The Unknown Antiwar Activist

Although the leadership of the Yippies (Youth International Party) in 1968 was virtually all white, Jerome Washington became the first black Yippie organizer. We had bonded at the Pentagon demonstration when we were both pissing on a wall of the Justice Building and were suddenly blinded by tear gas and had to help each other up a hill. Now a Chicago cop asked Jerome if he was a Black Panther.

"I'm a Black American," he replied.

Nevertheless, his FBI file would falsely state that he was the liaison between the Yippies and the Panthers. Actually, he had worked behind the scenes, essentially to get permission from the Blackstone Rangers, the largest black gang in Chicago, for the protesters to come to their city.

"We could never have come if they hadn't okayed it," he told me. "They really owned those streets."

When he returned from security work with Yippie organizer Wolfe Lowenthal at the Poor People's Campaign in Washington, the Mobilization Against the War (Mobe) asked Jerome to look into the security set-up in Chicago. He had been in the Army with some of the Blackstone Rangers, and knew others. He believed that the demonstrators could do nothing in Chicago without their permission, so he contacted Ranger headquarters first, then took a bus to Chicago a few weeks before the Democratic convention. He met with Mobe's Rennie Davis, who told him that the city had suggested that protesters use a certain pier. Jerome checked it out.

"No," he warned Davis. "It would be too easy for them to seal us out on the pier -- we'd be a quarter-mile out in the lake -- a trap."

Next he checked out Lincoln Park.

"It was ideal," he told me. "Near Old Town, our kind of folks. Open on all sides. A beach nearby, good escape routes across the drive. Most of all, it had the zoo. I always wanted to go to the zoo since I was a kid and watched Zoo Parade on TV. It took two days to set up a meeting with the Blackstone Rangers. Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis and others at the Chicago Mobe office were scared shitless of them. The Rangers had a reputation for killing people, on schedule."

Jerome was told of a meeting spot, he went there, was met and taken to the South side, where he was left with others in a bar, then picked up and taken to another place, where he was frisked, then taken to meet the leaders of the Rangers.

"The whites can come in," they told him, "but if any black people get hurt, the Stones will step in and fuck up a lot of hippies. They referred to all white youth as hippies."

The Blackstone Rangers told Jerome that they would set up "safe zones" two blocks on each side of any march routes. Any whites marching south in the safe zone would be safe from muggers. Even a lone white would be left alone. The Stones would be checking on the protesters every day. And, sure enough, there were always two or three of them in Lincoln Park, just observing. They had the whole town mapped out into sections, and Jerome maintained contact with one of the captains, September Red. Old Town was his turf.

"I can't say it was all my doing," Jerome said, "but Mobe and others were uptight about the Stones, and I was one of the very few blacks in the movement at that time."