freedom House Evicted: Bethesda, MD 1969

Dillingham outside Freedom House after eviction June 26, 1969. Photo: Brig Cabe. Courtesy DC Public Library, Washington Star Collection©Washington Post.

The jury began deliberations after 10 pm on June 10 and continued for nearly 5 hours.  The verdict of guilty was read at 3 am in front of several dozen Dillingham supporters who stayed through the night.  Later that morning, a court ordered Freedom House evicted.

Dillingham’s bail of $5,000 was continued and his lawyers quickly set about appealing the verdict.

The conviction and sentence drew widespread condemnation in letters to the Washington Post.  Many critics cited the disparity between Dillingham’s sentence and the June 1969 $300 fine given Prince George’s People’s Court Judge Richard E. Painter  for breaking the nose of a woman and threatening her with a revolver.

Drive Against Paper Continues

However, the verdict spurred jurisdictions in the Washington area to raise the level of their own campaigns against the paper.

On June 19, two street distributors were arrested in Arlington, VA and charged with displaying obscene literature for a cartoon contained in the Free Press by Robert Crumb that was then being displayed in an exhibit at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.

The following day, Fairfax, VA police arrested the owner of Discount Variety store after a police officer bought the paper.  Billy Morrow was charged with distributing obscene literature.

District police arrested Brian Neville that evening at 2nd and Pennsylvania Ave SE after he sold two copies of the paper to a detective.  Neville was also held on distribution of obscenity charges with a $1,000 bond.

On June 23, Prince George’s County police raided a College Park, MD store, seized 300 copies of the Free Press plus a “Wanted” poster of Jesus Christ.  Lawrence Woodruff, owner of the Joint Possession, and a 17-year old employee were charged with selling obscene literature.  Woodruff was also told he may be charged with “blasphemy.”

June 24, Alexandria, VA ordered police officers to arrest Free Press distributors.  According to the Washington Post, police went to two stores where they believed the paper was sold but came up empty as the owners told them they no longer carried the paper due to legal concerns.

By July, the ACLU filed several suits in federal court to enjoin police in the Washington area from “harassing, intimidating, persecuting and attempting to suppress the publication” of the newspaper. One of the suits sought both compensatory and punitive damages.

Attempt to Suppress the Paper Take a Toll

The crusade against the Free Press was taking a toll on the paper.  Printing and shipping the paper from New York added cost to an already precarious bottom line. The loss of advertisers, distributors and street sellers intimidated by the authorities’ campaign further cut into the finances of Free Press and the staff struggled to continue publishing.

The paper was further hurt by competition from the Quicksilver Times, a similar Washington area alternative paper, which began publishing in June 1969. Quicksilver’s politics differed from the Free Press in that it was more closely aligned with the Revolutionary Youth Movement faction of SDS.  The Free Press was also impaired by internal staff disagreements.

However, the Free Press won its first victory in September when the Pugh-ordered grand jury probe ended with no indictments.  The jury reviewed a number of documents and interviewed detective Lamastra, but concluded that criminal charges were not prudent.

In December 1969, the Free Press published what would turn out to be their last issue and reached an all time circulation high of 25,000.

In January the Free Press office was broken into and their files on undercover police officers were stolen while items of value were left alone.  Holes were knocked through the wall of an adjacent men’s room to gain access.  No arrests were made. The staff continued to struggle to put out another issue that would have covered the December 1969 Chicago police killing of Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton.

On January 28, 1970, Prince George’s Judge Roscoe Parker convicted Woodruff of distributing obscene material telling him that the Free Press was a “piece of trash” that “should be banned.”

Parker went to proclaim that, “To say that this is art is ridiculous. It’s obnoxious, truly obnoxious (and) …repulsive to even suggest” that the cartoons were art.  During the trial, Parker refused to allow a Prince George’s librarian to testify on community standards.  The Hyattsville MD branch of the library had the Free Press on its open shelf in the adult section and two other branches subscribed to the paper.

Subversive Law Thrown Out

The Free Press won a resounding victory February 2 when a three judge federal court threw out most of Maryland’s “Ober law” and

Joseph Forer, the attorney whose appeals overturned Dillingham’s obscenity conviction & gutted Maryland’s anti-subversive law in an undated photo.

criticized Judge Pugh.  The court left standing only the provisions that dealt with actual acts of violence and overt acts, striking down any parts dealing with speech or membership.

In specifically rebuking Pugh, the court held that any indictments against the Free Press would have been unconstitutional, “based only on the facts submitted to the grand jury by Judge Pugh.”  State Attorney General Francis Burch was quoted in the Washington Post saying that the “Ober law” was now “almost impotent.”

After nearly three months of struggling to overcome its financial problems, the Free Press officially announced they were unable to continue publishing in March 1970.  The newspaper, however, continued to live and fight in the courts.

Dillingham Cleared of Obscenity

Dillingham received a birthday present July 15, 1970 when the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed his obscenity conviction for selling the Free Press.

Judge Charles A. Thompson said in the majority opinion, “Although Freudian concepts of sexual motivation for human conduct, as expressed by the cartoon, have come under fire recently, they are not so discredited that the Court could say those ideas are utterly without social worth.”  The court also found that the caricature of Judge Pugh had not exceeded contemporary community standards and that it did not appeal to prurient interests.

At the time of the decision, Dillingham was continuing his fight against repression by running for Montgomery County Sheriff on a platform of disarming all law enforcement officers and freeing all political prisoners.

The Free Press continued its string of victories after its death when a three-judge federal panel invalidated requirements that determined who could sell newspapers on city streets.  Fingerprinting had been one of the requirements to get a license.  On February 12, 1971 the judges found the city’s bureau of licenses and inspections had “no appropriate standards” to determine who received licenses.

The ruling came over “Tasty Comix” that had originally been distributed as part of the Free Press, but continued to be suppressed as a separate publication on street corners after the Free Press ceased publication.

In August 1971, Federal District Judge Howard Corcoran declared a National Park Service rule that had been used as the basis to arrest street vendors of alternative newspapers unconstitutional.  Corcoran ruled on a suit brought by the long dead Free Press that the rule was “overly broad” and had served as a prior restrain on free speech.

Corcoran warned police that “there should be no repetition of police activities” in which vendors were arrested for lacking a license to sell newspapers.  Parks are “areas traditionally open to the public for the exercise of First Amendment rights…such parks as Dupont Circle, Farragut Square and Lafayette Square lie in the center of business activities…and are often the sites for demonstrations.”

Courts Rule Free Press Not Suppressed

The Free Press wasn’t the only newspaper targeted in that time period.  The Quicksilver Times was declared obscene in February 1970 by a judge in St. Mary’s County, MD  after Scott Bennett was arrested with 50 copies getting off a bus in Lexington Park.  The Voice from the Mother Country was suppressed in May 1970 after an FBI raid on its offices ostensibly looking for Cathlyn Platt Wilkerson, a Weather Underground fugitive.

Black Panther Party newspaper vendors were also harassed.  In August 1970, police arrested a man for selling the Black Panther paper in front of a Montgomery County drug store.

Despite winning in court on nearly every substantial issue, on May 16, 1973, the US Court of Appeals upheld a District Court ruling that metropolitan police had not consistently suppressed the Washington Free Press and Quicksilver Times newspapers, denying their request for claims and the ability to present additional evidence concerning police harassment.

In essence, the string of court rulings gave police the green light to suppress free speech and press activities in the moment while overturning those actions later after the threat had subsided.  Nonetheless, the Free Press wins in court over repressive anti-subversive, obscenity and restrictive news distribution laws were real victories.

Author’s Notes: Many of the participants on the Free Press side of the fight are unknown.  Many went by first names only.  Among those who should be recognized are J. Brinton Dillingham, Joseph Forer and all the Free Press staffers including first among equals, Christopher Webber.  Bill Blum, who founded the paper along with seven others, should also be acknowledged.   And last but not least, all the Free Press vendors and street distributors who took the brunt of the harassment and arrests.

Most of the information in this posting came from the Washington Post, Star and Free Press and from court documents.

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