Business executive John Hechinger remembers that 15 years ago, when he was chairman of the appointed D.C. City Council, the panel was holding hearings on regulations that allowed police officers to order groups of people to disperse--regulations that he says were insulting to blacks and spelled out all too clearly the relationship between the community and the mostly white police force.
"Without question, there have been vast improvements and enormous changes" since the fires burned in 1968, said Hechinger, an early supporter of home rule for the District and a long-time political activist who currently serves as the city's Democratic national committeeman.
Before home rule, the way that businessmen got things done in the city was to go to the congressional committees that ran the District, committees that often were run by powerful Southern congressmen. Now, Hechinger points out, attention must be focused on the District Building.
"It is evident to me, from a social and public standpoint, that the city is comfortably integrated," he said.
But has that integration seeped into the higher echelons of the business community?
"It is true that there has been insignificant progress in this area," Hechinger acknowledged. But he added that "there are a lot of hidden black folks around doing important things . . . . Where people have made it, they are in significant positions."
In his own chain of home-supply stores, Hechinger said as an example, the personnel director is a black woman and there are some black store managers. He also cited several black attorneys who are partners with whites in law firms.