Civil Rights Tour: Employment - Marie Richardson, United Federal Workers' Rep

1638 Florida Avenue NW

Marie Richardson (1920-1987) became a labor and civil rights activist in the 1930s, while a student at Cardozo High School. Her father handled baggage at Union Station, and together they helped organize the first local union in the country to represent station porters, or Red Caps. Once a national Red Caps union was established in 1938, Richardson founded and led its women's auxiliary while attending Howard University, studying law, and working at the Washington Navy Yard. There she became active in a federal employee union, rising to a position as the United Federal Workers' (UFW) national representative. For the UFW, she helped organize and demand higher wages and nondiscriminatory employment for federal workers, government cafeteria staff employed by private contractors, Freedmen's Hospital employees, and Howard University instructors.

In October 1941, Richardson was the lead organizer of the National Conference of Negro Youth, where, with fellow youth activists Thelma Dale and Jewell Mazique, she helped launch a local committee to fight job discrimination in the District. The group focused its first campaign on Capital Transit, which operated all of DC's streetcars and buses and refused to hire African Americans for anything but low-level maintenance positions. They began by soliciting support from the DC NAACP and other organizations. In response to a petition signed by nearly 6,000 white and black Washingtonians who opposed the company's policy, the federal Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC) ordered Capital Transit to stop discriminating, but the company refused to require white operators to work with Black trainees. When civil rights attorney Charles Hamilton Houston resigned from President Harry Truman's Committee on Fair Employment Practices after the president ordered the FEPC not to comply with a committee directive to desegregate Capital Transit, Richardson drafted a letter to Truman for the National Negro Congress's (NNC) DC chapter. His order, she wrote, was "in substance, a declaration of support of the Jim Crow laws" and served as "a cynical welcome for colored veterans returning to their homes in Washington looking for fair employment."

Richardson also led the NNC's local campaign for the establishment of a permanent FEPC, to ensure Black access to jobs and decent wages after World War II ended. In early 1946, she led pickets at the homes of each US senator responsible for a blocking a bill to establish the permanent commission. Although the bill died, President Truman used an executive order to bar federal government discrimination. In her role as executive secretary of the NNC's local chapter, Richardson also campaigned for DC voting rights and against police brutality. In July 1947, she organized an anti-lynching rally that drew 500 people.

Richardson and her husband moved to New York in 1950. The following year, an FBI informant testified that she had been a member of the Communist Party, despite having signed a loyalty oath as a condition for temporary employment at the Library of Congress. No evidence supported the informant's claim, and Richardson's legal team included top civil rights attorneys George E.C. Hayes and James A. Cobb, but she was imprisoned for over four years.

Richardson lived at 1638 Florida Avenue NW.