Civil Rights Movement

Photograph of Mary Church Terrell as a young adult.

Impressions of Washington: Mary Church Terrell’s Activism

Educator, author, and activist Mary Church Terrell was the first president of the National Association for Colored Women, the first African-American woman elected to a major city school board, and a founding member of the NAACP. A lifelong advocate for equality, Terrell participated in sit-ins well into her eighties. But out of all of her activism, one 1906 speech stands out as an insightful and damning critique of racial dynamics in the nation's capital.

Hobson with his station wagon and trademark pipe and fedora, ready to harangue the multitudes. (Source: Evening Star)

Julius Hobson Gets Out of the Rat Race

If you lived in DC in August 1964, you might have seen Julius Hobson driving through downtown with a cage full of enormous rats strapped to the roof of his station wagon. Frustrated by the city government’s refusal to do anything about the rat problem in Northeast and Southeast DC, and about the District’s more affluent citizens’ apathy about the issue, he said that if Southeast was having this problem, then Georgetown should share it too. Hobson caught “possum-sized rats” in Shaw and Northeast, and transported them up to Georgetown, promising to release the cage full of rats in the middle of the wealthy district unless the city government acted to curb the epidemic. Since he was, as a piece in The Washingtonian put it, “[a]ware that a DC problem usually is not a problem until it is a white problem,” he decided to go ahead and make it a white problem.

A Place for the Poor: Resurrection City

Resurrection City spent six muddy weeks on the National Mall, within view of landmarks such as the Capitol. (Photo source: Wikipedia Commons)

In the early morning hours of June 23, 1968, thick clouds of tear gas rolled through a multitude of shacks on the National Mall.  This shantytown was Resurrection City, and its residents were the nation’s poor. As many ran from their shelters, they saw Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final dream of economic equality withering in the gas. They had been citizens of the city for six weeks, all the while campaigning for rights for the poor around D.C. Now their work seemed all for naught. After an increase in violence and with an expiring living permit, the police had come to chase them out. Children were crying, adults screaming, and some were even vomiting. But amid the chaos, a song rang out: “we shall overcome.”

Picketers, including future Maryland State Senator Gwendolyn Greene Britt, stand outside Glen Echo Park in 1960. (Photo source: National Park Service)

Remembering the Summer of 1960 at Glen Echo

You might not immediately associate roller coasters with racial equality, but more than three years before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March on Washington, Maryland’s Glen Echo Park was a focal point of the Civil Rights Movement. It made sense: since its opening in 1899, Glen Echo had been the premier amusement park for white Washingtonians. The park featured a number of modern roller coasters, a miniature railway, a Ferris wheel, an amphitheater, a pool: everything and more that other parks provided.

"Wake-up alarm to the nation"

Though he was the grandson of a Klansman, Bob Zellner realized at a young age that he didn't agree with segregation. As a young man, he joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and became the first white southerner to be a SNCC Field Secretary. In a time of high tensions, particularly in the Deep South, Zellner and his wife Dorothy held their ground as supporters of black freedom and desegregation. They traveled from Danville, Virginia for the March on Washington. Years later, Zellner remembered the experience.

"The thing that we were most afraid of was the March would be a bust."

On the days leading up to the March on Washington, buses from every direction poured into the District of Columbia. Culie Vick Kilimanjaro and her husband John Marshall Kilimanjaro came from Greensboro, North Carolina. No one knew exactly what to expect prior to the March. Many feared violence. Many feared that no one would show up and the March would be a bust. Thankfully neither of those things came to pass. The March was a great success thanks to the bravery of people like the Kilimanjaros. Read their recollections after the jump.

On February 2, 1959 (l-r) Michael Jones, Gloria Thompson, Ronald Deskins and Lance Newman became the first black students to break the color line in Virginia's public schools. (Source: Washington Post website)

It Happened Here First: Arlington Students Integrate Virginia Schools

On February 2, 1959, Stratford Junior High School (now H-B Woodlawn High School) in Arlington was the first public school in Virginia to be integrated. That morning, four African American seventh graders – Ronald Deskins, Lance Newman, Michael Jones and Gloria Thompson – started classes at the school with over 100 Arlington County police officers in riot gear standing guard. To the great relief of the community, there was no violence or disorder (though two students were sent home for setting off a firecracker in a school bathroom)

The day had been a long time coming.