D.C. could potentially become the 51st state if it passes the Senate. (Courtesy Photo)

By Wayne Dawkins
Special to the AFRO

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, the 51st U.S. state? When a bill two weeks ago passed the House Representatives after numerous non-starters, there were warnings by pundits: the proposal for representation – that complements taxation – faced a Titanic iceberg chance of success in the Senate. 

Wait. Hold up. Similar legislation faced unlikely odds of success in the U.S. Senate in the 1960s. There were threats of strangling ideas before they could even be discussed and voted on. Conservative pundit team Evans and Novak wondered in print whether Civil Rights Bill supporters had guts and stamina to tangle with wily southern segregationists in Congress, who learned, “the fine points of parliamentary procedure – about points of order and quorum calls and filibusters – before for they learn to feed themselves,” the duo wrote, and I cited in a biography of civil rights champion Emanuel Celler. 

That scene was in 1963. Right now, the adversaries are pro-Trump holdouts in the Senate. 

The D.C. statehood bill narrowly escaped the House; no Republican in that chamber endorsed it. 

A polarized 50-50 Democrat/Republican upper chamber suggests the bill will receive the same hostility or indifference from the GOP. Yet in 1964, 1965 and 1968 when presented with bills, all were signed into law by a White Southern Democrat U.S. President. 

Headwinds of history, like how martyr Medgar Evers then, and now martyr George Floyd, changed minds and policies, presents the power of the possible.

Another historical clue: When the Capitol was attacked and the federal District was helpless to protect itself, the case for Washington self-government became more compelling. Trumpian members of Congress who pretended a coup attempt did not happen Jan. 6 lost all credibility. 

For decades and generations, D.C. was overseen sadistically. As I referenced in the Celler biography, he successfully championed the right to for D.C. residents to vote via the 23rd Amendment. Traditionally, Congress was responsible for managing the city’s budget, and segregationist Southern members of Congress who were committee chairs chose colleagues so coarsely racist those legislators were tasked with the responsibility of managing D.C.’s affairs. That way, the publicly embarrassing racists would not be allowed anywhere near higher-profile Congressional committees. When the first African American mayor of the city was elected in the late 1960s, D.C. gained some autonomy, yet not nearly enough.

Wayne Dawkins is a writer, and a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.

Six decades later, D.C. no longer is a chocolate city; it’s a human chocolate and peanut butter cup. Members of the Congress have lost some power to abuse the residents. The refrain, “taxation without representation,” doesn’t have to be victims’ bumper stickers much longer. 

Statehood is within reach, if people stay focused and figuratively fight for the prize.

The writer is a professor of professional practice at Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication 

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