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Sergeant at Arms says discipline students for protest: 1934 | by Washington Area Spark
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Sergeant at Arms says discipline students for protest: 1934

Kenneth Romney, Sergeant-At-Arms of the House of Representatives (right) is shown in a June 10, 1938 photograph with Rep. Alphonse Roy (D-N.H.).


Romney served as Sergeant-At-Arms from 1931-45.


In 1934 he played a part in the campaign against Jim Crow in the U.S. Capitol restaurants.


The impetus to the six month fight against Jim Crow in the Capitol’s restaurants occurred when U.S. Rep. Oscar DePriest’s (R-Il.) confidential secretary, Morris Lewis, was barred from the House public restaurant along with his son.


Another instance of Jim Crow occurred when Mabel Byrd was forcibly removed from the Senate public restaurant in February.


The enforcement of Jim Crow in the Capitol building led to 10 days of small parties of interracial diners seeking service in the restaurants—sometimes successfully—in an attempt to desegregate the restaurants.


Approximately 30 Howard University students came to the Capitol on March 17th attempting to gain service in the House and Senate restaurants but were barred by police. One was arrested at the Capitol and four others at the precinct house where they went to bail out their fellow student. Charges were all dropped later.


Some southern Democratic congressmen called for the students to be expelled and the president of the school, Mordecai Johnson, to be fired Romney chimed in calling for suspension of the 30 students saying they had “disgraced” the institution and should be punished.


Johnson brought the students to the faculty disciplinary committee for action recommending expulsions and/or suspensions. However, the chair of the committee, Ralph Bunche—a future Nobel prize winner—said they should be given medals instead. Bunche prevailed and no discipline was imposed on the students.


This series of protests marked the first sit-in demonstrations for civil rights in the nation’s capital and perhaps the country.


DePriest offered a resolution for an investigation that passed the House, but the investigating committee, the majority appointed by the Democratic Speaker of the House, found that the restaurant was a private one operated for the members of the House and their guests and therefore no discrimination occurred. This was despite the white public being admitted without a member of Congress and African Americans barred.


Speaker of the House Thomas Rainey (D-Il) let the clock run out as Congress adjourned in June to avoid a debate and vote on the issue.


Jim Crow continued in the Capitol for nearly 20 more years.


For a detailed blog post on the fight against Jim Crow in the U.S. Capitol restaurants, see


For related images, see


The photographer is unknown. The image is a Harris and Ewing photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress. Call Number: LC-H22-D- 4084 [P&P]

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Taken on June 10, 1938