Civil Rights Tour: Education - Gardner Bishop, Barber and Activist

1900 15th Street NW

For 40 years, the three-story building at 1900 15th Street NW housed B & D Barber Shop on the ground floor. The business was owned by Gardner LaClede Bishop (1909–1992), a leader in the mid-20th century battle to equalize and desegregate DC’s public schools.

Gardner Bishop moved to Washington from his home state of North Carolina in 1930. Ten years later, he opened his shop, which remained a fixture in the neighborhood until the building was converted to condominiums in the early 1980s. One Sunday morning in the late 1930s, Bishop let his four-year old daughter Judine use a swing in an empty whites-only playground. When told by a police officer that Judine was violating posted signage, Bishop told the officer, “she can’t read.” Bishop was arrested and fined ten dollars.

In 1947, Bishop became the spokesperson for parents at Browne Junior High School in Northeast DC, a woefully over-enrolled school for Black children in the segregated school system. That fall, Bishop took 40 students to a meeting of DC’s Board of Education, where they announced a school boycott beginning the next day. Bishop felt that he and the majority of Black Washingtonians were victims of “double Jim Crow.” He would later explain, “Segregation was not only white against black, but it was also upper class blacks against the lower class. We were on the bottom shelf. I’m black and I’m poor, so I’m segregated twice.”

Despite these misgivings, Bishop joined forces with elite attorney Charles Hamilton Houston in the "Central for Cardozo" campaign, resulting in the transfer of Washington’s most cherished white high school to the DC Public Schools’ “Colored” Division. Bishop went on to take a lead role in organizing families east of the Anacostia River as plaintiffs in Bolling v. Sharpe, DC’s companion to Brown v. Board of Education (1954).

The ground floor barber shop is now a residential unit in the former dwelling that was converted to condominiums in the 1980s.