Fauntroy, Walter E. 1933—
Walter E. Fauntroy 1933—
Walter E. Fauntroy’s career of community service in the District of Columbia spans four decades. A longtime pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church in Washington, DC, Fauntroy was also the first elected delegate to represent the people of Washington in the U.S. Congress. Throughout his 19 years on Capitol Hill, Fauntroy fought for home rule and even statehood for the District of Columbia, retiring from Congress before he had reached all his goals. He continues to serve as a social advocate and congressional lobbyist on behalf of black American citizens in Washington, DC and elsewhere.
Fauntroy told the Washington Post that his message has remained the same through 35 years of preaching and more than 20 in public service--he wants to preach “good news to the poor … which must be preached every day.” Besides his professional duties, Fauntroy is researching and writing a book about Martin Luther King, Jr. Fauntroy, who headed a congressional committee that investigated Dr. King’s assassination in 1978, would like to see the case reopened by an official delegation.
Fauntroy served almost ten terms in the U.S. Congress, but his was not a typical congressman’s career. As a delegate to the Congress, he could never vote on the House floor, even on legislation he introduced himself. Thus Fauntroy found himself a restricted representative of a city with a population greater than several Western states. As his prestige on Capitol Hill grew, he successfully attempted to assure some measure of home rule for the District of Columbia. His efforts to achieve statehood for the area met with failure, however, and he retired from the House of Representatives in 1990. Reflecting on his career in the Washington Post, Fauntroy said he was proud to have been part of the core of change “in my neighborhood, in our city and our nation.”
The fourth of seven children, Walter Fauntroy was born and raised in Washington, DC His father was a clerk in the U.S. Patent Office, and the government salary was stretched thin by the size of the Fauntroy family. Walter grew up in the Shaw community in northwest Washington, then as now a poverty-stricken area plagued by crime, drugs, and unemployment. He found a safe haven in the New Bethel Baptist Church just a few blocks
Bom Walter Edward Fauntroy, February 6, 1933, in Washington, DQsonof William T. and Ethel (Vine) Fauntroy; married Dorothy Simms, August 3, 1957; children: Marvin, Melissa, Education: Virginia Union University, BA (cum laude), 1955; Yale University Divinity School, B.D., 1958, Religion: Baptist
New Bethel Baptist Church, Washington, DC, pastor, 1959—; City Council of Washington, DC, vicechairperson, 1967-69; House of Representatives, Washington, DC, delegate, 1971-90, chairman of Congressional Black Caucus, 1981-83; Walter E. Fauntroy & Associates, president, 1990—.
Member: Southern Christian Leadership Conference (chairman of the board), Poor People’s Campaign (national director, 1969), National Black Leadership Round-table.
Selected awards Hubert H. Humphrey Humanitarian Award from National Urban Coalition, 1984; honorary degrees from Georgetown University Law School, Yale University, and Virginia Union University.
Addresses: Home’Washington, DC. Office —Walter E. Fauntroy & Associates, 1025 Connecticut Ave. N,W., Washington, DC 20036.
from his home. “I didn’t understand then that we were living on a plantation,” he told the Washington Post,” but I sensed it--the dope, the bootleg liquor, the payoffs to the cops, the general fear of the white man.”
As a high school student Fauntroy felt a call to the ministry. He was an excellent student who graduated second in his class at Washington’s all-black Dunbar High School, and the members of his church held fund-raising dinners to provide him with a college scholarship. When he graduated from Dunbar in 1952, his church gave him enough money to pay for his entire first year at Virginia Union University in Richmond. He graduated from that institution in 1955, with honors and then earned a degree in divinity from Yale.
During his stay at Virginia Union University, Fauntroy met the 22-year-old Martin Luther King, Jr., himself an ordained Baptist minister. With so much in common, the two men formed a fast friendship that began with a single all-night discussion of theology. Fauntroy joined King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), and upon his return to Washington, DC, became an influential lobbyist for civil rights in Congress. Fauntroy also helped to coordinate the seminal 1963 March on Washington at which King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
After completing his education, Fauntroy became pastor of the New Bethel Baptist Church. He returned home with a rather unorthodox view of Christian service that his parishioners immediately embraced. Believing that religion was something more than a Sunday-morning pastime, forgotten by half past noon, Fauntroy took part in civil rights demonstrations, sit-ins, and marches--both in Washington, DC, and elsewhere.
As a high-ranking official in the SCLC, Fauntroy coordinated national civil rights activities; as a pastor he worked to improve social conditions in his church’s neighborhood. One of the programs he helped to initiate was the Model Inner City Community Organization (MICCO). This organization, which Fauntroy headed until 1971, used federal grants to improve inner city neighborhoods using black architects, city planners, and construction engineers to design and build homes, schools, stores, and other projects in urban Washington. At one time the budget for MICCO was well over $30 million.
Because his religious beliefs placed a premium on community service, Fauntroy naturally gravitated toward the political arena. In 1967, he was named vice-chairperson of the Washington City Council, a nine-member body appointed directly by the president of the United States. Fauntroy sat on the city council for two years, resigning when his commitments as director of MICCO began to take all of his time. He was not out of politics for long, however.
The District of Columbia had no formal representation in Congress before 1970. That year, President Nixon signed a bill giving the District one non-voting delegate to Congress. Fauntroy wanted the job. With the support of his fellow pastors in the city--and with appearances by his friend Coretta Scott King--he defeated two primary opponents who had both spent twice as much money as he did. Because Washington, DC is a heavily Democratic city with a black majority, the Democratic primary election was the important race for the seat. Having won the primary by a substantial margin, Fauntroy easily beat a Republican candidate and was sworn in March 23, 1971, as the first congressional delegate from Washington, DC.
Although Fauntroy’s status in the Congress did not allow him to vote on the House floor, he was allowed a vote in committee and could introduce legislation on any issue. Fauntroy therefore became influential with the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) as a liberal with an agenda that included all the concerns of inner city residents, the poor, and minorities. Fauntroy’s special quest was for home rule--and eventually statehood--for the District of Columbia. Using his considerable political clout, he oversaw legislation that provided for direct election of a mayor and a city council in Washington by 1973. Fauntroy briefly considered running for mayor of Washington himself but instead decided to stay in Congress. He was returned to his office five times over the ensuing years, sometimes with as much as 85 percent of the vote.
By th1e early 1980s Fauntroy was an important mainstay in the halls of Congress, an early chair of the CBC, and holder of a seat on the Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs. Still he chafed at the restrictions of his office, feeling that the citizens of the District of Columbia were not properly represented in Congress. As early as 1975 Fauntroy began his quest for statehood for Washington, DC. His ongoing efforts in this regard brought him national publicity, but he still did not achieve his goal. At one point--following many years of struggle--Fauntroy’s frustration became so great that he urged Washington residents not to pay their federal taxes, because they lived in a “colony” just as their American ancestors had.
Fauntroy stepped down from his seat in Congress in 1990 to run for mayor of Washington, DC. He was defeated by Sharon Pratt Kelly. The loss was far from devastating for the energetic Fauntroy. He told the Washington Post: “I put together a very careful and thorough plan, but unfortunately that never got over. But I believe that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord.” Indeed, Fauntroy merely returned to his first and constant home, the New Bethel Baptist Church, where he resumed a full-time ministry and rededicated himself to community service.
Fauntroy also founded Walter E. Fauntroy & Associates, a consulting firm that provides lobbying services for a variety of clients. The first and biggest client to sign on with Fauntroy was Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC). Since 1992, Fauntroy has been busy lobbying Congress to pass legislation to create an “enterprise fund” for South Africa. He has been actively encouraging new private U.S. investment in South Africa as well. “I’m having a great time,” Fauntroy told the Washington Post from his new offices on Connecticut Avenue. “The chances are very slim that I would run for local office in the District.”
Robust and athletic through most of his life, Fauntroy was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1993, treated, and cured. He took his condition public to demystify the illness and to assure those who might be afflicted by it that they could be cured. He and his wife, Dorothy, also adopted an abandoned crack baby whom they named Melissa Alice. “We have loved the crack out of her,” Fauntroy told the Washington Post. “With a profusion of love and affection, you can reclaim those infants both physically and, ultimately, emotionally and mentally.” The Fauntroy family, including a grown son, are a focal point in Walter’s life. Fauntroy is one man who practices what he preaches.
Ebony, January 1989, pp. 44-7.
Jet, March 23, 1987, p. 5; October 15, 1990, pp. 4-5.
Time, March 5, 1990, p. 21.
Washington Post, April 6, 1969, p. C1; March 10, 1971, p. A1; January 25, 1992, p. D19; August 31, 1992, p. D3; February 4, 1993, p. B3.
—Anne Janette Johnson
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