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Aide Morris Lewis and Rep. Oscar DePriest: 1929 | by Washington Area Spark
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Aide Morris Lewis and Rep. Oscar DePriest: 1929

Morris Lewis (left), the secretary to the only African American member of the House of Representatives, is shown with his boss U.S. Rep. Oscar DePriest (R-Il.) (right) in a 1929 photograph.

 

During the time DePriest was in office (1929-35), Lewis was the only African American secretary to a congressional representative or senator.

 

Lewis served as the executive secretary of the NAACP branch in Chicago, first secretary of the African American YMCA and as circulation manager for the Chicago Defender throughout the 1920s.

 

Lewis set off a six-month campaign to end Jim Crow in the House of Representatives restaurant when he, along with his son, was denied service January 23, 1934 in the House public restaurant.

 

He and DePriest returned to the restaurant days later and were served without incident, but Lewis later denied dining there—apparently changing his story at the behest of DePriest who quickly turned away from direct action.

 

DePriest waged an insiders campaign to pass a resolution forcing the House restaurant to desegregate but was easily outmaneuvered by Speaker of the House Henry Rainey (D-Il.).

 

The incident, along with the expulsion of Mabel Byrd from the Senate restaurant, touched off a series of interracial sit-ins where small parties demanded service at the House and Senate restaurants.

 

The 10 days of direct action were capped by 30 Howard University students coming to the Capitol and unsuccessfully attempting to gain service at the both the House and Senate restaurants.

 

These demonstrations marked the first organized, sustained civil rights sit-ins in the Washington, D.C. area and probably the country.

 

The effort was ultimately unsuccessful, but the sit-ins at times achieved success in getting served. This kept the tactic alive for sporadic sit-ins in the Washington, D.C. area in 1939, 1942, 1943 and 1950.

 

However the tactic did not gain widespread use until the Greensboro, N.C. lunch counter sit-in in 1960, spreading locally to Jim Crow restaurants in Arlington, Virginia and Montgomery and Prince George’s County in Maryland.

 

For a detailed blog post on the fight against Jim Crow in the U.S. Capitol’s restaurants, see washingtonspark.wordpress.com/2018/02/26/origins-of-the-c...

 

For related images, see flic.kr/s/aHsmcArGZz

 

The photographer is unknown. The image is a May 8, 1929 National Photo Company photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-npcc-17478 (digital file from original)

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Taken on May 8, 1929