new icn messageflickr-free-ic3d pan white
Former DC cafeteria union head as a California judge: 1985 ca. | by Washington Area Spark
Back to album

Former DC cafeteria union head as a California judge: 1985 ca.

Richard Bancroft, one of the leaders of the storied Washington, D.C. United Cafeteria and Restaurant Employees Union Local 471 during the turbulent 1940s is shown in a photograph circa 1985.


Bancroft was born in Albany, N.Y. where his mother died when he was ten. He earned money shining shoes and selling newspapers in front of the state capitol.


At 16 years old, he set out on his own earning money as a boxer, janitor and tap dancer. Advice from a social worker led him to enroll at Howard University with a major in political science.


Bancroft became active in the thriving radical community at Howard and in 1940 was elected national chair of the left-wing American Student Union.


In 1942 Bancroft joined the United State Marine Corps where he served for four years.


After the war, he was elected president of Local 471 where he, along with business manager Oliver Palmer, led the union through its most turbulent years.


A January 1947 strike against the largest provider of federal government cafeteria services resulted in significant wage improvements, vacation improvements, established sick leave and fended off company attacks on binding arbitration for grievances and the withholding of union dues from paychecks.


But the company re-grouped and sought to break the union in 1948, refusing to negotiate with Local 471 unless its leaders and the leaders of its parent union signed non-communist affidavits. A two-month strike ensued where the union was nearly broken, but lived to fight another day.


Bancroft resigned as president when local union leaders decided to sign the affidavits in the later days of the strike.


He enrolled in Howard’s law school where he earned a degree in 1951, graduating at the top of his class. In July 1951 paid FBI informer Mary Markward publicly denounced him as a member of the Communist Party.


He was admitted to the California bar in 1954 where he practiced law for 24 years. He was a founder of the African American Charles Hamilton Houston Bar Association. He was the member who suggested naming the group after the pioneering left-leaning civil rights attorney.


In 1976, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Bancroft to the Alameda County Superior Court. He served until his retirement in 1988 where he mainly dealt with family law.


In 1998 at its meeting in Memphis, the National Bar Association inducted Judge Bancroft into its Hall of Fame.


Bancroft died in 2005 in Washington, D.C.


For more information and related images, see


For a deep dive into the 1948 cafeteria workers strike, see


The photographer is unknown. The image is from a obituary.

0 faves
Taken circa 1990