As remembered by Bruce Hartford
January 7, 2020
Woody was my first picket captain when I joined Los Angeles CORE in 1963 and then one of the three co-chairs of the Non-Violent Action Committee (N-VAC), our little band of nonviolent warriors who took to the means streets of L.A. in 1964 fighting for justice and an end to employment discrimination.
Originally from Texas, Woody was one of the many Afro-Americans who joined the Great Migration out of the South — out of legally enforced segregation. He first got involved with the NAACP and CORE in 1960 during the Woolworth pickets in support of the student sit-ins, events that convinced him of nonviolent direct action's potential power.
I don't know how many times he was arrested, more than a dozen at the time I first met him in April of 1963. He was a brilliant, self-taught innovator of nonviolent tactics and in 1962 he led a successful 33-day sit-in that desegregated an all-white Monterey Park neighborhood that had refused to sell a home to a Black college professor. Though he always wore a dark suit and tie on protests, Woody was stone working class, a construction laborer working out of Laborer's Local 300. One time a number of N-VAC members were sentenced to 10-days in county jail for the terrible crime of nonviolently protesting job-discrimination. As the leader, though, Woody was given an extra 5 days. When the 10-day sentences were up the N-VAC inmates refused to leave their cells unless Woody was released too. The guards were quite taken aback, no one had ever refused to be set free before. But policy was clear, when your reservation at Lincoln Heights Jail (the "Graybar Hotel") was up, you had to depart. The correctional officers had to drag the uncooperative N-VAC members from their cells, strip the out of their jail uniforms, dress them in their street clothes, and then deposit them on the buildings front steps where N-VAC and CORE supporters were waiting. We then commenced an around-the-clock sit-in on the jail steps for five days and nights until Woody's sentence was finished. Back in those days, when we sang "Solidarity Forever," we meant it.
Though he was ten years older than I, for me Woody was the heart of both CORE and N-VAC. He was then, still is, and will ever be, my picket captain.
As remembered by Clayborne Carson
January 8, 2020
Sorry to hear of the passing of a lifelong social justice warrior, Woodrow Coleman (January 14, 1934-January 5, 2020). He was one of the founders of the Non-Violent Action Committee (N-VAC), the Los Angeles protest group I joined in 1965. He was by example an inspiring teacher when I was a very naive student.