FIFTY YEARS LATER

Sam Smith –The House passage of a DC statehood bill brings to mind that fifty years ago this month, I wrote an essay explaining for the first time how DC could become a state without a constitutional amendment. The plan was to reduce the size of the federal district created in the Constitution and to let the remainder become a state. This was not a novelty; after all back in 1846, Alexandria Virginia had been dropped from the federal district to satisfy that town’s pro-slavery agenda.

The total reaction to my article was that a reader sent me five dollars, asking that it be contributed to the cause if it ever got going. I thought, well there’s another one down the drain.

Then four months later, I was invited to a meeting to discuss the candidacy of Julius Hobson for non-voting delegate to Congress, a token that the federal government had thrown our way to help calm the city down.

We met in a barren church basement hall on East Capitol Street. Just a few of us, our chairs pulled in a small circle. After a while, Julius asked on what platform we thought he should run. Someone in the room mentioned the article I had written about statehood.. Julius listened, we discussed it for a few minutes and then he said, “That’s what I’m going to run on.”

Julius Hobson is probably the most underrated civil rights leader of recent time – another example of how colonies like DC not only lack power but respect for their stories.

Throughout the years of Washington’s awakening, no one individual had changed the course and the psychology of DC more than Hobson. In a city where it could be said that never had so many sold out for so little, Hobson refused to compromise. Even prospect of an early death from multiple myeloma failed to chasten the man. He described the conversation he would have with the Lord, if there turned out to be one, as Hobson presenting a bill of particulars on behalf of the oppressed people still back on earth. And he concluded, “That’s what I’d have to say to the Maker. And if the Maker doesn’t like it, to hell with him.”

Between 1960 and 1964, Julius Hobson had run more than 80 picket lines on approximately 120 retail stores in downtown DC, resulting in employment for some 5,000 blacks. He initiated campaigns that resulted in the first hiring of black bus drivers, black auto salesmen and dairy employees and directed anti-discrimination efforts against the public utilities, private apartment buildings, the Washington Hospital Center, and private business schools. In 1967, Julius Hobson won a suit that outlawed the existing rigid school track system, teacher segregation and differential distribution of budgets, books and supplies.

Our meeting in the church basement led to the creation of the DC Statehood Party which would elect a member to the city council and/or school board for 25 years. And it’s only taken a half century for the issue to come to the national fore. The current Senate clearly won’t approve it, but a Biden victory in the fall combined with a Democratic Senate could create a new state in a matter of months.

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