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Dr. Wesley joins direct action aimed at Jim Crow: 1934 | by Washington Area Spark
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Dr. Wesley joins direct action aimed at Jim Crow: 1934

Charles Harris Wesley a prominent African American historian, religious leader and civil rights advocate is shown in a photograph circa 1940. He joined a direct action attempt to desegregate the U.S. Capitol restaurants in 1934.


Wesley graduated in 1911 from Fisk Universityand earned a master's degree from Yale University in 1913.


Continuing with his graduate work, in 1925, Wesley became the fourth African American to receive a PhD from Harvard University. He was awarded a Doctor of Divinity in 1928 by Wilberforce University.


Wesley became an ordained minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). He also had an academic career as a professor of history and wrote a total of more than 15 books on African-American history and political science. He served as the Dean of the Liberal Arts and the Graduate School at Howard University.


He won a Guggenheim Fellowship that enabled him to travel in 1931 to London, England, where on March 31 he was present with Harold Moody at the founding of the League of Coloured Peoples that was inspired in part by the NAACP, of which Wesley was a member.


In 1942 Wesley was called as President of Wilberforce University, serving until 1947. That year, he founded Central State University across the street from Wilberforce. He served as its president until 1965, when he returned to Washington, D.C.


That year, Wesley became the Director of Research and Publications for the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. He was Executive Director from 1965 to 1972, later becoming Executive Director Emeritus'.


In 1976, he became Director of the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum in Philadelphia. He was also a life member of the American Historical Association.


In 1934, Wesley joined an attempt to end Jim Crow at the U.S. Capitol restaurants through direct action. Small interracial groups were organized to seek service at the restaurants.


On March 15th Wesley was refused service at the House of Representatives public restaurant with a group that included Dr. Howard K. Beale, historian on the staff of the University of Chicago and research historian at the Library of Congress; Rev. Russell J. Clinchy, pastor of the Fourteenth Street Congregational Church in the city; and Katharine Wilfrey, a social worker.


Wesley was told, “We don’t serve colored people here,” according to the Afro American newspaper.


Wesley told the Afro that the party took a table and then the following occurred:


“When the waiter came to my table he told me the manager wanted to know my nationality and that he had told him to ask me. The waiter offered to serve me at his table, but I declined, because I feared he might lose his job.”


Wesley said the manager then came over to the table:


Johnson: What nationality are you?


Wesley: I am an American citizen.


Johnson: But I mean what race?


Wesley: According to your definition, I am colored.


Johnson: Well then, you can’t be served here.


Wesley: You are excluding me then on the basis of race, because I am colored?


Johnson: Yes, we don’t serve colored.


Beale: Dr. Wesley is our guest. He did not come here of his own accord. We invited him. Do you mean to say our guests cannot be served here? Dr. Wesley is a master of arts of Yale, and a doctor of philosophy of Harvard. We were at Harvard together, and he is now my guest. I want him to be served.


Johnson: We’ll serve you three (indicating the three whites), but not him (pointing at Wesley).


Beale: Why?


Johnson: It is against the rules.


Wesley: Who made the rules?


Johnson: The committee, of which Congressman [Lindsay] Warren of North Carolina is chairman.


The party stayed at the table for an hour and drafted a resolution signed by three white members of the party protesting the group’s treatment and the policy. They attempted to deliver it to Warren, who was having dinner in the private House members’ restaurant, but they were barred. Instead, they left their protest at Warren’s office.


The six-month fight against Jim Crow in the Capitol’s restaurants began when U.S. Rep. Oscar DePriest’s (R-Il.) confidential secretary, Morris Lewis, was barred from the House public restaurant along with his son in January 1934.


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.


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 Scurlock Studio photograph courtesy of Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

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Taken circa 1940