By K. Levek
Geraldine Pridgen Boykin is a longtime political guru in Washington, D.C. Getting her first start with the March on Washington in 1963, she went on to work with labor unions, congressional members and eventually started her own political consultant firm. A true believer in equality for all, Boykin never backed down from what she believed in, which ultimately took her from her humble beginnings to some of the most powerful arenas one could ever imagine.
Mrs. Boykin grew up on her family’s farm in Tatums Township, Columbus County, North Carolina, where she was one of twelve brothers and sisters. Although she attended segregated elementary and high schools, she said she was educated by some of the best teachers in the country. Because of segregation she never had exposure to a library growing up, she never let that obstacle deter her career. She studied hard to have greater understanding. Outside of her schooling experience she knew very little about how segregation truly was, until she left home for college. “In my town, I never saw a white cop because the black men were police officers,” she said. She didn’t take public transportation because her father transported her and her family anywhere they needed to go. She didn’t have exposure to a, theater or swimming pool, because her father refused to allow the laws of segregation to treat her as a second-class citizen. In her day, blacks were not allowed the same treatment in these public facilities so she simply went without them.
Once she graduated high school she attended college, in her home state, at St. Augustine University in Raleigh, N.C. Once she finished her studies there she moved to Washington, DC and began working, later to attend Howard University for graduate studies. She said it was in DC where she encountered segregations ugly hand. Traveling on the bus system, she didn’t like how blacks were made to sit in the back, while whites were allowed to sit in the front. She also recalled how shopping was challenging. One afternoon she went to the
Garfinckel’s department store to try on an evening dress for an event she was invited to. After she informed the store attendant what dress she wanted to buy she asked to try it on, but was refused. “So I stormed out of that store and began spreading the word about their discrimination,” she said. “I could not believe that Blacks were not allowed to try on a dress in the nation’s capital,” she said. Soon after, she led a protest in front of the store and other stores who practiced such discriminatory acts. This experience and more fueled her activism and she never stopped fighting for what she believed was right.
As she grew in her professional career she saw more racial disparity. She began working for the federal government in 1959, in the Surgeon General’s Office. Then a coveted job, she was the only black woman there as a clerk and notably had more education than her supervisor, holding a B.A. and actively working on her Master’s degree, while her supervisor had an 11th grade education. “I didn’t last there very long. I couldn’t take all the discrimination,” she said. She recalled writing reports for work and her supervisor could not understand what she had written because of her lack of education, yet her office readily sought to promote under qualified whites over her. In one instance, she had to train the lady who was to supervise her.
While working in federal government she met her future husband, Chris Boykin, an electronic engineer doing research with the federal government. They married in 1960 and bought their first home on Nash Street SE, in the Penn Branch neighborhood. Although she and
Chris eventually bought the home, they had a hard time because the neighborhood was predominately white and the neighborhood did not want her to move in. Again she broke the racial barrier and decided to go against the status quo in the community. In 1972 they moved to her current home on Highwood Avenue, in the same Penn Branch neighborhood where Nash Street is located.
Boykin said back then that Blacks were “so docile” and afraid of pushing the button, but she was never timid in standing up against discrimination. After four short years in the federal government, she resigned, to the surprise of many, including her family back in North Carolina. “My family thought I was crazy to leave a federal job! They could not believe it,” she said, but she had had enough of the workplace discrimination. After her resignation in July 1963, she began volunteering for the March on Washington, working in the coordinator’s office, where she met then Reverend Walter Fauntroy. She began mobilizing volunteer housing accommodations for over 300,000 people who were expected to attend the march, working directly with the Urban League and over the course of the
summer coordinated with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).
After the March, Mrs. Boykin began working to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed. Working with the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights she helped get both these historic acts passed, then went on to work for the Crusade Against Poverty and later began a career in adult education. She said she took on adult education so she could educate other blacks and prove that people of color were indeed smart and could be as educated as their white counterparts.
A few years later she began what would turn out to be a long career in politics, spearheading the petition drive to get Home Rule passed in the District. She said, “It was very hard to get people to sign the petition.” Having organized the march on Washington, she saw the void to have elected officials in the District and even more a absence of blacks in civic and political leadership. She knew it was important to have voting rights for blacks in the city and worked endlessly to get that accomplished.
She recalled how native Washingtonians heavily resisted Home Rule. She knew that many of them did not resonate with the struggles southern blacks like her had gone through. “They were the hardest to convince,” she said, but eventually she got the necessary
petition signatures to obtain Home Rule and then decided to continue down the political path. By this time it was 1971 and the District was about to elect its first-ever United States Congressman. The Reverend Walter Fauntroy, whom Boykin met, working on the March on Washington, was running and he was an underdog candidate. She walked into his office and immediately got to work, organizing wards 7 and 8.
Working on Fauntroy’s congressional campaign she learned all about political strategy and how to campaign. New to this political field she spent many late nights working with Fauntroy’s campaign manager John Wilson and aide Doug Patton studying politics and campaign tactics like going door-to-door. She figured if they could win wards 5, 7 and 8, then Fauntroy could win the election; and he did. She said that experience really taught her how to organize. “When I began I didn’t even know what wards were, but as I studied each section of the city, I came to understand how to win an election by focusing on the precincts,” she said.
After the election she was offered several jobs, in federal government and working with labor unions, but eventually settled in the office of the newly elected Fauntroy. She became his first District Office Director and worked with him for many years. She then went on to the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Union (AFSCME) to set up their first Political Education and Action Department throughout the country, working under Jerry Worth, then president of AFSCME. Working with the labor unions is where she learned political strategy and began traveling the country to teach people about political education and how to win elections. During this time she trained over 30,000 people in the country to be political activists.
In 1995 she officially retired and founded a consultant business, GPB Political Strategist, Inc. She applied her many years of political
experience and began consulting and managing numerous campaigns all over the country, at the local, state and federal levels throughout the country. She has even helped run and train young black leaders with the Congressional Black Caucus boot camp
Commenting on the recent Trayvon Martin case, she said, “The case was a wake up call to Black America. The verdict really reminded me of the Emmett Till case.” From the south, she said she knew in her heart how unjust the judicial system could be in southern states and unfortunately justice was not served.training.
Boykin currently lives in her family home on Highwood with her daughter Bebe. Her husband Chris is deceased.