[This work was originally written between 1960 and 1961 by Jan Leighton Triggs, and John Paul Dietrich, founding members of the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG).
Jan Leighton Triggs was a Howard University Student in the early 1960s. He wrote for the Howard University Hilltop newspaper, served as the president of the Student Peace Union, was the first Historian of the Nonviolent Action Group, and was a founding member of Project Awareness on the Howard University campus. He was arrested on June 8, 1961 in Jackson, Mississippi during one of the first Freedom Rides and he participated in many social demonstrations. Along with Norman Thomas, in 1961 he addressed 25,000 demonstrators at the Washington Monument and spoke about peace and the civil rights struggle.
John Paul Dietrich was white seminary student who was dedicated to the cause of civil rights. As member of NAG he worked to get Black bus drivers hired to work on Washington, DC Metro buses, he was part of the Route 40 Project which opened restaurants and clean bathroom facilities for Black patrons in Maryland during the turbulent 1960s, and he participated in some of the historic events contained in this work. His assistance was invaluable in completing this early history.
We want those without a sense of morality, or common human decency, to realize that "the meek shall inherit the earth." The meek are demonstrating in growing numbers to change the social and political status quo in America. We seek peace and freedom for all mankind, in every land as an active and not subconscious event.]
NAG's early participants, Paul Dietrich, Stokely Carmichael, John Moody, Jan Triggs, Dion Diamond, Gwendolyn Green, Joan Trumpauer (Mulholland), and so many others picketed the White House, the Capital, and demonstrated by sitting in. These activities desegregated many establishments in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC. and began in May-June 1960.
On Saturdays following the White House and Capital demonstrations, other demonstrators composed of student groups and several civil rights groups, including CORE, picketed Woolworth chain stores in Washington, DC. The Woolworth, White House, and Capital demonstrations by Howard University students led to the formation of NAG's early leadership.
A formal meeting of interested Howard students took place in Cook Hall. Reverend Lawrence Henry had selected several segregated drug stores for picketing. We discussed NAACP legal assistance and planned a sit-in for June 9, 1960.
June 9, 1960. Students assembled and departed from Washington, DC. for Virginia. Eleven persons went to a Peoples Drug Store in Arlington, and sat-in closing the counters containing stools after one hour. Six members left and went to a nearby Drug Fair at the Lee Highway Shopping Center, sat-in, and closed that counter down.
George Lincoln Rockwell of the American Nazi Party encouraged a mob to heckle and jostle the demonstrators at the Drug Fair counter. Stones were thrown and a shot was fired at a car belonging to a demonstrator. The group from Peoples and Drug Fair then united and left together.
Later that evening a meeting was held at the Arlington County Court house. It was decided that demonstrations would continue and Reverend Lawrence would be the group's spokesman.
June 10. Sit-ins were again staged at the Peoples and Drug Fair stores in Virginia, and now a Howard Johnson restaurant. Reverend Henry and Dion Diamond were arrested at Howard Johnson's. The Peoples and Drug Fair counters were closed again. A meeting was held that night and it was decided that demonstrations would be held off for a week to give businessman and Virginia government official's time to end the economic pressure that now rained down on them.
The court case against Reverend Henry and Dion Diamond continues and it is supposed it will go to the state Supreme Court.
June 11. Demonstrators went to eight Black churches to meet with the local community. Some local support was pledged after meetings.
June 18. Sit-ins were resumed in Virginia in the Shirlington Shopping Center. Landsburgh and Woolworth lunch counters were closed, with the demonstrators remaining until the stores closed.
June 22. Protestors gathered on the Howard University campus to plan a twenty-four hour sit-in. The Buckingham Shopping Center in Arlington was selected. Before leaving for the sit-in news was heard that Woolworth had agreed to desegregate their lunch counters. The new policy was tested and satisfied demonstrators proceeded to a Drug Fair counter arriving at 3pm and sat there until the press came at 5pm. The counter remained open for twenty-four hours.
"I and mine do not convince by arguments, smiles and rhymes. We convince with our presence." (Walt Whitman, from "Song of the Open road.")
At 8pm an attorney for the Drug Fair board of directors came and spoke to the NAG Secretary Gwendolyn Green. The protestors were asked to leave Drug Fair who said the group was causing trouble. Gwendolyn replied, "No" while she sat at a counter. Drug Fair then said to her that they would integrate by the end of June and to, "Please go away." Gwendolyn then replied that the sit-in would continue. An hour later the lunch counter was opened and the group was served. The next morning a letter was received from Drug Fair stating that every lunch counter in the chain in Arlington, Fairfax, and Alexandria, would integrate on June 23, 1960.
June 26. A group of activists met in Washington, DC, and formally organized the Nonviolent Action Group (NAG). It was decided that during the summer that the Glen Echo Amusement Park would be the next project for integration.
June 31. A group of seventy-five picketers started the proposed summer long action at Glen Echo. Over the summer there were over thirty-eight arrests on the merry-go-round, restaurants, driveways, and parking lots. There were always at least 30 demonstrators, but at times the numbers would reach as many as several hundred. Picketing would occur every night for five hours, and all day Saturday and Sunday. George Lincoln Rockwell picketed as well. Finally, as a result of community pressure, and as a by-product of the presidential election, Glen Echo was integrated by its opening in 1961.
July 1. Three were arrested for trespassing at Glen Echo.
July 2. Five were arrested for trespassing in a restaurant at Glen Echo. Someone attacked a demonstrator and was arrested.
July 3. Demonstrators were attacked and two suspects were arrested for disorderly conduct involving the right to picket.
July 4. A halt was called to demonstrations after Glen Echo called for negotiations.
July 8. Picketing began again at Glen Echo. Protesters filed a law suit in the Baltimore Federal Court. The purpose was to bar state action by the police for enforcing segregation. Injunction proceedings against the police began.
July 10. Ten demonstrators were arrested in Rockville, Maryland for trespassing at a Hi Boy restaurant. The mayor of Rockville issued a statement condemning segregation policy; picket lines were established.
July 12. The Montgomery County City Council in Maryland set up a human relations committee. The purpose was to discuss the reason for the County Recreation Department's use of a segregated pool in Glen Echo.
July 20. Dion Diamond and Reverend Lawrence Henry were convicted in Arlington, Virginia for the Howard Johnson sit-in. Their sentences amounted to ten days suspended sentences and twenty-five dollar fines. The judge recognized that this was a civil rights test case. July 24. Four picketers were arrested at the Hizer Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland for trespassing. A counter picket line was led by George Lincoln Rockwell and his Nazi Party. July 25. Hi Boy's decided to integrate in Maryland.
July 26. A one hundred hour picket line at the Hizer Theatre was established with teenagers setting up a counter picket line. It rained for the hundred hours.
Cases came before the Peoples Court in Baltimore, Maryland with regard to Glen Echo. Jury trials were requested and a date was set for September 12.
July 29. The home of the owner of Hizer Theatre was picketed.
July 31. Glen Echo demonstrators were attacked in a parking lot. One attacker was arrested.
Picket lines at Hizer were suspended for negotiations. Frequent request to negotiate with Glen Echo were turned down.
August 2. Dion Diamond was arrested in a phone booth at Glen Echo for assault and battery which was unfounded charges.
August 3. Reverend Lawrence Henry was arrested while trying to catch a bus out of Glen Echo. He was roughed up and was taken to a hospital on his way to jail.
August 5. Dion Diamond and Reverend Henry were released from jail. Since their arrest they refused to eat.
August 6. Hi Boy's in Alexandria integrated after repeated sit-ins and several weeks of negotiations.
August 12. Picket signs were carried at Hizer again.
August 13. The Federal Trade Commission was asked to take action against Glen Echo radio and television advertisements. The advertisements used the slogan, "Come one and come all."
August 15. Over Three hundred demonstrators assembled in Washington, DC, in the Capital Rotunda, the White House, Congressional Houses, and the Democratic National Headquarters. Students participated from all over the South, including forty students who walked from Baltimore, Maryland.
August 22. Twenty-two students walked from Washington, DC, to Baltimore, Maryland for a hearing on a federal law suit pertaining to civil rights.
August 23. Several picketers were arrested at Hizer. Jury trials were requested after arraignment and a date was given for the trial. (September 13)
August 24. Sit-ins were threatened for the kick off of the Democratic national campaign. As a result Democratic campaigns were integrated.
August 23. Due to lack of sitting space, kneel-ins were staged in Gilford's restaurants in Alexandria, Virginia, and Baily's Cross Roads. The restaurants quickly integrated.
September 7. Five protesters were arrested at the Fair Lanes Bowling Alley in Adelphi, Maryland. They were charged with trespassing and interfering with an officer.
September 8. The Montgomery Council decided to stop using the Glen Echo pool.
September 10. Two NAG members were arrested on traffic charges after leaving a meeting in Glen Echo. Their charges were dismissed.
September 11. Glen Echo announced that it would close early for the season.
September 12. Five protesters were convicted for the merry-go-round trespassing case. They were fined fifty dollars.
September 13. Five protesters were convicted for trespassing at Glen Echo and were fined one hundred dollars.
September 14. Three protestors were convicted for Hizer trespassing charges and were fined fifty dollars.
September 17. The person arrested for attacking Glen Echo picketers was convicted.
September 19. Hizer was sold to an integrated movie chain.
October 1. Sit-ins were staged in a Warrington drug store in Maryland. All Drug Fair stores integrated. This resulted from them exhibiting at a fair in Yugoslavia without wanting bad press.
October 24. Twenty four demonstrators were arrested at the Fair Lanes Bowling Alley for trespassing. They remained in jail overnight.
Around this time period, one hundred twenty-four university students from Howard, American, and Antioch, visited churches in Maryland to rally community support.
October 31. Dion Diamond and Reverend Lawrence Harvey were convicted by a jury in Arlington, Virginia. An appeal was made to the County Commissioners to set up a Human Relations council.
November 11. Two hundred students picketed the White House and a hotel where Democrats watched election returns.
The year 1961 was marked by tremendous activity on the part of integration groups. NAG had new branches and the Washington, DC, branch played its part by engaging in every major civil rights action in the United States. NAG members were proud to struggle for rights denied to the Black Man for three hundred years.
NAG sent clothes, food, and medicine, donated by local churches, to sharecroppers in Fayette County, Tennessee, who were evicted from their land and denied service in local stores. The sharecroppers tried to exercise their voting rights and had to pay a big price. NAG also sent four thousand dollars in cash and nine tons of supplies.
NAG was very busy. We picketed the White House during the presidential election calling for civil rights. Some of our members fully participated in the CORE-sponsored Freedom Ride from Washington to Alabama to Mississippi. Our NAG members suffered untold hardships. Thirteen spent the summer in Mississippi jails tasting just a little of Black pain suffered for so long.
Some of our members joined demonstrations in Rock Hill, South Carolina in February 1961. We also initiated civil rights demonstrations in Middleburg, Leesburg, and Warrington, Virginia. Some of our members were demonstrating in McComb, Mississippi, Monroe, North Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee, and Albany, Georgia. Three of our members became field secretaries for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. One became a field secretary for CORE. Another member is active in the Jackson, Mississippi nonviolent movement, and still another is chairman of the Peace Action Group in Washington, DC.
NAG broadened the scope of activity to include fair housing and hiring practices. We had demonstrations at MacClain Gardens and Hartnett Hall in Washington, DC, Our activities in Maryland can be considered by some as a second upsurge in Freedom Rides. We made sure segregation in Maryland was brought before the eyes of the world. Ugly policies were stricken and new ones ensured equal rights.
Hearing of the unjust reward of jail received by six students while trying to register voters in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which in actuality represented the struggle for democratic rights for all mankind, NAG called Senator Ellender of Louisiana requesting an appointment to discuss actions taken by his state. NAG picketed his home.
NAG contacted the Justice Department and made an appointment with Mr. Burke Marshall, head of the Civil Rights Division. On Friday, March 2, 1961 we met Mr. Marshall with 1,153 from Howard and George Washington University students. It was petitioned that the Justice Department had the power to intervene in the Baton Rouge case. Marshall's position was that the Justice Department had no legal right to act in the Baton Rouge case. The case involved voting rights and the right to organize to promote voting rights. He added that civil rights activists should separate voter registration drives from drives for other freedoms. We left the meeting unhappy that citizens were arrested for belonging to an organization striving for civil rights and having to stay in jail for months while the wheels of justice were rusty and squeaked.
March 13. We went to get an appointment with Attorney General Kennedy. One of his deputies, Mr. Seigenthaler, said Kennedy wasn't available and to make an appointment. The press was there at the time. We called the next day and were told it would be several weeks before Kennedy could see us.
Concurrent with trying to reach Kennedy, NAG began to try and organize the students at Howard University and make them aware of civil rights issues. Howard's administration was adamant that we didn't organize, but the Student Council gave us permission to address the student body. The President of Howard, James Nabrit, called NAG's Howard students to meet with him. He called us Communist and stated that we could not have a program of social action at Howard. We were told we could not address the student body but held a rally anyway with three hundred students participating. The administration was furious.
On the next Monday we began a sit-in at the Attorney General's office. As we entered the office, students entered Justice Department offices in Chicago and California. Because of the cooperation of students throughout the country, our lawyer Wiley Branton was able to meet with Kennedy. As a result of the meeting the students arrested in Baton Rouge, including our own Dion Diamond, were set free.
Howard University was not finished with NAG and students who were causing social and political unrest on campus. Stokely Carmichael was a definite agitator. Nabrit asked for another meeting. He realized after going over our achievements that we represented a force that could motivate, organize, and make important social changes with direct action. We met with him and were asked, "What does NAG want?"
We said we wanted civil rights now and didn't want "token-ism." We asked him, "When are our Black leaders going to forget middle class attitudes that wanted changes to be slow?" It can be pointed out that most of the Howard male students wore suits and ties to class. "Sneakers, sweat shirts, and dungarees are the fashions of communist," said James Nabrit. We went on to say, that the time to make changes was now, and we had to muster our courage, strength, reasoning, and use our intelligence to help every Black man in America. We want the complete elimination of our suffering. We want full voting rights, equal job opportunity, equal chances for education, low income housing, elimination of police brutality, and freedom now. He stared at us with anger. His conservative was now facing some changes.
This writer was present in the meeting with the president. His anger was now raging. I was the only one in the room with sneakers, a sweat shirt, and dungarees. Our eyes met and he asked me, "Where are you from?" "New York", I replied, and the meeting was over. We left Nabrit's office feeling it was a great opportunity for us to speak our minds but we knew our struggle was far from over. When students returned for the new semester there lots of dungarees, sneakers, and sweatshirts.
Our purpose is as follows for immediate goals:
We want to help secure our rights by nonviolent action. We dedicate ourselves to building a society for the service of those deprived of civil rights including foreign students(1) NAG will work with all democratic movements of the people, for peace, freedom, and human dignity. We will strive to make these things universal realities instead of privileges for the few. In particular, we will help:a. The Civic Interest Group of Maryland.
b. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, in organizing the voter registration drive.
c. The Haywood County-Fayette County Project and it's caravan of sharecroppers coming to Washington.
d. CORE's protest against job discrimination in Washington.
(2) At each NAG meeting a report will be given on a relevant topic concerning the struggle for freedom, and political awareness of our members.
(3) A copy of our minutes will be given to CORE and SNCC.
Copyright © Abdul Khaals & Paul Dietrich, 1961, 2011.
This document was originally completed prior to the June 8, 1961 Freedom Rides. On May 18, 2011, it was revised from the original document. I am sorry that Paul David Dietrich has passed on and cannot bear witness to the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides. Special thanks to Joan Trumphauer Mulholland, a wonderful lady who has given so much to the history of change in America. She had an original copy of the document with aged pages and numerous small errors. I was so honored when she gave me the document which I reviewed and edited.
During the revision process I had flashbacks of working for change with Stokely Carmichael, John Moody, Joan Trumphauer, Dion Diamond, Hank Thomas, Teri Perlman, James Farmer, Travis Britt, Gwendolyn Green (Britt), John Lewis, and so many others. It was an honor for me to be NAG's historian and to be able to share these words and memories with you. I hope the words are true and look forward to any comments. It was my honor to travel from Washington, DC, to New Orleans, to ride a bus to Jackson, Mississippi and get arrested on June 8, 1961.
Our fears and pain were real. Our experience was to ride for freedom for all under the sun that shines on all mankind. We cannot forget lives lost in our struggle, including the four girls killed in a church bombing on September 15, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, and the three activists that were killed in Mississippi on June 21, 1964. There are those whose deaths are evident and those whose deaths remain secret. They are souls in our struggle.
I am Abdul Aziz Khaalis, known during the struggle as Jan Leighton Triggs. If you have comments concerning this document you can send them to Zizman_20020@yahoo.com.