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Copeland denies Senate restaurant is Jim Crow: 1934 | by Washington Area Spark
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Copeland denies Senate restaurant is Jim Crow: 1934

Royal S. Copeland was a Democratic senator from New York from 1923-1938 and is shown in a photograph taken sometime in 1936.

 

Copeland was initially a Republican and was elected as mayor of Anne Arbor, Michigan from 1901-3.

 

He entered politics in New York as a Democrat after moving there.

 

During his three terms in the Senate, Copeland served as chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration from 1933 to 1936 and chairman of the Committee on Commerce from 1935 to 1938.

 

While chair of the Rules Committee, he was confronted with protests against the forcible expulsion of Mabel Byrd, an African American civil rights activist, from the Senate public restaurant in February 1934.

 

Following the refusal of service in the House public restaurant to Morris Lewis, aide to African American U.S. Representative Oscar DePriest (R-Il.) the previous month, the enforcement of Jim Crow in Capitol restaurants set off a series of protests and demonstrations.

 

Copeland initially denied that Byrd was barred for her race and said there were no tables available. He then ordered a separate table be reserved in the Senate public restaurant for African Americans—another form of Jim Crow.

 

Copeland denied there was any discrimination against African Americans, but later admitted Byrd had been barred for her race and abandoned his effort to set up Jim Crow tables.

 

As events unfolded, the Senate restaurant discouraged, delayed and made excuses why African Americans could not be served, but tried not to outright bar them and give race as a reason.

 

The Jim Crow restaurants set off a series of protests and demonstrations where interracial groups sought to be served in order to force desegregation of the restaurants. They were the first organized, ongoing sit-ins in the nation’s capital and perhaps the country.

 

In the House, DePriest attempted to bar discrimination through a resolution, but Speaker of the House Thomas Rainey easily defeated the effort.

 

In 1935-1936 Copeland served as Chairman of the highly controversial Copeland Committee, which gave a scathing review of air traffic safety and the operation of the Bureau of Air Commerce.

 

Copeland served as primary author and sponsor of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 which entrenched special protections for homeopaths. He was the primary sponsor of the Copeland "Anti-kickback" Act, which targeted kickbacks to federal contractors, subcontractors and officials from construction employees.

 

He later ran for mayor of New York but was defeated.

 

For a detailed blog post on the fight against Jim Crow in the U.S. Capitol restaurants, see washingtonspark.wordpress.com/2018/02/26/origins-of-the-c...

 

For related images, see flic.kr/s/aHsmcArGZz

 

The photographer is unknown. The image is a Harris and Ewing photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress. Call Number: LC-H2- B-10215 [P&P]

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Taken sometime in 1935