Protests of racism continue at HUD: 1970
Beginning on October 9, 1970 and continuing on and off for the next six months, black employees at the Department of Housing and Urban Development staged a series of demonstrations, sit-ins and work slowdowns demanding an end to racial discrimination in the agency.
They engaged in a brief physical confrontation with HUD Secretary George Romney, a former Michigan governor and Republican presidential candidate.
The protests were led by the HUD Employees Task Force Against Racism, the local affiliate of the Government Employees United Against Racial Discrimination (GUARD) and were initially assisted by Reginald Booker who leading a related group in the construction industry at the time.
Booker, a long-time black liberation leader who led the critical battles against new freeways in the District of Columbia, for public takeover of the city bus system, for Metrorail construction, organized a school boycott against the track system and numerous protests against police brutality, became president of the city-wide GUARD a little over six months later.
Employees were docked pay or forced to use leave for some of the protests and in the spring of 1971 a number of employees faced disciplinary suspensions.
A year after protests began, an Equal Employment Opportunity examiner found the department engaged in “historic pattern or practice of discrimination” that dated back to the agencies that preceded the formation of HUD.
While the findings were only recommendations, appeals examiner Julia P. Cooper recommended that discipline be set aside.
She further found that black employees were immobile in the lowest grade levels while whites moved ahead; that the department brought in black workers at the lowest hiring levels despite their experience or education; neglected to, concealed knowledge of or denied training opportunities to black workers; penalized those who complained of discrimination, and permitted white supervisors who committed these acts to continue in their positions for years.
Cooper said in her finding that testimony of the 88 witnesses “paints a picture of a waste of human potential—one totally out of focus with the trend of current law.”
Further she found that HUD management made no changes until after the protests occurred.
“Other plans or minor changes were discussed or announced but it was not until the latter part of 1970, after the October 13th event here in question, that positive action to ameliorate the problems materialized,” she said.
On the issue of discipline, Cooper found that that the lost pay or forced leave for participating in the protest was taken “under questionable circumstances and without fair warning and equitable application.”
Cooper cited as examples of blatant discrimination a black female “of 28 years of service who reached the Grade 4 level after 18 years as a Grade 3” and Grade 5 after 10 years as a Grade 4.
Cooper cited another case of “a female with almost 30 years of government service who said she had trained many a white person, and they had gone on,” but she was not permitted to promote to supervisor.
Black workers with less service time were also affected according to Cooper. A black female with two years of college, two years of accounting, training in programming and clerical status was employed as a Grade 2 keypunch operator.
Cooper found that whites who were friendly with black workers were treated similarly where such “offending” whites received the discrimination usually reserved for black workers.
Ronald Wallace, the chair of the HUD Task Force Against Racism, said his group was largely satisfied, but would continue to press “to get rid of racist supervisors.”
The findings vindicated GUARD, the HUD task force and Booker’s confrontational tactics.
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 www.flickr.com/gp/washington_area_spark/9j2LvN
The image was clipped from the October 16, 1970 edition of The Washington Post.