Civil Rights Tour: Political Empowerment - Howard Croft, Social Justice Crusader

1515 U Street SE

Howard Croft (1941-2020) is remembered as a fierce crusader for social justice and DC Statehood.

Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Croft started his activist career just after college in the early 1960s, registering voters in Mississippi. Croft earned his Master's in social work from Columbia University through a National Urban League fellowship program that sought to train its own professionals.

He moved to DC accepting the role of field organizer for the Washington Urban League Neighborhood Center, “whipp[ing] into shape a core of student militants,” according to the Evening Star. Like many young Black activists, he then went to work for the United Planning Organization, which administered President Lyndon Johnson’s anti-poverty programs in DC. He and a few others were fired in April 1968, after protesting what they described as the program’s oppression and exploitation of the Black community.

The next year Croft joined the faculty of the recently founded Federal City College (FCC) where he helped organize the Lorton Project to educate those incarcerated in the District’s prison. When FCC became part of the University of the District of Columbia, Croft stayed on, teaching the history of labor activism and civil rights, as well as coordinating the Lorton project. He eventually chaired the Urban Studies Department at the school. 

From the mid-1980s to 1991 he also served on the DC Parole Board, first appointed by Mayor Marion Barry. Croft resigned from UDC to run for City Council in April 1997, but lost the election. Two years later, he cofounded Health Care Now-The Greater Southeast Community Coalition to fight the closure of the only full-service hospital east of the Anacostia River, also the largest employer in that part of the District.

A longtime member of the DC Statehood Party, Croft served as a delegate to the 1982 DC Statehood Constitutional Convention and helped draft the constitution. Soon after his June 20, 2020, death from Covid-19, the US House of Representatives passed legislation to make DC the 51st state. The Republican-controlled Senate ignored the bill, but the House effort stands as a tribute to Croft.

Since 1982, the Croft family has owned the house at 1515 U Street SE in the Anacostia Historic District.