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Thousands rally for Capital Transit Jobs: 1943 | by Washington Area Spark
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Thousands rally for Capital Transit Jobs: 1943

After marching downtown from 9th & U Streets NW, a crowd estimated at between 800 and 3,500 gathered in Franklin Park at 14th & I Streets NW May 7, 1943 to hear speakers denouncing Capital Transit’s refusal to hire African American bus and streetcar operators.


In the middle of the photo toward the rear, William S. Johnson, chair of the Committee on Jobs for Negroes in Public Utilities (sponsor of the march and rally) is speaking through a large black megaphone.


A sign in the foreground reads, “Negroes drive Tanks in Tunisia…Why not Busses and Streetcars in Washington?” Another appears to read, “IWO Supports Campaign for Negro Streetcar & Bus Operators in Our Capitol.”


The IWO (International Workers Order) was a Communist Party-affiliated insurance and mutual benefit organization founded in 1930 and disbanded in 1954 as a result of attacks made on it during the post World War II “red scare.”


At its height in the late 1940s, the IWO had almost 200,000 members and provided low cost health and life insurance and operated medical and dental clinics. The Committee held some of its initial meetings in the IWO office at 2023 9th Street NW (The building is demolished and was replaced by the Laborer’s Local 74 building currently occupied by the DC Housing Finance Agency, 815 Florida Ave NW).


Johnson was also targeted during the “red scare.” He was expelled by the national office from the restaurant union for alleged “red” ties in the late 1940s. As late as 1957, he was hauled before the House Un-American Activities Subcommittee investigating the Communist Party in Maryland where he invoked the Fifth Amendment.


The Washington Post published that, “Johnson 56, a cook at Sy & Al’s Delicatessen, 8317 Grubb Rd., Silver Spring, lives at 553 24th St. NE.” This was a common practice of newspapers at the time to invite retaliation against anyone accused of being a communist. Witnesses who did not invoke the Fifth Amendment did not have their addresses published.


Johnson was offered immunity at the hearing and replied, “I do not consider this committee a duty constitutional committee. And if I were granted immunity I would not cooperate under duress.” See a better photo of Johnson here:


For an blog post on desegregating Capital Transit, see


For additional photos, please see “Fighting Capital Transit Racism 1941-55,"


Photo by Paul M. Schmick. Image courtesy of the District of Columbia Library, Star Collection, © Washington Post, all rights reserved. It has been scanned from an 8 x 10 print.

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Taken on May 7, 1943