Jasper Hill is one of the few remaining faithful black power activists. He is still on the outside of the District Building after many of his old friends have taken over inside. He still talks about poor folks in Washington at a time when his former colleagues have shifted attention to the plight of the middle class.
He is almost a person out of step with time -- a 1960s man going into the 1980s. And he has yet to be convinced that the major local political development of the 1970s, home rule, has been anything phenomenal. Jasper Hill does not believe that black power in City Hall has done much for black people in this city.
Rather, it has been a diversion, he siad, an inevitable "keep cool" program set up after the riots of 1968, which has allowed some blacks to get higher-paying, more prestigious jobs and move out of the ghetto. It has done little for poor blacks. And as the nation's capital enters the 1980s, Hill said, it is something he could just as well do without.
Hill, who turned to street vending at about the same time that more "pragmatic" old acquaintances like Marion Barry turned to city hall, admits that some people might consider him crazy because of his non-conformist assessment of black politics in the District of Columbia.
After all, many blacks are lamenting the state of affairs in this town these days, contending that recurring media "attacks" on prominent local blacks are the latest shots in an intensifying race war to see who will control life, money and power in the nation's capital.
Jasper Hill is admittedly no one's leader in Washington. His is one man's view. He is responsible to no influential organization, is not a big employer, does not write letters to the editor, doesn't counsel the mayor, is not active in his neighborhood block club and doesn't own his home. He's not planning to run for political office, either.
He is one of those nameless voices in black Washington who some would consider an "angry black man." But in blunt, simple -- and sometimes over simplified -- terms, Hill speaks the same distrust that underlies much of the racial paranoia of more moderate blacks. And he voices no second thoughts about his assertion that black leadership in the District building is not synonymous with black progress in the city.
"For me, it would be good for them to discredit black leadership at this point. I would like to see that happen. Then we could finally realize what we have to do as a race of people," Hill said the other day.
"Home rule has been a pacification. It has made it harder for us to organize people. They say, 'So-and-so in city hall is black.' But so-and-so's not doing anything for black people," he said of the city government members, many of whom were themselves former activists in black community.
"Their allegiance is not to poor folks. It's not to black folks. It's to big business," Hill said. "They play the same kind of nonsense politics that the white folks play."
In many ways, Hill's own life parallels the roller coaster of black progress in the District of Columbia. He has tried his hand at nearly every prescription for black survival, from crime and education to small business and religion.
He grew up in the impoverished Barry Farms public housing project in the years of lingering segregation that followed World War II. By the time he was 16, he had been arrestd five times for assault, drundenness and other crimes. Society gave up on him and sent him to reform school.
Hill was reformed. He soon became a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. By the end of the cynical '60s, Hill had grown cynical about the church. "I took a bread because I didn't want to be no hypocrite, Hill said. "I got tired of telling people something when I didn't see no change." He stopped preaching.
For a while, he was president of the student government association at Washington Technical Institute. A few years later, he went into semi-retirement asn an activist.
In the past half-decade, his tables stacked with hats, jewelry, leather goods and incense have become a fixture on the sidewalk across from Crampton Auditorium on the campus of Howard University. He is married, has five children -- 2 1/2 to 16 -- and most of his dreams of black unity have faded away.
Many of the "independent" black schools set up in the late '60s have folded. The "Buy Black" campaign that he hoped would expand his street vending business into manufacturing never took hold. The united black political thrust he hoped to develop in the wake of the 1972 National Black Political Convention in Gary never got off the ground.
Jasper Hill's anger is only a smoldering fire now. He is frank, but not bitter. "At 43, I have no pacification in me," he said. "Most people would think I have because I keep my mouth shut. I don't argue about politics. I keep to my business."
He sits on a large paint barrel, hands in his pockets, a Big Apple style hat tugged over his head, his scuffed leather boots pawing at the ground and three layers of clothes warding off the early breezes of the last days of the 1970s.
Hill shares the concerns of these blacks who practice parania politics. He just expresses those concerns differently.
Certainly blacks are being displaced, he said: "You show me the community that's gonna be here (in the 1980s). We're surrounded by white folks on all sides. I don't see where the community's gonna be."
He talks about the loss of black political gains of home rules and the civil rights movement as accomplished facts: "We've exhausted the civil rights movement. We've exhausted electoral politics.
"Black folks are beginning to realize that we're not included in the society unless it's on a profit sheet. The dissatisfaction of the '70s will bring a whole lot of change in the '80s."
And he agrees that as the city enters the next decade, many in the black middle class are precariously middle class. But that might not be all bad.
"If you have a token job, you'll find yourself right back where you started.
Inflation, recession, depression -- that's what will get us back in line . . . iI like to look at the 80s as a time when we're gonna really move. But I've been wrong before."