13 February 2016

MLK Library, Washingtoniana Collection

This week's DC field trip was to the MLK Library in downtown DC to their Washingtoniana collection, both to check it out and to get ideas for my son's research paper.  We had a few vague ideas of what we were looking for and found plenty of great books in the stacks (which we couldn't check out, but that's okay because we're not DC residents anyway) but the librarian also pulled out a file of newspaper clippings from the early 1900s about protests and demonstrations.

We were specifically looking for information about the Bonus Army which seems to fall into the protest and demonstration category, but the file was really about picketing and we only found one mention of the Bonus Army.  Instead, we had a very interesting time looking through articles about white women picketing for suffrage, black men and women picketing stores that wouldn't hire blacks, and everyone picketing and demonstrating at embassies in the 30s.  There were also a few articles about people protesting a KKK film. And the striking seamen from Baltimore.

Those embassy demonstrations were fascinating.  They generally took place outside the German, Japanese, Italian, and Spanish embassies in the years leading up to WWII.  Some got violent and laws were passed to keep protesters 500 feet away from any embassy they were protesting.  Several articles dealt with the free speech and assembly issues those laws raised.  A demonstration against the German Embassy (The Washington Post referred to it as the Nazi Embassy) on November 11, 1938 had many protesters marching along chalk line drawn all the way around the building, exactly 500 feet away.  They had planned to fly kites with anti-Nazi messages over the embassy, but decided they didn't want to push their luck since the police seemed to think there was either a ban on kite flying in DC or that would break the 500 feet rule.  (You can protest outside embassies now, of course, as long as you don't block the sidewalk.)

One of the things I hadn't realized about DC before doing this class with my son is how much the city is affected by protests, particularly in the early 1900s when getting there became so much easier (there were lots of women from the western US getting arrested in DC in the late 1910s- they weren't just from areas near DC). One article we read yesterday talked about a proposal to limit people's protests to their own state to keep people from traveling to DC to protest.  Many protests take place on federal property so the federal government often deals with the actual protest, but municipal police often were called in to help, and obviously many protests (like those around embassies) haven't been on federal property or bring in many people who need different kinds of services. The Bonus Army is probably the best example of this since they set up camp in Anacostia for some time.

We'll have to go back another time to find a better source for the Bonus Army (and also the KKK marches in the 20s which didn't get any mentions at all).

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