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NAACP boycott of D.C. Safeway stores: 1941 | by Washington Area Spark
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NAACP boycott of D.C. Safeway stores: 1941

The District of Columbia NAACP branch voted in 1941 to take action by picketing Safeway grocery stores because of the refusal of the management to employ African American clerks.

 

From left to right: Joyce Fenimore Stone; Mary Brice; Louis Ross; Dr. C Herbert Marshall, president of the branch; John Bates, Gertrude B Stone; Rev. R. W. Brooks Esther T. Marshall and William Audry.

 

The effort organized by the New Negro Alliance sought to use the boycott to force an end to Jim Crow hiring in chain stores in the city.

 

Rev. Brooks was an activist minister who was pastor of the Lincoln Temple Congregational Church.

 

He aided the “Scottsboro Boys” campaign, the movement against police brutality in the city and other civil rights causes.

 

Among them was the effort to desegregate restaurants at the U.S. Capitol in 1934.

 

Rev. Brooks was part of the delegation that met with U.S. Senator Royal Copeland after the Senate public restaurant forcibly removed civil rights activist Mabel Byrd in February 1934.

 

Copeland denied that the Senate restaurant practiced Jim Crow and claimed Byrd was denied service for lack of tables. He then ordered a separate table for African Americans.

 

He later reversed himself, apologizing for Byrd being barred and withdrew the separate table. Subsequent events showed that the Senate tried to avoid barring African Americans and saying race was the issue, instead delaying, making excuses and utilizing other tactics to discourage African Americans from eating in the restaurant.

 

The impetus to the campaign started when U.S. Representative Oscar DePriest’s confidential secretary, Morris Lewis, was barred from the House public restaurant along with his son in January 1934.

 

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.

 

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

 

DePriest’s 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 Thomas Rainey, seeking to avoid a debate and vote on the issue, simply let Congress adjourn without bringing the report to the House floor.

 

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 public 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 from the May 1941 The Crisis, published by the NAACP.

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Taken in May 1941