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As a child, Wash Booker shared one room in a two-story tenement house with his older sister and his mother. When he was nine, he got a job to bring in extra income for the family. Six days a week, he woke up by four a.m. to deliver milk. By the time he got to school each day, he’d already put in almost half a day’s work.

Wash, however, was not a model student. He got kicked out of school for the first time when he was in the fourth grade. By the time he was in seventh grade, he’d skip school for weeks at a time.

Wash attended mass meetings, but he never got serious about them. When he found out about the marches, he thought the students who volunteered to be taken away to jail were crazy. “It was hard to come to grips with,” he said. “We knew [the police] to be torturers, murderers…”

Wash skipped school on D-Day and Double D-Day. At first he didn’t participate in the protests, but when he saw children being abused by the police, he decided to get involved.

Wash, who had never gone to nonviolence training, threw stones at the police and firemen, along with other observers. He was proud when he was able to save a protester from a pursuing policeman.

The following Monday, he skipped school again and headed to the park. “I didn’t know that morning that I was going to…make the decision to go to jail,” Wash said. “It was part festival, part day of liberation.”

Wash was arrested with many other students. City Jail and Juvenile Hall were full. Finally he was moved to Jefferson County Jail, where he slept on the concrete floor.

Wash was released on Friday, along with hundreds of other children. His mother, he says, “didn’t whip me, didn’t scold me, which let me know that what I had done was alright.”


Wash joined the Marine Corps in 1968, and he was awarded a Bronze Star. When he returned home, he helped found the Alabama Black Liberation Front, affiliated with the radical Black Panther Party. In 1979, Wash campaigned for Richard Arrington, who was elected Birmingham’s first black mayor in 1979.

He remains active in politics, consulting on campaigns and working to be sure eligible voters are registered and go to the polls.

Audrey Faye Hendricks | Washington Booker III | Arnetta Streeter | James Stewart