IF YOU CAME to Washington when I did, which was after Julius Hobson had done much of his work, you might have found it hard to understand the man. From the eyes of one newly arrived the city looked just fine. Julius Hobson looked at it and raged. It took awhile to understand. He saw things others didn't. He was the history of the place.
You have to know that to understand Hobson. This town is a funny place. It has manged to hide its history and when you come here from the North or the West you would think that Washington is much like the place you left. It isn't or ar least it wasn't. This was once a Jim Crow town and people like Hobson knew there was work to be done here.
If you stay here long enough, the history of the place starts to seep out. Someone will mention a civil rights march. Once there was an old woman in Silver Spring who told me how she used to take the bus downtown to picket some store. She would march around the place until it was time to take the bus home to prepare her husband's dinner. She sensed the puzzlement in my eyes. Yes, in Washington, she said. The stores would not hire blacks.
Sometimes the history comes out in other ways. A native might refer to some school and say something like "colored" or "white". Sometimes an old can driver will be talking and he'll refer to a park by race - the way things used to be. Things are no longer that way Julius Hobson is one of the reasons.
He did not fight alone and he did not fight without making enemies and he did not. Lord knows, fight anonymously. But he was usually out in front and he was usually right and he was usually, if you'll pardon the expression, the biggest mouth around. He would open it and this gift of a voice would come out - deep and strong with a timbre to it that said very clearly that this man was not to be messed with. He had something else - a look. There was something in his eyes. Sometimes they danced with delight and sometimes they fixed you hard, telling you that you had just asked another fool question.
He was elected to the first elected school board and later to the City Council. You could see him up at the City Council dais, a head peeping up at you, his spine crumbled and the man himself dying and you had to ask yourseld why he was there. He was a leader, a troublemaker, born to march at the head of a column, to excite the imagination of journalists. Now he was dealing with zoning and on one particular day with whether smoking should be permitted in public places. He was by then a crippled man, but when he opened his mouth, the voice was still there - loud, proud and saying things that were well worth listening to.
Civil Action No. 82-66 was his towering achievement. The popular named varied. Some gave credit to the judge and called it the Wright decision. Others called it Hobson vs. Hansen. Call it what you want, it was the lawsuit that Julius Hobson had brought in behalf of his son and daughter and when he was finished the Washington school system was not the same.
You have to understand the school system to appreciate what Hobson did. You have to understand a system that would not return phone calls, that would tell you things that were not true, that could put you on hold untio hell froze over and then transfer you to an office that couldn't posibly know what you wanted. This was a system when you could see for yourself that the classrooms were half empty. If you questioned, you were given proof. The records showed attendance was good.
Julius Hobson waded into this system and got answers from it. He did much of his own research, mastering the numbers and terms that befogged the issues. He studied and he worked and he compiled his facts. When he was finished and had presented his case in court, this is what the judge had to say: "In sum, all the evidenc in this case tends to show that the Washington school system is a monument to the cynicism of the power structure which governs the voteless capital of the greatest country on earth."
So now he is dead and now is the time for eulogies. Some will recall the time he came into Georgetown with rats from the ghetto and some will recall the flamboyant way he could lead a demonstration. All this will be shown on television because all this is great film. But the film will not show a man working alone, going over the figures and the back ached and the eyes watered and he had to ask himself, as he did, whether it was worth it - whether he could make a difference.
It was and he did.