D.C. NAACP plays role in fighting U.S. Capitol Jim Crow: 1934
The NAACP Interracial Committee played a significant role in the effort to desegregate restaurants in the U.S. Capitol during the first six months of 1934. Shown here is a photograph of Washington, D.C. NAACP workers taken in 1934.
Charles Russell, a founder of the NAACP and muckraking journalist, along with several other members of the Interracial Committee joined interracial groups that staged an early version of the sit-in attempting to desegregate the restaurants through direct action.
The impetus to the demonstrations occurred when U.S. Rep. Oscar DePriest’s (R-Il.) confidential secretary, Morris Lewis, was barred from the House public restaurant along with his son. 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.
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 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 washingtonspark.wordpress.com/2018/02/26/origins-of-the-c...
For related images, see flic.kr/s/aHsmcArGZz
Photo by Addison N. Scurlock. The image is courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution, Scurlock Studio Records, ca. 1905-1994, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.