Civil Rights Site: Civic Activism - Hecht's Department Store

575 7th Street NW

Ask older Black Washingtonians about Hecht's and they may recount that their mothers weren’t allowed to try on clothes, or that only white customers could dine at the store's basement lunch counter. 

Hecht’s was one of the largest department stores in the city for much of the 20th century. In the 1950s, it became a key site of protest in the battle to end discrimination against Black shoppers.

Although a 1929 survey by the Black-owned Washington Tribune found DC’s department stores to be among the few places where white and Black women were treated equally, Hecht’s later closed its fitting rooms to Black customers. Despite protests and the threat of a boycott, the policy remained in place.

In 1951, Hecht’s was targeted in a campaign co-led by 87-year-old Mary Church Terrell to integrate downtown stores and restaurants. Three months of failed negotiations led Terrell’s group to launch pickets and lunch counter sit-ins. As explained by co-organizer Annie Stein, volunteers took two-hour shifts, with “between 15 and 20 people sitting down at a time all through the day on Saturday[s].” Over the course of several months, the group garnered citywide and national support, and in January 1952 Hecht’s finally began providing full service to Black customers.

In 1925, the Hecht Company built this eight-story building at 7th and F streets, significantly expanding its quarters from the two adjacent buildings to its south at 513-517 7th Street NW.