Civil Rights Tour: Protests - Julius Hobson, Iconoclast

4801 Queens Chapel Terrace Road NE

"If we’re going to have civilization in Washington, we need more friction."

Julius Hobson, quoted above, was famous for creating friction. An Alabama native who came to DC to pursue a masters in economics at Howard University, Hobson forayed into activism in 1953 when he demanded more funds for his son's segregated elementary school in Brookland. The school board's refusal to equalize its per-pupil support for the District's white schools, which were underenrolled, and its black schools, which were so crowded that students attended in shifts, eventually drove Hobson to sue the superintendent. Hobson won.

In 1961, Hobson was hired by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), a 20-year old civil rights organization committed to nonviolence, to run its DC office. Hobson grew CORE'S DC membership from around 15 to several hundred, and by 1964 he had organized some 85 picket lines demanding that downtown stores hire black workers. CORE also published a "Selective Buying Guide" limited to businesses where African Americans were employed. Hobson estimated that the campaign won blacks about 5,000 new jobs.

In May 1963, Hobson launched a series of protests targeting segregationist housing policies. In addition to picketing buildings that barred black residents, white CORE members rented apartments and let black members occupy them.

When Hobson's confrontational style and increasingly autocratic leadership resulted in his expulsion from CORE in 1964, he founded a local chapter of Associated Community Teams (ACT), which he called "more a philosophy of militancy, a state of mind," than an actual organization. The group immediately drew attention when it staged a rally at a small park near its office, where Hobson threatened to relocate rats from nearby black neighborhoods to Georgetown. In October 1968, ACT called for seven days of picketing in front of city officials' homes to protest “police brutality, slumlords, unemployment, stupid welfare policies, racism practiced by DC government agencies and the failure of the ‘poverty war.'" 

Hobson was also a fierce critic of the police. He spent a year serving on a committee established by the police chief to address the department's relationship with black DC but resigned in disgust. In 1967, he mounted microphones on the top of a car and recorded officers spewing verbal abuse at black citizens. Hobson also won his lawsuit against the city's school system that year. As a result, funding was equalized, the tracking system was abolished, faculties were desegregated, boundaries were redrawn, and busing was implemented.

Hobson lived at 4801 Queen's Chapel Terrace Road NE.

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