Civil Rights Tour: Employment - Jewell Mazique, Equal Employment Activist

1861 California Street NW

After receiving a master's in African Studies at Howard University, helping to raise three nieces in her Kalorama home, and working two jobs to put her husband through medical school, Jewell Mazique (1913-2007) quit her clerical position at the Library of Congress in the early 1940s to become a full-time labor and civil rights organizer. She went on to cover local and African affairs for the Afro-American newspaper, and to be a respected leader in the Black Power and pan-Africanist movements of the 1960s and '70s.

With Thelma Dale, Marie Richardson and other local activists, Mazique helped launch a campaign in 1941 to desegregate Capital Transit, DC's privately owned bus and streetcar operator. Although seating wasn't segregated, as in other southern cities, the company hired African Americans only for poorly paid maintenance and custodial jobs. Mazique and her colleagues gathered support from the national NAACP, Charles Hamilton Houston, Mary McLeod Bethune, Howard University professor Doxey Wilkerson, and others for a mass meeting at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church in November 1942, where Rev. Adam Clayton Powell was a featured speaker.

In 1943, after Capital Transit refused to comply with a desegregation order by the federal Fair Employment Practices Commission, Mazique helped launch pickets at the Commission's headquarters, in advance of scheduled hearings in May, and at busy intersections around the city. At least 800 people joined a march from 10th and U streets NW to Franklin Square, and more than 100 ministers of both white and African American congregations condemned the transit company's policy during Sunday sermons. However, without President Harry S. Truman's backing, and as the federal government began using Communism as a tool for punishing labor and civil rights leaders, it would take until 1955 to get Capital Transit to hire Black operators.

In addition to leading the campaign against Capital Transit, Mazique served as an officer of the National Council of the Southern Youth Congress, which pushed for full integration of the military and its training programs. In 1960, she represented the Washington Elks Civil Liberties League at a mass meeting on the FBI's cooperation with groups that were working to suppress black voting and economic participation.

Mazique and her husband Edward owned the three-story rowhouse at 1861 California Street NW from 1939 to 1945, before moving to 1824 Upshur Street NW, in DC's Crestwood neighborhood.