Tuesday, 21 July 2015 03:09

Julius Hobson That One Time the Founder of the DC Statehood Party Threatened to Release ‘Possum-Size’ Rats in Georgetown

Written by Rachel Sadon | dcist
Julius Hobson That One Time the Founder of the DC Statehood Party Threatened to Release ‘Possum-Size’ Rats in Georgetown DC Public Library

Here’s a bit of D.C. history you may not have heard about, courtesy of the WETA blog Boundary Stones. In the 1960s, D.C. had a rat problem, particularly in its poorer neighborhoods.

Frustrated by the government’s refusal to do anything about the problem in Northeast, Southeast, and even Shaw (once a “Slum Historique”) activist Julius Hobson caught a bunch of huge rats, strapped the cage to the top of his station wagon, and drove to Georgetown threatening to release the rats there if the government didn’t act. In an article after his death, Washingtonian put it well: Hobson was “[a]ware that a D.C. problem usually is not a problem until it is a white problem,” so he made it a white problem.

Hobson, who later founded the DC Statehood Party (now the DC Statehood Green Party), actually did this every Saturday, and claimed to have a “rat farm” in the city with “chicken coops” full of rats, which he would release across white neighborhoods unless the city acted. The story eventually grew, until rumor had it that he had an entire caravan of cars with cages full of rats, and that he had dumped two hundred dead rats in the middle of Georgetown. In reality he never had more than ten rats at a time, but the protest worked: the city ultimately funded rat patrols for Northeast and Southeast.

According to WETA, Hobson’s guerrilla tactics were used for more than just rat patrols. Worried about police brutality toward minorities but with the police chief demanding proof, he built a long-range microphone and drove around following police cars in a station wagon stenciled “Cop Watching Wagon.” He threatened to close a Maryland highway because of segregated restaurants along it; he set up a phone bank with women who would supposedly start making calls to activists to close the road—in reality, the phones weren’t even connected to anything.

He also worked with a co-conspirator, Paul Bennett, to integrate businesses. Hobson would “march up to the owner with several other activists behind him and demand the store integrate.” Whenever he pretended to be about to reach a compromise with the owner, Bennett, who had a master’s in physics but dressed “very, very disheveled” would jump up and call Hobson an Uncle Tom, and the owner would capitulate.

Hobson died at age 54 in 1977; he was a D.C. council member for the last three years of his life, and worked tirelessly for racial equality, and you can read more about him here and here.

Link to original article in DCist

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