Overwhelming Senate passage of legislation giving DC residents a voting representative in the U.S. House of Representatives reminds me of the long history of the struggle for DC Voting Rights. It was, or should have been, an integral part of the civil rights movement, because of the historic disenfranchisement of African Americans in the district.
The most appalling chapter in that history was in the 1930s and 1940s when Senator Theodore Bilbo of Mississippi was the de facto “mayor of Washington,” as the head of the Senate’s District of Columbia Committee. He ruled the city like a autocratic plantation overseer. Bilbo was perhaps the very WORST senator in American history: an unspeakable ignoramus bigot. He once called Claire Booth Luce a “nigger lover,” repeatedly praised Adolph Hitler, had ties to Nazi sympathizers in the U.S. and declared that whites were “justified in going to any extreme to keep the nigger from voting.” For years he blocked anti-lynching laws. (Source)
In his fascinating book, Washington Goes to War, journalist David Brinkley described the awful Bilbo and his rule over Washington. He wrote:
When he received a hostile letter from a woman named Josephine Piccolo in New York City, he wrote back and addressed her: “Dear Dago.”As one of the nation’s most outspoken racists, Bilbo hated the fact that nearly half the residents of the city he helped administer were black. “If you go through the government departments,” he once said, “there are so many niggers it’s like a black cloud around you.” He repeatedly introudced a bill to deport all Negroes to Africa and once suggested that Eleanor Roosevelt be sent with them and made their “queen.” Throughout his tenure on the district committee, Bilbo judged almost every proposal on the basis of its effect on race relations. Anything that might benefit blacks — and in a city whose black population was growing rapidly, that was most things — he opposed. Nothing outraged him more than the effort in 1941, by blacks themselves, to confront racial discrimination in employment.
A friend stumbled across an incredible passage in the Congressional Record where Bilbo tried to dump on an Italian-American war hero who died in combat. Bilbo said the guy was probably a draftee and implied his heroism was bogus – because naturally, no one of that ethnic group could be a hero.
- During the Depression, even the virulent anti-communist Senator Bilbo was “feeling a little pink,” historian Mac Secrest recalled.