The last time Barbara Sizemore recalls backing down from a fight was in 1945. She was a student at Northwestern University, and she and several of her black classmates had just led a rally to protest their housing conditions at the prestigious Midwestern school.
A ranking university official summoned the protest leaders to his office, Sizemore said, and told them bluntly that blacks "don't pay enough tuition at Northwestern to keep the lawns mowed." If the dissidents didn't like their living conditions, Sizemore remembers being told, they could forfeit the scholarships, pack up and leave.
The 49-year-old former D.C. school superintendent, who is now running for a seat on the City Council, recalls the incident so vividly now, she says, because it was one time that the consequences of being dependent hit her hardest.
"We ceased and desisted because our parents couldn't afford to send us to college," Sizemore said in a recent interview. "I felt it was wrong for them (Northwestern administrators) to tell us that, but I was powerless. I couldn't disobey my mother and father who had sacrificed so hard to get me there."
Since then, Barbara Ann Sizemore has developed a reputation as a result of her educational and community activities in both Chicago and Washington as a strong-willed, independent minded person who is very reluctant to compromise her beliefs.
For 25 years, Sizemore was a teacher and administrator in the Chicago public schools. Her supporters there praised her as a brilliant educator and fighter for community-controlled schools, while detractors criticized her as a frequent instigator of destructive conflict.
In October, 1973, she became D.C. school superintendent. Asserting her own administrative style often in deflance of the city's elected school board, she was offered a chance to quit the post for $46,000 in severance pay but rejected it. On Oct. 9, 1975, two years and eight days after becoming the first black woman to head a major city school system, Sizemore was fired.
The board said she was an inept administrator and unreliable employee who spent more time organizing disruptions of school board meetings than meeting administrative deadlines. Sizemore and her supporters said those were simply code words for white-controlled black politicians who felt she was a threat to the Washington establishment.
Sizemore, running as an independent, is now one of 10 persons vying in the July 19 special election to fill the at-large City Council vacancy created by the March 23 deaths of Julius W. Hobson Sr.
"What I learned," she now says of her struggle with the board, "is that all decisions are political decisions. If you're out to affect those decisions, you have to become involved."
The controversial Sizemore superintendency is an ever-present invisible factor in her campaign. The candidate dosen't talk about it. Her campaign literature doesn't trumpet it. "That's not an issue, it's dead," she says.
But as much as she campaign on issues such as rent control, taxes, jobs and "change", it is the visibility she achieved during her stormy years as school superintendent that now serves as a backdrop for her City Council candidacy.
Some of those who are her closest political associates on the campaign trail - former Federal City College prefessor Acklyn Lynch and City Council member Douglas E. Moore (Dat large) for example - came to respect Sizemore most during her flight with the school board.
"She went in the hole financially trying to prove a point," said Howard University political scientist Ronald Walters, another Sizemore supporter, referring to her rejection of the $46,000 after. "It takes a tremendous amount of integrity not to take the money and run."
During an appearance last week at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Northeast Washington. Sizemore talked to the congregation mostly about property tax burdens and her stands on moral issues. Still, 61-year-old Marie Howard left the church and gladly accepted a Sizemore brochure. Howard told a reporter. "I like the way she talks, I was hoping she wouldn't be ousted (by the city school board). I'm glad she decided to run for something."
If the dispute over the school superintedency left Sizemore with a reputation as a troublemaker and firebrand orator, her general campaign posture is just the opposite. Standing before audiences sometimes with the poised legs and clasped hands of a third grade teacher introducing the day's lesson. Sizemore is ebullient, smiling and forcefully soft-spoken.
She conveys the erudition of a woman who spent nine years studying Latin and Greck - she went to college on a classiacal languages scholarship. She also conveys a sense of compassion for those at the bottom and middle, of the economic ladder at whom her campaign is aimed.
"I have a very strong concern for poor people, for low-and moderate-income people and in the District of Columbia these people happen to be black," she says.
Still Sizemore, whose educateional innovations were most associated with black children, is careful to claim a multiracial thrust for her candidacy. "My campaign is not black-oriented," she says. "It's directed towards change."
Sizemore's campaign platform contains a legislative proposal that would expand day care facillities, using senior citzens to help staff them and another that would create a system of "ground rent" revenues that Sizemore says would more evenly distribute property tax burdens among different income groups.
Sizemore says she doesn't smoke or drink and thinks marijuana use should not be decriminalized. Sexual preference, she says, is a private matter. "I would vote against a Gay Pride Day," she says. "As matter of fact, I would vote against a Heterosexual Pride Day, too."
Born in Chicago and raised in low income racially integrated in a neigborbood in Terre Haute, Ind. Sizemore is the mother of two grown children and a divorcee. In 1976, she ran unsuccessfully to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention from the District of Columbia on the ill-fated Open Party slate backed by Mayor Walter E. Washington.