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  • Statehood Greens mourn, remember Hilda Mason, 1916-2007: leader for justice & DC statehood, former DC Council member

    Posted by Green Party Peace Network on December 17, 2007


    For immediate release:   Tuesday, December 18, 2007

    Scott McLarty, DC Statehood Green Party Media
    Coordinator, 202-518-5624, mclarty at

    DC Statehood Greens mourn, remember Hilda Mason  (1916-2007)

    • Former DC School Board and Council member,  activist for DC statehood and social justice,
    public school teacher and principal, founding  member of the DC Statehood Party, “Grandmother of
    the World”

    WASHINGTON, DC — The DC Statehood Green Party  noted the passing of Hilda Howland Minnis Mason  at the age of 91 on Sunday with sadness and  remembrance.

    Ms. Mason was a local leader for rights for  social justice, DC statehood and democracy, and
    public school education; one of the founding  members of the DC Statehood Party in 1970 (which  merged with the DC Green Party to become the DC  Statehood Green Party in 1999); a former teacher  and principal; and a former member of the DC  Board of Education (1972-1977) and City Council
    (1977-1998). Ms. Mason also served as delegate  and leader at the 1981 DC constitutional  convention.

    Along with her husband Charlie Mason, Ms. Mason  helped create the University of the District of
    Columbia’s David A. Clarke School of Law, D.C.’s  public law school, helped sustain it as major
    financial contributors, and defended the school  against attempts to dismantle it. Charlie Mason
    died in October 2006.

    On October 19, 2007, Ms. Mason was honored for  her tireless work for DC statehood at a
    celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Stand  Up! for Democracy in DC Coalition  <>. A tribute to Hilda  Mason by Statehood Green Party member Debby
    Hanrahan, delivered at the event, is appended to  the online version of this press release at the
    DC Statehood Green Party’s web site  <>.

    “Hilda and Charlie Mason provided leadership when  D.C. statehood supporters introduced a successful  voters’ initiative in 1980 calling for a  constitutional convention to draw up a state
    constitution,” said Anne Anderson, who joined the  Statehood Party in 1971. “The constitution was
    adopted in May, 1982, but we’re still waiting for  Congress to grant D.C. statehood.”

    “We’re proud to continue the work of the Masons  — the work that will be complete when we finally
    win real democracy for the people of the District  of Columbia,” said Ms. Anderson.

    “I remember first meeting Hilda at a Take Back  the Night rally in 1994. At the time I knew
    nothing about DC politics or statehood, but she  impressed me enough at that rally to find out
    more about the issue of DC statehood and register  with the DC Statehood Party. She always let
    everyone know that she was our grandmother and  her interest in the people of this city was
    always from that perspective — as somebody who  wanted the best for us. I will miss her terribly
    as one of the great leaders of the statehood  movement and a great fighter for social and  political justice,” said party member Maya  O’Connor.

    Ms. Mason’s passing is one of several losses in  the DC Statehood Green Party family in the past
    two months. Party activist Henry Moses died in  November
    <>.  Stephanie Dixon, daughter of party veteran and  former DC School Board member Gail Dixon, passed  away suddenly last week.

    Funeral services for Ms. Mason will be conducted  by Cook & Minnis Funeral Home at Shiloh Baptist
    Church in Lynch Station, Virginia. Plans are  being made for a memorial service in Washington,
    DC, and will be announced soon.

    • “It’s in the marrow of my bones, it is in my  blood. Almost every step I take, I feel like I’m
    doing what my mother and father would have done.  And my grandson, Nestor, I feel like I’m walking
    in his footsteps, too. I can’t forget where I  came from. I can’t forget what my parents did to
    preserve their own lives. Although I’m living  comfortably now, I’m not going to forget how it
    once was for me. And I’m not going to turn my  back on people who aren’t as fortunate as I am.”
    — Hilda Mason, speaking as a recipient of the  D.C. Chapter of the David and Selma Rein
    Community Justice Award from the National Lawyers  Guild in 1986, citing the example of her parents
    and the tragic death at age 13 of her grandson  Nestor


    The DC Statehood Green Party


    Tribute to Hilda Howland Minnis Mason by Debby Hanrahan, a shorter version of which was
    delivered at a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Stand Up! for Democracy in DC Coalition <>.

    Ms. Mason, who passed away on Sunday, December 16, 2007 at the age of 91, was a lifelong leader
    for civil rights and DC democracy, one of the founding members of the DC Statehood Party in
    1970 (which merged with the DC Green Party in 1999 to become the DC Statehood Green Party), and
    a former member of the DC Board of Education and the DC City Council.

    Charlie Mason, Ms. Mason’s husband, died in October 2006
    For more on the history of the movement for DC
    statehood, see <>.

    OCTOBER 19, 2007

    Good evening. My name is Debby Hanrahan and I’’ve known and worked with, and for, Hilda Mason for
    more than 30 years. Many of you in this room have known her longer, or worked with her more
    closely, so I feel especially grateful tonight to have this opportunity to pay tribute to her as
    the StandUp! for Democracy in D.C. Coalition honors her for her tireless efforts on behalf of
    social justice, statehood and full democracy for the District of Columbia.

    Before talking more about Hilda, I as a member of the D.C. Statehood Green Party want to
    congratulate StandUp! on its 10th anniversary and to thank its members for its most valuable
    service to the cause of statehood, budget autonomy and full democratic rights for the
    citizens of the District of Columbia. I congratulate StandUp! for standing for the
    principle that statehood, and only statehood, constitutes full democracy for the District of

    As I look around the room, I see so many people with whom I have been arrested, or people whom I
    bailed out of jail, or sat through your trials for allegedly disrupting Congress, or for sitting in at congressional offices in support of statehood or other issues relating to congressional interference in District of Columbia affairs.

    Some of you have been so diligent in pursuing democratic rights for D.C. citizens that Capitol
    Police began to think you were there protesting even when you weren’t. In 2001, I and six other
    defendants, referred to as the “Democracy 7,” were acquitted in a jury trial trial on charges
    of disrupting congress when the D.C. appropriations bill was up for debate. During the
    trial, our defense attorney asked a Capitol Police officer witness if there was anyone else
    in the courtroom, besides the defendants, who had been in the House gallery the day of the alleged
    disruption. The officer searched the audience and pointed to StandUp!’s own Anise Jenkins. Now
    Anise has been arrested for civil disobedience on Capitol Hill on at least two occasions, but she
    had not been there that particular day, at least not physically — but she is such a presence on
    the Hill and throughout the city for D.C. democracy that police see her even when she isn’t

    So, thank you, StandUp!, and the rest of the people in this room who, whether you know it or
    not, are the activist grandchildren of the woman we honor tonight who is not only grandmother to
    the world, but is also grandmother to the D.C. statehood and social justice movements.

    I want to start out with a few stories that I think aptly illustrate the character and generosity of Hilda Howland M. Mason.

    When the late, great Statehood Party pioneer Josephine Butler was in her final year of life,
    she was admitted to Howard University Hospital. One day, a friend and I were visiting Jo in the
    hospital, as were Jo’s niece and grand niece, when Hilda came into the room. Jo mentioned to
    Hilda that her grand niece was going to Russia for 3 weeks over Christmas in a student exchange program. Hilda asked the young woman if she had a warm coat to wear in the bitterly cold Russian
    winter. When Jo’s relative said no, she really didn’t, Hilda said that wouldn’t do — and sat down and wrote her a check to cover the cost of a new down coat.

    And when Marion Barry was seriously wounded in 1977 in a shooting and hostage situation inside
    the District Building that resulted in the killings of a reporter and a security guard, Hilda and Charlie opened up their home for Barry to recuperate.

    And there was the time when opponents of the building of the new convention center in Shaw
    needed money to file a lawsuit to try to stop the convention center from being built there. I went
    to the Masons’ house with Beth Solomon to see about getting a contribution toward a $5,000
    matching grant someone else was offering us to help pay for the lawsuit. Hilda was out, but
    Charlie did what he and Hilda always did. He listened to our pitch and wrote a check for $5,000 to cover the entire matching grant.

    And Hilda can be tough, too. Lawrence Guyot earlier today told me about the time in 1965 that
    he came to All Souls Unitarian Church — Hilda and Charlie’s church — to ask to speak to the
    congregation on the activities of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Despite the church’s
    reputation for progressive politics, Guyot, surprisingly, was turned down. When Guyot told
    Hilda about it, she immediately went to the minister privately and said, “Lawrence Guyot will
    speak, or Charlie and I will leave this church.” I would just note that this is a church to which
    Hilda and Charlie have contributed mightily both ethically and financially over the years.
    Needless to say, Lawrence Guyot got to speak at All Souls.

    In addition to the numerous civil rights, civil liberties and peace organizations they helped
    legislatively, financially, and on the picket line, Hilda and Charlie would quietly help individuals get the training they needed for jobs, help people get into college, and do whatever they could for anyone they came across who needed help.

    As Guyot commented to me: “Hilda’s generosity is legendary.”

    I am sure many of you in this room have similar stories about Hilda — and Charlie — that you
    could also tell. I’m sure that’s especially true of her daughter, Carolyn Nicholas, who is here
    tonight and who is writing a book about Hilda and Charlie. I know of so many examples of their
    quiet generosity for which they neither sought, nor received, publicity. Multiply just those acts
    of generosity I know about by thousands, and you still wouldn’t even come close to capturing the
    essence of Hilda and Charlie.

    I came to know Hilda and Charlie Mason more than 30 years ago, primarily through the newly-formed
    D.C. Statehood Party. I had worked as Julius Hobson’s secretary for a time in the late 1960s,
    then later had worked on Hobson’s school board campaign and on Jo Butler’s campaign for the D.C.
    Council, so I became heavily involved in the D.C. Statehood Party. I met Hilda and Charlie when
    Hilda was on the school board sometime in the mid-1970s.

    Later, when Hilda was on the D.C. Council, I worked for her as a receptionist and community
    outreach person for a year or so. I can’t say I worked for her. I ran behind her and Charlie. I
    couldn’t keep up with them. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s, I was in dozens of
    meetings with Hilda regarding Statehood Party activities, her election campaigns, and so many
    other issues of the time. In addition to the Statehood Party meetings, Hilda, like Jo Butler,
    seemed to be at three or four evening meetings every day of the week that took her to every
    neighborhood in the city. Additionally, like Julius Hobson and Jo Butler, Hilda had her eye
    not only on local matters, but on national and international issues, so Hilda might also be
    found at a Women’s Strike for Peace meeting or a nuclear freeze event on any given night or

    Hilda grew up in Campbell County, Virginia — Klan country — and learned about social justice
    — and injustice — at an early age from her parents. Her great grandmother on her mother’s
    side had been a slave. Hilda’s mother Martha was a teacher. Her father ran a number of small
    businesses, including at one time a country store. Hilda recalled an incident in her early
    years when her father hurriedly arranged to have an African-American man get out of town to avoid
    a lynching.

    Upon finishing high school at age 16, Hilda immediately went into teaching in Virginia.
    Later, in 1945, she moved to Washington, D.C. with Carolyn and Joyce, her two daughters from an
    unsuccessful marriage. While working several jobs, she also attended Miners Teachers College,
    from which she received her B.S. degree in 1952. She went on to get an M.A. from the old District
    of Columbia Teachers College in 1957.

    From 1952 until 1971, Hilda held a number of public education posts throughout the city —
    teacher, counselor, assistant principal — at Van Ness Elementary School, Shadd Elementary
    School, LaSalle Laboratory School, Morgan Community School and Adams Community School.

    During that period as an educator, Hilda also became active in progressive causes. She helped
    organize the Washington Teachers Union in her school; she was involved in the successful effort
    to desegregate D.C.’s restaurants, and she was active in a wide variety of other civil rights
    activities. In 1957 she met Charles Mason, and they were married eight years later, thus
    beginning a unique partnership nurtured by love, family and social activism.

    Hilda and Charlie during the 1960s worked through CORE and SNCC to help provide food, housing,
    clothing, medical care and transportation for people who came to Washington to demonstrate and
    to lobby for civil rights. Hilda worked with Julius Hobson on a number of matters, including
    his successful landmark lawsuit (Hobson v. Hansen) on the unequal treatment of African
    American students in the city’s public schools — and on the formation of the new D.C. Statehood

    In 1971, at Julius Hobson’s urging, Hilda ran for and was elected to the Board of Education where
    she served along with Hobson and another of tonight’s honorees, the future Mayor Marion Barry. Hilda was reelected in 1975.

    An ailing Julius Hobson was elected to the D.C. Council as a Statehood Party candidate in 1974
    and died in 1977, at which time the Statehood Party selected Hilda to replace him on the
    council . Later in the year she won an election to fill out the term, and was then reelected in
    1978 and four elections thereafter, leaving office at the end of 1998.

    Hilda holds the distinction of being the only person to defeat Marion Barry in a D.C. election.
    That happened in the 1990 election when Barry challenged Hilda for her council seat in the
    general election, but in that showdown the grandmother to the world” beat the “mayor for life.”

    And maybe some of you don’t know that Hilda has a police record. Yes, it’s true. Back in November
    1984 during the almost daily protests against apartheid at the South African Embassy, Hilda,
    along with Congressman Ron Dellums and Mark Stepp of the United Auto Workers union, were arrested at the embassy when they refused to leave the
    front steps of the building after being denied a meeting with the South African ambassador.
    Dellums and Stepp were held overnight in jail, while Hilda was released on her own recognizance.

    While on the council, Hilda continued her long involvement with education as chair of the
    Committee on Education and also served as D.C. representative to the Washington Metropolitan
    Area Transit Authority.

    Hilda pushed for quality education and funding for the public schools, for rent control and increases in tenants’ rights, and worked to prevent reductions in vital city services. She
    also worked for passage of the successful nuclear weapons freeze initiative for D.C., and sponsored
    legislation to prohibit the transportation of nuclear wastes through the District of Columbia.
    The list of accomplishments and organizations she has supported goes on and on.

    In 1980, Hilda’s and Charlie’s dream of statehood seemed to be moving a little closer to reality
    when voters approved an initiative to call a local constitutional convention to draw up a
    state constitution. Hilda was easily elected as a delegate to the convention, which in May 1982
    adopted for the proposed state of New Columbia a constitution regarded as the most progressive in
    the country. D.C. voters later approved the state constitution, and a petition for statehood was
    sent to the U.S. Congress. D.C. Statehood finally came to a vote in Congress in November 1993 and,
    as we sadly know, was defeated 277 to 153.

    Probably Hilda’s greatest accomplishment on the D.C. Council was to keep alive the University of
    the District of Columbia Law School — named the David A. Clarke School of Law, but seen by a lot
    of us as the David Clarke/Hilda Mason/Charlie Mason School of Law.

    Despite congressional threats in the 1990s to shut down the law school, despite strong
    Washington Post editorial opposition to keeping the law school open, Hilda and Charlie and Dave
    Clarke led the way in keeping it open. The Washington Post editorial page ripped Clarke and
    Hilda for their efforts to keep the school alive, and attacked the law school as unnecessary and
    too costly in a time of tight budgets.

    As usual, on major issues in the city, the Washington Post editorial page got it wrong. Just
    as an aside, I’m sure Mayor Barry will recall when the Washington Post and the Board of Trade
    in the late 1960s and early 1970s were supporting a freeway system for the city that would have
    wiped out hundreds of African-Americans’ homes as well as devastated other neighborhoods and
    landmarks. Thanks to people like Julius Hobson, Sammie Abbott, Reginald Booker, Angela Rooney and Marion Barry, among others, who rallied, picketed, obstructed, disrupted and got arrested,
    we in the District of Columbia today have a city relatively unscathed by the blight of destructive

    As we know, the Hilda-Charlie-Dave Clarke effort to save the UDC law school was successful and how
    lucky we all are for it. For today, the David A. Clarke School of Law is the most diverse law
    school in the nation, with 51 percent of its students from minority groups and 64 per cent
    women. Of the 192 American Bar Association-accredited law schools, the UDC law
    school has the fifth highest percentage of African-American law students. The Princeton
    Review rated it first in the nation for most progressive students. The applicant pool has almost quadrupled in six years. The first-time bar passage rates of the law schools graduates has increased to over 60 per cent.

    And what does D.C. get out of this? All students perform a minimum of 700 hours of faculty
    supervised representation of low-income D.C. residents in the school’s outstanding clinical
    programs. And all students provide 40 hours of community service to non-profit, public-interest
    groups, the judiciary or federal and local government in their first year in law school.

    In addition to their legislative support, Hilda and Charlie also have given sizable financial
    contributions to the law school. While the school bears Dave Clarke’s name, the school’s law
    library is named for Hilda and Charles Mason. What a magnificent legacy Hilda and Charlie have
    left the city.

    While working in Hilda’s office in the late 1970s-early 1980s, I had a chance to observe
    Hilda and Charlie close up. While citizen advocates for schools, civil rights, housing,
    tenants’ rights, and social justice were frequent visitors to her council office, I don’t recall
    any lobbyists for corporate interests even setting foot inside the door. It’s not that Hilda
    wouldn’t see them if they showed up, it’s just that they knew Hilda was always going to put citizens’ interests over business boondoggles.

    And her door was always open. Constituents could just walk in and get an appointment on the spot,
    and they got to see Hilda — not a staff member — unlike today, when it’s often like pulling
    teeth to get appointments with the councilmember herself or himself — and then you might be
    limited to 10 or 15 minutes.

    Once while I was working for Hilda, she and Charlie asked me to mail out contribution checks
    to the countless organizations and individuals to which they were contributing — civil rights
    organization, peace groups, social justice organizations of one type or another. When I
    asked Charlie if I should keep a list of recipients so Hilda could call upon them to hold
    little neighborhood campaign parties at election time, Charlie looked at me quizzically and said,
    “We don’t do that.” That was Hilda and Charlie’s way: Contributions were always given, no strings

    Back in 1986, the D.C. Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild honored Hilda and Charlie with the
    David and Selma Rein Community Justice Award, named for two other great local champions of
    civil liberties. In the program for that event, Hilda was asked what had made her remain true to
    her principles over the years. She cited the example of her parents and the tragic death at age 13 of her grandson Nestor. And here I quote what Hilda said to the interviewer:

    “It’s in the marrow of my bones, it is in my blood. Almost every step I take, I feel like I’m
    doing what my mother and father would have done. And my grandson, Nestor, I feel like I’m walking
    in his footsteps, too. I can’t forget where I came from. I can’t forget what my parents did to preserve their own lives. Although I’m living comfortably now, I’m not going to forget how it once was for me. And I’m not going to turn my back on people who aren’t as fortunate as I am.”

    Ladies and gentlemen, this is the great woman and champion of statehood and social justice that we
    honor tonight: Hilda Mason.

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