Mary Beth Waits took one look at my Oct. 12 column and said to herself, “That’s Aunt Mary!”
My story that day was about J. Charles Jones, the Howard University-trained lawyer and civil rights activist who in June 1966 led a four-day march around the Capital Beltway to protest segregated housing.
Jones was a member of ACCESS, the Action Coordinating Committee to End Segregation in the Suburbs. He and his fellow protesters had been fighting white apartment owners who refused to rent to African Americans.
The Beltway protest attracted a multiracial group of marchers, including Mary Beth’s aunt Mary Hart, who was standing behind Jones in the photo that ran with my column.
Mary Beth has vivid memories of the activism of her Aunt Mary. “I remember picketing with her in Virginia outside of an Arlington apartment complex called Buckingham,” she wrote. “We marched up and down the street singing songs. One song, ‘Eyes on the Prize,’ had a specific lyric that we added: ‘Black men die in Vietnam but can’t live in Buckingham. Keep your eyes on the prize, hold on, hold on.’ ”
During the Beltway march, the protesters saw banners hung on overpasses, some critical, some encouraging. “She related that some of the Movement’s opponents threw rocks and other projectiles at the walkers, causing them to approach all overpasses with trepidation,” Mary Beth wrote.
The trip was daunting both physically and emotionally. Mary Beth thinks her aunt may have been the only woman who walked all 64 miles of the Beltway.
“She was a big woman — almost six feet tall — big in the hips, outspoken and commanding both physically and verbally,” Mary Beth wrote.
Mary Hart died in 1984. Her name adorns a day-care center in Rockville, Md. She’d been a day-care professional all her adult life, and when the Poor People’s Campaign came to Washington in 1968, she helped organize the service that looked after the protesters’ children.
Mike Tabor was also on the march around the Beltway. A native New Yorker, his eyes had been opened in 1963 after a class at the University of Maryland, where he was in graduate school.
“I turned to another kid from Brooklyn who was sitting next to me, who was black, and said, ‘Let’s go down to get a beer in College Park and talk about being in this strange place,’ ” Mike said.
After they sat down in a bar, the waiter told them that Mike could stay but his friend couldn’t. “He said, ‘This is College Park, and it’s segregated,’” Mike remembered. “This pulled me into something I had no intention of getting pulled into.”
But pulled Mike was, and he’s spent the rest of his life involved in social justice activism. He worked for a while for the federal government but quit after Richard Nixon was elected.
“I felt, ethically, I could not stay in the federal government with Nixon as my boss,” he said. “I searched for an alternative.”
The alternative was farming. Mike and his wife, Esther Siegel, operate Licking Creek Bend Farm in Fulton County, Pa. They helped found the Adams Morgan farmers market four decades ago and are now involved in a project called “Lessons of the Sixties.”
“It’s a close look at the activism of the ’60s in Washington,” said Anne Gallivan, the project’s coordinator. They are collecting archival materials — pamphlets, posters, articles — and have conducted more than 50 oral history interviews with people active in the civil rights, antiwar, fair housing and women’s movements. It will all be archived at George Washington University.
The group is hoping that at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 15, people who were involved in women’s rights issues and the feminist newspaper Off Our Backs will bring their artifacts to the Institute for Policy Studies, 1301 Connecticut Ave. NW.
“We don’t know how many people are coming, but we’re prepared to catalogue their papers and scan them,” Anne said.
For information, visit lessonsofthesixties.wixsite.com/lessonsofthesixties or email DCproject60@gmail.com.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.