Historical Highlights

Delegate Walter Fauntroy of the District of Columbia

April 19, 1971
Delegate Walter Fauntroy of the District of Columbia Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
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Walter Fauntroy, the former Southern Christian Leadership Conference's congressional lobbyist, became the District of Columbia's first Delegate in nearly 100 years.
On this date, Walter Fauntroy was sworn in as the first African-American to serve as the District of Columbia’s Delegate. Fauntroy’s entry onto the national political scene was made possible when Congress passed the District of Columbia Delegate Act in 1970. The legislation reinstituted a nonvoting Delegate to represent the nation’s capital in the House of Representatives, a position last held by Norton Chipman from 1871 to 1875. Fauntroy, a civil rights and community activist with local political experience, entered the crowded January 1971 primary. Running on a platform of bringing home rule for the District, eliminating job discrimination for African Americans, and providing federally funded daycare, Fauntroy orchestrated a surprising upset over six opponents, garnering 44 percent of the vote. He easily won the March general election with 59 percent of the vote to earn a seat in the 92nd Congress (1971–1973). “It was an exhilarating experience in learning the ways of politics, in being Americans for the first time,” Fauntroy observed. After taking the oath of office in the House Chamber, Fauntroy was accompanied by Speaker Carl Albert of Oklahoma to the East Front portico of the Capitol to re-enact the historic event for a large audience which included Coretta Scott King and Washington, D.C., Mayor Walter E. Washington. As a new Member of Congress, Fauntroy pledged “to translate Martin Luther King’s dream into living reality.” During his 10 terms in the House, Fauntroy helped the District achieve partial self-rule, allowing residents to elect a mayor and a city council.

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