They were crammed back to back in the narrow corridors at the party's peak, unmindful of stacked office chairs and pushed-aside desks - White House staff, congressmen, Cabinet, assistant secretaries, Republicans and Democrats - gladhanding, trading political tidbits.
Some people stayed for hours while others pushed through long enough to see and be seen. The ones who could not make it - such as Mayor Walter Washington - called to apologize.
It was the most sought-after black Christmas party in town, a veritable Who's Who of blacks on the national and local level (with a few token whites and Hispanics), and it is a tradition of nearly 20 years' standing.
The sign outside the door of Suite 1301 at 1725 Pennsylvania Ave. NW explains the lure: The hosts were the Washington Company, the country's most successful black publishing venture. And the guests were many of the men and women who made news last year - and those who'd like to be among the pages of Ebony, the flagship publication, and trendy Jet in 1978.
Those magazines "are an important link to the black community for information . . . It's always good to come over and touch bases with the people who keep us informed," said Ernest J. Withers Jr., assistant to Democratic National Committee vice chairman Ben Brown.
What he might have said is being in "The Jet" is like being in instant touch with millions of black Americans, and it's heady medicine, good politics and power reinforcing for some.
Mostly they came in a steady flow: Reps. Parren Mitchell, D-Md., Gus Hawkins, D-Calif. and Charles Diggs, D-Mich. - the latter staying for hours, stopping to chat with the pregnant wife of an acquaintance - Solicitor General Wade McCree, Assistant Interior Secretary James Joseph and Assistant Agriculture Secretary Joan Wallace. Author Alex Haley's brother, lawyer George Haley, and Eleanor Norton, Equal Employment Opportunity chairperson, pushed through, as did Councilmen Sterling Tucker and Marion Barry.
It was more than a party; it was a reunion. At various times, the Johnson party has reflected where blacks are on the Washington power ladder. In this year when black input is muted, when there are few top blacks with overriding influence in the administration, the frustration was thick.
Beyond the event's high-decibel level and the merriment, the conversations reflected a more serious note. Over the years the talk has been an accurate indicator of the preceding year's black concerns. In the '60s, the events were charged with the grinding psychological pressure of the civil rights movement and later, Vietnam. The parties during the '70s picked up the puzzlement and the apathy. This year, knots of guests argued affirmative action and the Bakke case at high pitch.
Not all the talk was high-charged relevance, however, Chicago newswoman and commentator Ethel Payne's eyes were bright with joy because she had just seen "scads of people" she hadn't seen in along time. "It's a combination of public relations and a way to bring the most important folks together. An ingathering," she said.
An air of success permeated. "We're middle class and Proud of it," said Johnson Bureau Chief Simeon Booker, viewing the eclectic and stylish crowd, "but we appreciate the sensitivity of the people here. We invite everyone from little people to the top." Booker, a Washington fixture, is central to the event, as is correspondent Fannie Granton, who doffs her White House press card and ties on an apron to make all the food for the affair. It's part of the events homey, extended-family atmosphere.
The "little people" would have been unhappily surprised to hear themselves so described. One person intent on grappling his way up the washington social ladder grabbed a reporter's arm as she flipped through the guest book, and cried, "Elitist!"
At one point, partying was interrupted to honor Treasurer of the U.S., Azie MOrton, Reps. Mitchell and Hawkins, Howard Jenkins of the National Labor Relations Board and Howard Robinson, U.S. Counsul to Martinique.
Four hours past the scheduled closing time, the knots of people had loosened, and only a few strays leaned against the walls lined with Ebony covers and photographs depicting the traumatic/triumphant march of blacks across the magazine's pages for the past two decades. The man rebelling against the middle-classness of it all remained.
"Write that it was a people's party. We're all in the same boat whether we know it or not!"