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Grande dame of civil rights pickets in D.C. - 1950 | by Washington Area Spark
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Grande dame of civil rights pickets in D.C. - 1950

Mary Church Terrell, the 87-year-old veteran civil rights leader, pickets outside the Kresge’s Store at 7th & Pennsylvania Avenue NW December 21, 1950 protesting the store’s refusal to serve African American customers at its lunch counter.


The protest was part of a campaign headed by Terrell under the auspices of the Coordinating Committee for the Enforcement of D.C. Anti-Discrmination Laws (CCEAD).


Terrell’s group led a three-prong attack:


1. Direct action against public facilities that discriminated against African Americans, including picketing and boycotts

2. A lobbying effort to compel the District of Columbia government to enforce the 1872 and 1873 laws prohibiting segregation at public facilities such as restaurants and hotels.

3. Legal action brought to enforce the 1872 and 1873 statutes.


The campaign began with Terrell and two others being refused service at Washington, D.C. Thompson’s Restaurant and expanded to other targets.


Most department store and drug store lunch counters desegregated under pressure from Terrell’s group in the years 1950-53, including Kresge’s.


In 1953, in an 8-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the 1871 Organic Act creating the then D.C. City Council granted it general police power to regulate local affairs, that the 1872 and 1873 regulations fell within this authority, and that they

remained valid.


See two documents from the Coordinating Committee:


1. A list of restaurants and cafeterias that served African Americans:


2. A flyer from the Coordinating Committee after the courts ruled that the anti-discrimination laws were not valid:


Terrell was the former leader of the National Association of Colored Women among many accomplishments in her long career.


Terrell bridged the generations of African American activists as a contemporary of Frederick Douglas who continued to lead civil rights struggles until her death in 1954.


For more information and additional images, see


The photographer is unknown. The image is courtesy of the Afro American.

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Taken on December 21, 1950