DC’s fighting barber 1947-54
District of Columbia schools had been segregated and unequal since 1862. However in 1947 a barber living east of the Anacostia River organized the working class parents in his neighborhood to challenge the deplorable condition of African American schools.

Gardner Bishop, a barber by trade, sought better schools for his daughter Judine but she was turned down by for the elite black Banneker school because of her father’s “lowly” occupation. Bishop was also denied a transfer to an all white school because of the District’s school segregation.

Bishop disdained the school’s PTA that, according to him, was handpicked and made up of property owners, civic association representatives and non-parents. He also had contempt for the NAACP, which he regarded as a “social club.” In response he formed a group that would come to be known as the Consolidated Parents Group.

Bishop and his neighbors’ middle school-age children were crammed into a school with half the capacity, forced into part time shifts and walking blocks to annexes in order to sit at elementary school desks. There were no recreational facilities and no equipment for learning such as labs or typewriters. At the same time white only schools had vacancies and often had lavish facilities.

Bishop organized a strike, formed the new parents organization, picketed, rallied, and filed court suits until the whole so-called “separate but equal” system came crashing down in 1954. The lawsuit he was responsible for, Bolling v. Sharpe, not only desegregated schools in the District, but also broke new ground in interpreting the “due process” clause and the meaning of “liberty” in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.

Following the victory in Bolling, Bishop stepped down as head of Consolidated Parents, but continued to hold court in his B&D barbershop at 15th & U Streets NW until he retired in 1985.
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