Protests

Photograph of the Soviet Embassy (Source: Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey)

A Thwarted Protest at the Soviet Embassy

On Aug. 24, 1973, about 20 D.C. Jewish school children gathered around the Soviet Embassy holding onto basketballs. It was around noon, and they were getting ready to bounce the balls just loud enough for Soviet officials to hear. But they weren't there to play; they were there to stage a political protest.

Marion Barry Leads Bus Boycott

Boycotters board a “freedom bus,” one of the provided forms of transportation. (Source: Jet Magazine, Feb 10, 1966, accessible via GoogleBooks)

The price of public transportation in D.C. is rising and people are angry. Although this statement could accurately describe the present time, let’s turn back the clock to 1965.

D.C. Transit had just announced plans to raise bus fares and one man wasn’t having it. This man was Marion Barry, who would go on to become mayor of D.C., serving four terms. But Barry wasn’t mayor yet. He was a relatively new resident in D.C., having moved here to open up a local chapter of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Barry saw the bus company’s raised rates as a direct hit to low income people in the District, who were mostly African American.

"The Whitest Huddle of Any Team in the League"

The Washington football team in 1961. (Image source: RedskinsCardMuseum.com)

At the start of the 2020 season, D.C.'s football team took the field as the Washington Football Team after prolonged protests over the team name. Sound like a familiar situation? That’s because today’s name-change controversy echoes the situation over 50 years ago when the Redskins were the last all-white team in the NFL. By 1952, every other team in the league had African-American players, but Washington team founder and owner George Preston Marshall refused to integrate and dragged his feet for ten more years until his hand was forced.

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.

North Carolina tobacco farmer Dwight Watson single-handedly gridlocked downtown Washington in March 2003 when he drove his tractor into the pond at Constitution Gardens and claimed to have a bomb. (Photo source: Associated Press via Wikipedia)

Tractor Man Lays Siege to Washington

When you think of protests in Washington, D.C., what comes to mind? Demonstrators in front of the White House? A rally on Capitol Hill? A march down Constitution Avenue? Well, on March 17, 2003 a North Carolina tobacco farmer took a very different tactic.

Around noon that day, 50-year old Dwight Watson drove his Jeep into D.C., towing his John Deere tractor on a flat bed trailer. Heading up Constitution Avenue, he suddenly jumped the curb and drove straight into the pond at Constitution Gardens between the Vietnam Memorial and the Washington Monument. Watson began playing patriotic music and then climbed onto the tractor, which he adorned with an upside-down American flag – a traditional sign of distress – and a yellow flag with a tobacco leaf on it.

In was a odd scene and authorities were perplexed. But, in the post 9/11 world they weren’t about to take any chances. Officers from the Park Police, D.C. Police and the FBI closed off the streets around the pond and made contact with Watson.

The farmer claimed to have bombs made of ammonium nitrate, an ingredient used in fertilizer and explosives like the one that Timothy McVeigh used to attack the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995.

Muhammad Ali in 1967 (World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg, Library of Congress)

Muhammad Ali's Speech at Howard University, 1967

The PBS documentary The Trials of Muhammad Ali, covers the boxing champ's struggles outside the ring during the tumultuous mid-1960s, and his emergence as a symbol of protest and dissent for young people of that time. Ali's duality as a firebrand activist and a revolutionary icon is examplified, in some ways, by his controversial appearance at Howard University in April 22, 1967, where he gave a speech to African-American students just days before he refused induction in the armed forces, which led to his indictment and conviction for draft evasion.