Booker confronts pro-freeway speaker: 1968
Admiral O. S. Colclough, chair of the executive committee of Downtown Progress, Inc. laughs as Reginald Booker, chair of Niggers, Inc., baits him while speaking to the D.C. City Council March 13, 1968.
The hearing before the D.C. Council was to take testimony on proposed freeways for the District of Columbia and drew more than 300—nearly all of whom opposed the planned freeways in vehement terms.
Colclough attempted to speak in favor of freeways and was repeatedly heckled. An anecdote related by one person attending the hearing says the photo shows Booker demanding Colclough say the name of Booker’s organization.
Community organizer Reginald Booker turned his back on the D.C. city council when it came his turn to speak.
Booker began his testimony by saying, “I’m going to face the people—not some of those criminals who sit on the city council.”
“Freeways are for lily white suburban people” and are built at the expense of black people in the inner city, Booker said.
Booker, also chair of the Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis, spelled out the demands of the ECTC:
--remove freeway funding from the budget
--fire top highway department officials
--replace planners who live in the suburbs with those in the District
--move people displaced by the North Central freeway back into their homes
--use housing purchased for freeway construction for poor families
--adopt the Arthur D. Little report which recommended a section by section review of freeways before further any further construction.
Booker’s testimony was mild compared to others.
The Washington Star reported on the testimony of W. L. Staton of Pride, Inc.:
“Staton said the council would get the city into big trouble if it continued to favor freeway construction. ‘Big trouble—trouble, trouble,’ crowd members shouted.”
“A member of the crowd shouted that the trouble in Washington would make previous riots in other cities look like ‘Sunday school stuff.’”
“Staton reached into his pocket, pulled out a matchbook and opened it in front of the council. ‘This will stop it,’ he said, as he held the matches up.”
“A member of the crowd shouted at a pro-freeway speaker that he could expect a Molotov cocktail.”
“Other members of the crowd said they would picket the home of Deputy Mayor Thomas G. Fletcher and would follow him around to church and other activities.”
“Julius Hobson, the civil rights activist who won the key lawsuit against the District school system, said that the proposed freeways were displacing Negroes without relocation housing.”
“Another civil rights leader, Marion Barry, said the freeway program was a race issue. Barry also indicated that riots would occur in the District unless the freeway program is halted.”
The battle over freeways versus building the Metro took many twists and turns over the years, but in December 1971 Congress over-road Rep. William Natcher’s (D-Ky.) House District Appropriations Committee and approved funds for Metro without any highway construction.
Eventually, the proposed freeways were removed from city plans.
For a detailed account of Booker’s activism, victories and defeats, see washingtonareaspark.com/2020/01/28/the-d-c-black-liberati...
For more information and related images, see flic.kr/s/aHsm9Nkhh3
Photo by Walter Oates. The image is courtesy of the D.C. Public Library Washington Star Collection © Washington Post.