City Paper Widget

Friday, July 4, 2014

Cheater's Guide to 'Dream City' -- Part 4 (Pride)

This is the fourth installment of a series (see the first installment here) summarizing the 1994 book Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood. This book has recently been republished as an ebook and a paper book. HBO has plans to use material from the book to make a movie about the life of Marion Barry.

Chapter 3: Pride

In 1967, Williard Wurtz was U.S. Secretary of Labor. He was concerned about summer unrest in Washington fueled "by poverty and hopelessness among black Americans in the big cities."

"The philosophy was simple: Federal funds would be applied to cure the root problems and symptoms of the inner-city poor" (Kindle location 833).

Meanwhile, on May 1, 19-year-old Clarence T. "Fat Nasty" Brooker was shot in the back by police answering a complaint from a store owner. His treatment was delayed and he "died a few hours later of massive internal bleeding"  (l. 856).

His friend, Rufus "Catfish" Mayfield, a juvenile ex-con, testified that police had shot Brooker in cold blood, but the coroner ruled it a "justifiable homocide" (l. 861).

Mayfield's testimony brought him to the attention of Marion Barry, who had recently resigned from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) to create a local political movement of his own.

"Barry's dilemma was not unlike Willard Wirtz's: Neither truly understood the culture of these urban black men. Most had dropped out of school. many had police records, and more than a few were gang members and carried guns. Marion Barry was a former small-town Eagle Scout who'd made it through nineteen years of schooling" (l. 879).

"... Mayfield agreed to be Barry's guide. He taught him the dialect of the street, the walk, the mannerisms, the culture" (l. 882).

Barry found another ally in Carroll Harvey, the director of the DC government's office of community renewal, in working to calm tensions.

Wirtz went to a church near where Brooker was shot to unveil a new jobs program. The announcement met with a reaction of hostile silence, organized by Barry. Barry insulted Wirtz and his program in the church. But outside the church, he offered to talk. Wirtz accepted.

Barry and allies quickly developed an alternative proposal.

"They wanted to set up an independent company that would hire teenagers hanging out on the corners to clean the ghetto streets. The daring aspect was that few believed that street toughs would work for a wage. Barry's proposition challenged the conventional wisdom" (l. 942).

"... The first deal -- between Marion Barry and the white liberal establishment -- was struck. He would maintain peace in the streets, and the liberals would foot the bill, whether it paid for a job-training project or a political campaign to come. This fundamental transaction was the cornerstone of Barry's political machine" (l. 948).

Barry and allies established Pride, Inc., with Mayfield was chair. His police record enraged House Republicans, but the federally-funded street-cleaning program went ahead.

President Lyndon Johnson's DC home-rule law failed in 1965. In 1967, another proposal was working its way through a hostile Congress. As part of the proposal, Johnson decided to appoint Walter Washington mayor. Washington successfully insisted on control of the police against White House and Congressional opposition.

"House District Committee chair John McMillan wasn't pleased. When Walter Washington sent his first budget to Congress, McMillan thanked him by delivering a truckload of watermelons to the District Building" (l. 1001).

Johnson also appointed John Hechinger, who headed a chain of hardware stores bearing the family's name, to be chair of the city council.

Barry criticized the appointments. "They should be people who could get elected if there were an election. These men couldn't make it for dog catcher," Barry said (l. 1030).

Pride, Inc.'s pilot street-cleaning program was a success, and Wirtz gave them another $1.5 million.

At the same time, Rufus Mayfield was developing his own following as a community organizer. Barry came to see him as a competitor and edged him out of Pride, Inc.

Soon after, civil rights leader Stokely Carmichael came to DC. Carmichael saw Barry as a collaborator with DC's white ruling class.

Speaking to Barry, Carmichael quoted Che Guevara: "... the duty of revolutionaries is to lead the revolution" (l. 1081).

"A few months later, Carmichael would see how hard it is to control a real revolution" (l. 1082).

Cheater's Guide to Dream City continues

Part 5 of "Cheater's Guide" will appear today, Friday, July 4, 2014. Further installments will appear on successive Fridays. All posts will be cross-posted on the ad-hoc blog Cheater's Guide to "Dream City".

Full disclosure: I have a commercial relationship with Amazon. I will receive a very small portion of the money people spend after clicking on an Amazon link on this site.

This is a great book and well worth reading in its entirety.

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