Julius Hobson's Unlikely Relationship with the F.B.I.

Julius Hobson was as active an activist as you could imagine, but he also collaborated with law enforcement for several years. (Image source: DC Public Library, Washingtoniana Division, Collection 1, Julius Hobson Papers.)

We’ve written before on this blog about the exploits of Julius Hobson. A D.C. civil rights activist in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, his campaigns against segregation and injustice were based on equal parts audacity and bluff, ranging from staging a “lie-in” at a D.C. hospital, to encouraging people to paste pro-integration stickers over the punchcards on their power bills,  to threatening massive protests and boycotts that had no chance of materializing. He combated police brutality by following policemen around with a long-range microphone, and, most famously, promised to release cages full of rats on Georgetown if the city didn’t deal with the rat problem elsewhere. His antics effected genuine social change, in large part because everyone was too nervous to call him on his bluffs, for fear that he might be able to back them up. His acts were already so outlandish, anything seemed plausible, except for one rumor that seemed to be too uncharacteristic to be true. Yet, it was the truth: for years, Julius Hobson passed information to the FBI.

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)

The Washington Redskins are being accused of insensitivity and intolerance. The government is taking steps to intervene if the team doesn’t change its ways. Sound familiar? That’s because today’s name-change controversy echoes the situation over fifty 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.

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

Despite recent events at the National Zoo, scares about escaped rodents in Washington are nothing new, and since this is Washington, these scares have sometimes had a political bent.

If you lived in DC in August of 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.

Malcolm X traveled widely in the early 1960s, but Washington was the site of two seemingly unlikely connections for him. (Photo source: Library of Congress.)

Malcolm X's Unlikely Washington Connections

In the early 1960s, Malcolm X traveled widely preaching black separatism on behalf of the Nation of Islam and – after splitting from the group in 1964 – promoting a more moderate vision for American race relations. So, it's no surprise that he came to the nation's capital on a number of occasions.

On the 50th anniversary of his death, we look back on two rather unusual connections Malcolm made in Washington.

In 1964, D.C. was the site of the only known in-person meeting between Malcolm and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which was significant considering the two leaders' very public differences on approaches to the civil rights movement. Malcolm once called King "Rev. Dr. Chicken-wing" in a not-so-subtle critique of non-violent civil disobedience.

The two staged a made-for-the-cameras meeting in the U.S. Capitol. But, as strange as the photo-op with King seemed at the time, Malcolm made headlines with an even more unlikely connection in Washington a few years earlier.

The Greatest Game Ever Played

Lew Alcindor throws down a slam dunk in the 1965 game between Power Memorial Academy and DeMatha Catholic at Cole Field House. Dematha won the game and ended Power Memorial's 71 game winning streak. (Photo source: The Washington Star)

Fifty years ago tonight Dematha Catholic High School clashed with the aptly-named Power Memorial Academy out of New York City. Led by 7'1" center Lew Alcindor (who later became the all-time leading scorer in the history of the NBA as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Power Memorial was riding a 71-game winning streak and had been tabbed as the mythical #1 high school team in the nation.

Dematha, which had made a name for itself in the Washington area prep circuit under then 33-year-old coach Morgan Wooten, was no slouch either. The Stags were riding a 23-game winning streak of their own. Still, it was clear Wooten's squad would have its hands full with the New Yorkers and, in particular, Alcindor, "a 17-year-old who is not only big but quick, smooth and agile" who was drawing comparisons to Wilt Chamberlain.

What happened that night at Cole Field House has been called the greatest high school basketball game ever played.

Joan Mulholland: Arlington's Homegrown Activist

Joan Muholland mugshot after her arrest in Jackson, Mississippi in 1961. (Photo source: Joan Muholland)

What are you doing tonight? Hopefully you're planning on going to the Arlington Historical Society's free public program with civil rights activist Joan Mulholland. It's tonight at 7pm at the Arlington County Central Library.

By the time she was 23, Mulholland had participated in more than fifty sit-ins and protests. She was a Freedom Rider, a participant in the near riotous Jackson, Mississippi Woolworth Sit-in, and helped plan and organize the March on Washington in 1963. On a local level, she was part of the first Arlington sit-ins, which integrated lunch counters across northern Virginia, and helped to coordinate demonstrations at Glen Echo Park, Bethesda's Hiser Theater amongst other locations.

During tonight's program, Mulholland will discuss her experiences and show clips from her son Loki’s film, An Ordinary Hero. She was kind enough to sit down with Boundary Stones and give us a preview of her talk. Check out the video below and click through for more!

Freedom Summer volunteers and locals canvassing. (Credit: Courtesy of Ted Polumbaum provided courtesy of Newseum)

D.C.'s Ties to Freedom Summer

In 1964, SNCC focused efforts on black voter registration and education in Mississippi, which had the lowest percentage of African-Americans registered to vote in the country (a startling 6.7% as of 1962). The group recruited hundreds of volunteers from college campuses across the nation to come to the state to canvass.

The 1964 Freedom Summer movement in Mississippi does not generally conjure up images of the nation’s capital. But a few of the organizers had strong ties to the District.