Booker’s last run for school board: 1994
Reginald Booker was a lifelong black activist in the District of Columbia who became involved with school reform at a young age.
After graduating from high school, he told the Afro American newspaper about the District of Columbia schools’ track system and the way it kept black students from advancing.
He later was involved in organizing a school boycott in 1967 over the issue.
He was primarily known for his leadership of the Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis (ECTC) that led the fight for public takeover of the private bus company, against new freeways in the city and to build the Metrorail system.
He was also a prominent member of the Black United Front in the city.
He never forgot his early education experiences that placed him in the “general” track despite his avid reading.
He first sought to run for D.C. school board in 1968 from Ward 8. However his friend Albert Whitaker, who was supposed to deliver the nominating petitions before the board of elections deadline, failed to show before the board’s doors were locked.
At a hearing September 24, 1968, Whitaker testified he had car trouble on the Suitland Parkway that prevented him from arriving on time. The board of elections denied Booker a spot on the ballot.
This was at the height of Booker’s prominence as he was in the middle of both the bus boycott and the freeway fight and it was an open seat. It was probably his best chance winning an election, but fate turned another direction.
Booker was expected to run a strong race in 1969 from Ward 8 against the incumbent James Coates and said he was “90 percent sure” he would run.
“Mr. Coates is a middle class minister who is unrepresentative of an area where most of the people are poor.” Ward 8 covered far southeast and southwest, including Anacostia and Congress Heights where most of the city’s public housing projects were and still are located.
Booker predicted he would “bury Coates” in the election.
However Booker did not file for this election. “Booker said yesterday [September 21, 1969] he decided ‘at the last minute’ that his commitments to ECTC and other groups would not allow him to run,” wrote the Washington Post.
In 1971, Booker joined the effort to elect Marion Barry to the school board in Barry’s first electoral effort. Barry won the seat by a 10,000 vote margin over incumbent Anita Allen and was selected as chair of the board when it met in 1972.
In 1976, Booker ran as a write-in candidate for city council against Rev. Jerry Moore, but his vote totals were so low they were not reported with the election results.
Booker took a run at school board again, this time in 1979 in Ward 1 while he was living at 2120 16th Street NW. In that election incumbent Frank Smith was running with Marion Barry’s support and there were a number of other challengers.
Booker took aim at the school system “for producing high school graduates who, fundamentally, have no skills.”
The Washington Star reported, “Booker said he would like to have the curriculum re-examined and to have basic subjects such as reading, writing , speech and mathematics emphasized.”
“The school system has all resources it needs, but it needs aggressive leadership,” Booker added.
Booker finished in last place of the five candidates in the balloting behind winner Frank Smith. Smith won with 1,782 votes while Booker polled only 141.
Booker took one more shot at school board in 1994, this time in Ward 2 and won the largest number of votes in his electoral efforts through the years.
The Washington Post wrote that “R. H Booker, a staff member at the nonprofit United Black Fund Inc., said he is running because his 14-year-old daughter attends Jefferson Junior High and he wants ‘to see all of the schools equal in terms of money spent, facilities, teachers, materials.’”
“Booker said the first task the board should tackle is educating parents about their rights and how the board operates. He said that the school system's payroll is ‘bloated’ and that the board should consider eliminating positions that are not relevant to classroom instruction.”
Booker again finished last, this time in eighth place with 415 votes compared to winner Ann Wilcox’s 4,619.
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/F987jm
The image was produced from the 1994 election results published in the Washington Post October 27, 1994.