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After four years in Richmond, Caplan moved to Washington to take a job as a reporter, eventually covering Capitol Hill. In 1963 he was tapped to direct the D.C. office of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, where he remained until 1981 lobbying for the basic civil rights laws of our time. Caplan also became a founder and the first president of Neighbors, Inc., a Washington group devoted to combating housing discrimination and creating genuinely integrated communities.
In his memoir, Caplan doesn't paint himself a hero for his actions. "Picketing, for me, " he admits, "was a painful obligation." He describes qualms about risking his job to protest alongside Mary Church Terrell for the desegregation of Washington's public eating establishments, about sending his children to a school 90 percent black, and, in the early cold war years, about associating with integrationists of communist bent. Still, a sense of purpose so self-evidently right energized Caplan and others at thegrassroots level, and he renders with compelling eloquence the endless hours of picketing, protesting, stuffing and mailing, organizing, and arguing -- as well as the less public moments of quietly living one's convictions.
Through Caplan's first-person perspective, Washington during the eventful decades of the fifties, sixties, and early seventies comes alive. In a suspenseful script of the Civil Rights Act of 1963-64, he reconstructs the strategizing, debates, and maneuvering in the chambers, back rooms, and halls of Congress and the White House. Especially moving is his recollection of watching the spread of the news of Kennedy's assassination as reflected in the slowing traffic scene outside his office window.
Today this self-described "blinkered optimist" still lives in his racially mixed neighborhood and remains committed to the causes to which he devoted years of work. In an era when "unstylish beliefs" like Caplan's provoke cynicism and dejection, his story brings the refreshing reminder and the encouraging perspective that forty years later we're "farther along" and "we'll understand it all by and by."
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