Civil Rights

Fired for Being Gay, Frank Kameny Spent the Rest of His Life Fighting Back

Frank Kameny protests outside Independence Hall in 1965

You might be familiar with the Red Scare, Senator Joseph McCarthy's efforts to remove suspected communists from the U.S. State Department. But what about the Lavender Scare? Starting in the 1940s, government officials began firing thousands of employees based on their sexual orientation. Frank Kameny, a Harvard-educated astronomer was one of them. He lost his job in 1957 and challenged the dismisssal all the way to the Supreme Court. 

Eat Anywhere! Mary Church Terrell, the Lost Laws, and the End of Segregation in D.C. Restaurants

Washington Afro American headline from June 9, 1953.

On Friday, January 27, 1950, Mary Church Terrell met three friends for a late lunch in downtown Washington. Terrell, then 86, entered Thompson’s Restaurant on 7th Street NW around 2:45pm with Rev. William H. Jernigan, Geneva Brown and David Scull. Their party was integrated – Scull was white while the others were black – however, Thompson’s Restaurant was not. Like most other D.C. eating establishments at the time, it was whites only.

As the group went about selecting entrees along the cafeteria line, Manager Levin Ange emerged and informed them that Thompson’s did not serve “colored” people. Terrell clarified, “Do you mean to tell me that you are not going to serve me?” When Ange confirmed that was the case, the group left the restaurant.

The chain of events was, of course, entirely expected. As a leader of Washington’s civil rights movement for half a century, Mary Church Terrell was well aware of Thompson’s policy. But she and the others didn’t go to the restaurant to be served. Rather they went with the expectation of being turned away – the necessary, if also demeaning, first step toward bringing a new sort of legal challenge, which they hoped would topple segregation in the nation’s capital.

Police removing sit-in participants from the Alexandria Library (Source: Wiikpedia)

Alexandria Library Sit-In, 1939

In 1939 -- decades before Virginia schools were integrated, and sit-ins emerged as a primary strategy for protesting segregated businesses and public facilities in the South -- Alexandria, Virginia lawyer Samuel Tucker organized a successful sit-in to demonstrate against the Alexandria Library's "whites only" policy. It is believed to be the first sit-in for desegregation in American history.

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.

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.

Joan Mulholland: Arlington's Homegrown Activist

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

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.

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. 

Host to History: 1966 NCAA Final Four at Cole Field House

Texas Western's NCAA Championship victory over all-white Kentucky at Cole Field House in 1966 went way beyond sports. (Photo source: El Paso Times)

Nowadays the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four is played in huge football stadiums that can seat 50,000 or more fans. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the day, the games took place in much smaller, on-campus arenas and the media coverage was paltry compared to what we see now. Such was the case in 1966, when the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House hosted college basketball’s final weekend.

That might not sound like a big deal, but with the way the tournament unfolded, the 1966 championship game proved to be a major event in the civil rights movement.

"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.