On June 1, 1968, the Drum and Spear Bookstore opened on 14th and Fairmont Street, NW in Washington, D.C. Establishing Drum and Spear was the first endeavor of the Afro-American Resources, Inc. founded by SNCC organizers Charlie Cobb, Courtland Cox, and others.
According to Drum and Spear manager and civil rights activist Tony Gittens, the bookstore quickly became a central hub of knowledge to “disseminate information by and about Black people in the African Diaspora.” Many of the books sold by Drum and Spear were not accessible anywhere else in Washington.
Drum and Spear was also a cultural center for the Black Power Movement. Gittens stated that “none better expressed the principles, spirit, and enterprise of the Black Power movement than Drum and Spear.” This association brought unwanted attention to the bookstore by the police, FBI, and national guard:
I believe all of the Drum and Spear leadership had FBI files. Mine went back to my days as a Howard University activist. Agents, easily identified by their dark suits and ties, visited the store and tried to make casual conversation with staff while hoping to overhear suspicious comments among customers. There were none. According to their reports, the FBI gained access to our bank records and sought out informants of our activities.
Learn more about Drum and Spear at SNCC Digital. Read more in Black Bookstores, Black Power, and the F.B.I.: The Case of Drum and Spear by Colin Beckles and From Head Shops to Whole Foods: The Rise and Fall of Activist Entrepreneurs by Joshua Clark Davis.
This story was prepared by Emma Haseley.
Hear from the Founders of the Drum and Spear Bookstore
Watch this symposium hosted by the Library of Congress on the bookstore’s leading role in expanding critical consciousness about such issues as cultural democracy, race, activism, and the significance of place in the nation’s capital. Speakers are Courtland Cox, Joshua Davis, Anthony “Tony” Gittens, Jennifer Lawson, and Judy Richardson.
Listen to Charles Cobb Jr., Judy Richardson, and Joshua Davis on Drum and Spear: How a Local Bookstore Educated Washington About Black Power in the ’60s and ’70s, in an interview with Kojo Nnamdi on May 15 2018.