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Abbott hits highway hypocrisy: 1970 | by Washington Area Spark
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Abbott hits highway hypocrisy: 1970

Sammie Abbott publicity director of the Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis (ECTC) points his finger toward Washington highway director Thomas F. Airis before the D.C. City Council January 29, 1970.


Seated beside Abbott is Reginald Booker, chair of ECTC.


Abbott forcefully denouncing continued plans to build a network of highways in the city that would split neighborhoods and deny funding to mass transportation during a 30 minute tirade that was repeatedly halted by applause from the 100 people in the audience.


Airis, who had earlier testified in favor of the freeway plan of south and east legs of the inner loop freeway and the north central freeway to Silver Spring, was frequently the target of Abbott’s ire.


Abbott saved his best punch-line for last, reading a letter from the West Montgomery Citizens Association opposing construction of another beltway and bringing access roads into residential neighborhoods.


“And who is the vice chairman of this organization? None other than Mrs. Thomas F. Airis, the wife of the same Mr. Airis who is desecrating the city of Washington and doesn’t event live in this city,” Abbott railed.


Abbott then berated the department for practicing “institutional racism” by employing an all-white planning staff in the highway department.


Abbott gave his speech while 14 police officers ringed the inside of the council chambers and a dozen others waited outside. Abbott and Booker were among 14 arrested in August 1969 when the council gave the go-ahead to the Three Sisters Bridge.


The battle over freeways versus building Metro took many twists and turns over the years, but in December 1971 Congress over-road Rep. William Natcher’s (D.-Ky.) House District Appropriations Committee and approved funds for Metro without any highway construction.


Although the battle was not over, this was the turning point and none of the proposed freeways nor the Three Sisters Bridge were built. Instead the first 103 miles of the Washington Metro system were funded and constructed.


For a detailed account of Booker’s activism, victories and defeats, see


For more information and related images, see


Photo by Ray Lustig. The image is courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.

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Taken on January 29, 1970