Julius Hobson Sr., Activist, Dies at Age 54

By Cynthia Gorney
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 24, 1977; 7:56 PM

Julius Hobson Sr. died yesterday at age 54 of the cancer that would not let him fight any more.

When he died he was a city councilman - the at-large representative of the party seeking statehood for the District of Columbia. He worked almost full-time until the day before his death, when he attended a big last City Council meeting.

Behind him stretched on extraordinary record of achievement in local civil rights and educational reform: the lawsuit that ended tracking in Washington schools, the picket lines that opened downtown hiring to blacks, the demonstrations and speeches and pointed theatrics that unsettled Washington for 25 years.

"I sleep mad," Hobson used to say.

A Marxist who never learned the fine political art of moral compromise - and never wanted to - he spent his adult life waging an unorthodox and often lonely war on the racism that had shaped his childhood. His weapons were publicity, statistics, the American legal system, and an implacable refusal to let things be.

His death, shortly after noon yesterday at George Washington University Hospital, came six years after Hobson learned he was sick - first with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the spine, and then with acute leutremia, which sapped his resistance to infection and allowed internal complications to finally kill him. It was an illness he loathed, not because he knew it would kill him, but rather because it ate away at the enormous and angry energy that was the essence of Julius Hobson.

Exhorting and prodding, manipulating the press and ignoring the hesitant, Hobson infuriated as many as he inspired. He was told that he wanted too much, that he pushed too hard, that he didn't understand people. He was called a maverick, an egomaniac, a gadfly, a hero. Hobson knew all that.

"When you take the negative position and you're always screaming," he reflected a few months before his death, "people are going to brand you as they see fit."

There are no real victories, Hobson would tell people, no comfortable resting places. He believed there is no God to make things better in the end. There is only the here and now, and the small successes that propel you to the next fight.

For 20 years his presence rocked Washington: Hobson climbing into a hospital bed in a white ward and refusing to leave. Hobson stepping onto a wooden crate in Lincoln Park and demanding that people listen. Hobson driving toward Georgetown with a cage full of rats on the roof of his car, suggesting the rich share a problem they said was unsolvable, and then stealing away from the television cameras to drown the rats in the Potomac Rover. Hobson under picket signs, behind microphones, in police vans - always with his hat and his pipe (or cigar) and his rich, strident Alabama voice.

And there was the private Julius Hobson, who seemed to draw sustenance from conflict and the certainty that he could not be pushed. The husband who emerged from furious protests so invigorated he would do all the grocery shopping and lunge into the preparation of dinner. The solider who memorized poetry while flying World War II artillery spotters and continued to recite the words of this private music 20 years later. The Alabama kid who, way back around 1930, sat by the window on rainy days with Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking Glass," reading the scene where a mad queen mocks justice by crying, "Sentence first! Verdict afterward!"

"I understood it even then," he later recalled.

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© 1977 The Washington Post Company