Civil Rights Tour: Political Empowerment - Walter Fauntroy and New Bethel Baptist Church

1739 9th Street NW

For 60 years spanning much of the second half of the 20th century, New Bethel Baptist Church at 1739 9th Street was led by Rev. Walter Fauntroy, one of DC's most respected civil rights leaders. A native Washingtonian and graduate of Dunbar High School, Fauntroy was hired to lead his home church in 1959, when he was just 26 years old. Having gotten to know the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the early 1950s, Fauntroy also led the DC chapter of King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and chaired the local coordinating committee for the 1963 March on Washington. The group recruited 25,000-35,000 marchers from the DC area, arranged local lodging, oversaw a massive volunteer operation to maintain order and security, and worked closely with National Park Service officials to manage logistics.

When the northwest neighborhood of Shaw was slated for urban renewal in 1966, Rev. Fauntroy stepped up again. Some 23,000 mostly black residents had already been displaced from Southwest DC as part of a federal government urban renewal project there, and Fauntroy vowed to prevent the same "urban removal" in Shaw. He founded a coalition of some 150 churches, civic organizations, and businesses under the umbrella of the Model Inner City Community Organization (MICCO) and secured $1.8 million from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for a community-led renewal plan. In March 1967, Dr. King joined Fauntroy for a march through the neighborhood to support the plan, culminating in a speech at Cardozo High School stadium.

In 1972, Fauntroy was elected as DC's first nonvoting delegate to Congress, a position he held until 1990. Fauntroy's first order of business was to rally Black South Carolina voters to unseat Rep. John McMillan, an avowed segregationist and the longtime chair of the House Committee on the District of Columbia. DC was 70% African American and had lacked self-governance for almost a century. Charles Diggs, a Black Michigan Democrat, took over McMillan's committee seat and used the position to secure home rule for DC in 1973. Seasoned civil rights activists, including former members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, were soon elected to office.

Five years later, Fauntroy was successful in getting both the House and the Senate to pass the DC Voting Rights Amendment, which would constitutionally require the District to have the same level of Congressional representation as a state, but the amendment failed to be ratified by enough states. In honor of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday on January 15, 1972, renowned civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer spoke at New Bethel. She was joined by Marion Barry and Rev. Douglas Moore. This church building dates to 1981. It replaced the congregation's previous 75-year-old building at the same location.