The Hecht Company, the city's oldest department store chain, was one of the most popular stores among African Americans during the era of segregation. During the 1950s it became the site of successful civil rights protests.
The Hecht Company was founded by Alexander and Moses Hecht as a furniture store in Baltimore in 1857. In 1895 the brothers established a department store in Washington at 515 Seventh Street, NW. The successful enterprise moved to the southeast corner of Seventh and F streets in 1925.
Hecht's was a favorite among Washingtonians for several reasons — it was the first to promote nationally advertised brands, it opened the city's first parking building, and it installed the city's first elevator. African Americans sought out Hecht's because of its generally open policy toward them as customers. However, as in most other department stores in the city, African Americans were segregated from whites in the cafeteria.
In 1951 Hecht's placed newspaper ads in celebration of World Brotherhood Week featuring black and white hands clasped in solidarity. Yet the store persisted in segregating its cafeteria. This led the Coordinating Committee for the Enforcement of the D.C. Anti-Discrimination Laws (CCEAD) to organize a protest. The CCEAD was founded in 1950 by an interracial group of civil rights activists. Mary Church Terrell, then 87 years old, served as chair of the organization. In July 1951 an interracial group of volunteers began to picket in front of Hecht's main entrance. Bowing to pressure, in January 1952, Hecht's announced that the entire store was open to all.
This was a great victory for the CCEAD and the city, encouraging the organization to continue this tactical approach. The following year, on June 8, 1953, the CCEAD won the landmark Supreme Court decision — District of Columbia v. John Thompson (owner of Thompson's Restaurant chain). The Supreme Court determined that 1872 and 1873 laws that outlawed discrimination in public places were still valid, effectively ending legal discrimination in Washington's public places: restaurants, theaters, stores, etc.
The Hecht Company was acquired by the May Company in 1959. In 2004 the Seventh and F streets site was renovated and renamed Terrell Place, in recognition of Mary Church Terrell's role in the desegregation of the store and Washington's public accommodations.