Civil Rights Tour: Protest - Reginald Booker, Anti-freeway activist

Luray Place NW

"I think I've been involved in every issue in the black community on the front lines."(Reginald Booker)

Reginald Booker (1941-2015) was propelled into activism by his family's displacement from southwest DC in the early 1950s, when he was a young teenager. They had recently moved to the city, where his mother worked a night job as a janitor on Capitol Hill to enable them to purchase a house. Yet within two years, he later recounted, his family was forced to move and their home torn down in preparation for a massive urban renewal project that ultimately uprooted 23,000 residents. The majority of those displaced were black. Booker later recalled, "Our family had already been uprooted by something we had no control over. I wasn't going to let it happen to others."

In fact, when he was just 13, Booker walked from his new home on Luray Place to join a picket line at 14th Street and Park Road, outside a Woolworth's that barred black patrons from its lunch counter. As a young adult, Booker demonstrated alongside the fiery Julius Hobson, who led DC's chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and waged campaigns for equal employment, housing, schools, hospitals and political rights. Together they presided over the August 1972 funeral of Gregory Coleman, a young man shot and killed by a police officer for stealing a bike the officer had planted outside a Safeway.

In February 1968, Booker joined a nascent campaign to stop the construction of an extensive freeway system planned for DC. The North-Central Freeway was slated to connect an "inner loop" planned for downtown with the I-495 Beltway north of the city. It would cut through black neighborhoods in northeast DC and would necessitate the demolition of thousands of homes. Booker and co-leader Sammie Abbott tapped activist leaders Marion Barry and Charles Cassell to serve as vice-chairs of the Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis (ECTC), and by late 1968 the group's meetings routinely attracted at least 200 people. Over the next four years, ECTC led more than 75 street protests, almost every one of them drawing at least 50 participants. Student activists, many energized by the anti-Vietnam War movement, swelled the ranks of a campaign that drew support from black and white D.C. and Maryland residents whose communities were in the planned freeway's path.

Following a lengthy court battle against the freeway, Congress finally agreed in December 1971 to re-allocate highway funds to building DC's Metrorail system