D.C.

Rufus Catfish Mayfield, civil rights pioneer

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Rufus Catfish Mayfield was at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the district. Now, decades later, he shares his views about the new challenges on the horizon.

Rufus Catfish Mayfield was at the forefront of the civil rights movement in the district. (Photo: WJLA)

Rufus Catfish Mayfield took ABC7 to his old neighborhood near Benning and Minnesota where nearly 50 years ago an incident changed him from juvenile car thief to an activist. Mayfield says that’s where he witnessed his then 17-year-old friend, Clarence Booker, wrestle with D.C. cop after he’d stolen a box of cookies from a grocery store.

Mayfield worked with activists - trying to get the cop indicted for murder. It never happened. But he hit it off so well with one activist named Marion Barry that they created a youth help organization called Pride Incorporated.

They cleaned up neighborhoods and did rat killing patrols.

"I was a young kid about 17-18-years old,” said Sam Foster, Pride member. “I just wanted to be involved in something."

With riots that summer of 1967 in Detroit and Newark, the feds wanted to get involved in something to prevent riots in D.C. and picked Pride to help out, funding thousands of youth jobs.

Catfish has a photo album on that era when he was Pride's chairman and Vice President Hubert Humphrey came to visit.

“When he came I put a Pride bumper sticker on his car,” remembered Mayfield. “The secret service tried to stop me, you know and Humphrey said, 'let him'.”

Riots came to D.C. months later when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Mayfield, a well- known activist by then was in the streets at the city's request, trying to bring calm. During one incident, Mayfield intervened between police and a group of liquor store looters.

"I said ‘would it be okay if they just took it back’, explained Mayfield. “The police said tell them to just put it down on the ground."

A year later Mayfield was indicted for interfering with police and inciting to riot. He represented himself in court and won.

In the decades since he's taken on many causes, worked in and out of D.C. government, retired and worked with Toys for Tots.

He said his disappointed is that the black middle class has forgotten the black poor.

"You need to look in the mirror,” said Mayfield. “They look like you, smell like you and dammit they are you."

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