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Only African American people of color barred at Capitol cafes: 1937 | by Washington Area Spark
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Only African American people of color barred at Capitol cafes: 1937

Mary McConnell Borah, wife of Sen. William E. Borah (R.-Id.) lunches with Mme Hirosi Saito, wife of Japanese Ambassador in Washington, D.C., May 24, 1937 in the Senate restaurant.


While Jim Crow was in effect within U.S Capitol restaurants for about a 35-year period that ended in the early 1950s, people of color from around the world were welcomed.


However, descendants of former slaves—African Americans—were barred.


A number of desegregation attempts were made during this period, the most sustained occurring in 1934.


The campaign was set off when U.S. Rep. Oscar DePriest’s confidential secretary, Morris Lewis, was barred from the House public restaurant in January 1934 along with his son. Another instance of Jim Crow occurred when Mabel Byrd was forcibly removed from the Senate public restaurant in February of the same year.


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 resolution for an investigation into the authority of the House Accounts Committee to impose Jim Crow passed the House of Representatives, 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 held the committee report until Congress adjourned in order to avoid a floor 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 to end Jim Crow in the U.S. Capitol restaurants, see


For related images, see


The photographer is unknown. The image is a Harris and Ewing photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress. Call Number: LC-H22- D-1550 [P&P]

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Taken on May 24, 1937