Activists Continue Fight for Statehood

by: James Wright Special to the AFRO jwright@afro.com
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On April 14, the staff of the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law’s Law Review held a symposium: “D.C. Democracy during the Time of Trump: 51 and 45!”

Civil rights activist Wade Henderson, an advocate for D.C. statehood, teaches at the UDC School of Law.
Civil rights activist Wade Henderson, an advocate for D.C. statehood, teaches at the UDC School of Law. (Courtesy Photo)

The one-day event featured speakers such as the school’s Dean Shelley Broderick, various members of Mayor Bowser’s administration, D.C. Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), members from the District of Columbia Bar, D.C. government members and D.C. statehood activists.

However, the speeches of Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) are what motivated conference attendees. Henderson, who teaches at the law school as the Joseph L. Rauh Jr. Professor of Public Interest Law, during his keynote address, told the 60 attendees that it is essential District residents enjoy the fruits of first-class citizenship.

Henderson said he was born in a District segregated hospital and used the LeDroit Park neighborhood as an example of the change the city has gone through. “LeDroit Park was once all-White and then it changed to all-Black and now it has people of all races from around the world as residents,” he said.

He said legal segregation has been outlawed but the “ghosts of Jim Crow walk among us every day,” citing the city’s homeless population and a study, “Hidden Money” released April 8 by the Center for American Progress indicating Janney Elementary School, located in a predominantly White neighborhood in the District, through its PTA raised $1.4 million for school activities while many elementary schools in Black neighborhoods have dysfunctional PTAs.

Henderson cited a speech by Sen. John Tyler Morgan, a Democrat from Alabama in 1890, that justified disenfranchising District residents of all colors because of the city’s high percentage of Black residents. He quoted Morgan: “To deny the right of suffrage entirely to every human being in the District and have every office here controlled by appointment instead of election . . . in order to get rid of this load of Negro suffrage that was flooded upon them.”

Henderson articulated the District’s voting dilemma, saying, “We are taxpaying citizens but we can’t cast a single vote . . . D.C. is like the South for African Americans in the pre-1965 South.” He said District leaders must be firm in advocating for statehood, “take retrocession [which would give the District back to Maryland] off the table” and urged the movement to engage the residents of Ward 7 and 8, ministerial groups to become a state.

Henderson didn’t talk about the Trump administration’s view on statehood but talked about how Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court and the actions of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions aren’t productive for the advancement of civil rights.

Henderson told the AFRO the Black press can play a role in the District’s quest for statehood. “Black newspapers can determine the outcome of this debate because of their reach,” he said. “They have a direct pipeline to African Americans nationwide. D.C. statehood is the sleeper civil rights issue of the 21st century. We are preaching democracy in Baghdad and Afghanistan but we deny it to residents of our own nation’s capital.”

In a later address, Raskin told attendees that getting Congress to support statehood won’t be easy. “This GOP Congress feels disconnected from D.C.,” Raskin said. “But Republicans say that Washington, D.C. is America’s City and they have a constitutional duty to manage the city. D.C. statehood is in no shape, it’s not an issue to them.”

Nevertheless, Raskin urged statehood supporters to become more vocal and organized. “D.C. statehood advocates need a political strategy,” the representative said. “No more soaring oratory. D.C.’s neighbors need a strong D.C. vote in the Congress because it will help fund Metro, infrastructure, and the Chesapeake Bay.”

Another speaker was Beverly Perry, a top advisor to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), who revealed that her boss has a 10-state strategy to make more people throughout the country aware of statehood. Cheh also spoke, saying she has crafted legislation to allow the D.C. Council to pass a law repealing an anti-D.C. act of Congress and allowing the District’s delegate to vote on the House floor on District matters only.

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