Answer Man: Kindness Turned Brutality

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By John Kelly
Monday, April 25, 2005

Do you remember Human Kindness Day? I remember very clearly my father driving us in the car through D.C. when a cop came up to our car and said, "Roll up your windows and lock your doors. It's Human Kindness Day." Whenever I bring it up to others who lived here in the '70s, I get blank looks.

Jenny Pike, Silver Spring

The milk of human kindness: Cool and sweet it may be, but left out in the hot sun it soon turns sour. And so too with Human Kindness Day.

The first HKD was April 22, 1972, and was officially known as Roberta Flack Human Kindness Day. The event was designed to honor the singer, who had attended Howard University and been a fixture at Mr. Henry's nightclub.

It was organized by a nonprofit arts education group called Compared to What, with the support of the D.C. government and the National Park Service.

The inaugural event went off without a hitch, with about 25,000 people gathering on the Washington Monument Grounds to hear Roberta Flack sing. The following year, comedian and social activist Dick Gregory was the honoree, and more than 35,000 people gathered for a five-hour concert at the Sylvan Theater.

By 1974, Human Kindness Day had gotten even bigger. Nina Simone was the honoree, and scheduled musical performers included Herbie Hancock and the Pointer Sisters .

We say "scheduled" because there were problems from the start. Organizers had trouble getting the sound system to work because spectators were sitting on the equipment. The Pointer Sisters finally started performing about 5 p.m. but walked off during their second number because fans had swarmed onto the stage, threatening it with collapse.

The Post reported that about 55,000 people attended Human Kindness Day III and that 24 people were arrested on assault and robbery charges -- which might have suggested that the bloom was off the rose.

But plans were made for Human Kindness Day IV, May 10, 1975. Stevie Wonder was the main attraction, scheduled to close a show that included performances by Graham Central Station and other bands.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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