While nearly all of the nation looked forward with great anticipation to Barack Obama's swearing in as our the U.S.'s first black president, another event went unnoticed to the general public. It too, noted the passing of an era.
Walter E. Fauntroy, long time Civil Rights leader, aide to Martin Luther King, Jr, and one of the principal organizers of the 1963 March on Washington, retired from New Bethel Baptist Church in Washington D.C. Fauntroy was also a U.S. delegate to the House of Representatives from the District of Columbia.
That's noteworthy because for 52 years there was at least one African-American minister seated in the House of Representatives. Fauntroy followed Adam Clayton Powell after his death in 1971.
Black politics is becoming more independent of the Black Pulpit. But black politicians shouldn't forget those who made their ascendancy possible. African-American preachers and pastors ran for local, state and national offices when others couldn't or wouldn't. What is sad about Fauntroy's retirement, is that not one black elected official attended. Granted he retired the Sunday before Obama's inauguration, but Walter Fauntroy is no inconsequential figure in American history.
Fauntroy, as a lieutenant in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (S.C.L.C), worked tirelessly with King, Joseph Lowery, Wyatt T. Walker and others, for the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, without which the election of Obama would have been impossible; he served 10 terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus (at a time when they could have held their meetings in a phone booth!); Fauntroy crafted home rule legislation for the District of Columbia and while today, we are fast making the word 'bi-partisanship' a cliche', Walter Fauntroy worked with HUD Secretary Jack Kemp to craft policy that would help public housing residents manage and own their own homes. Walter Fauntroy worked to get Martin Luther King's birthday to become a national holiday and to end apartheid in South Africa.
Fauntroy, in his role as politician, preacher and pastor was among those who helped pave the way for the Michael Steeles, Corey Bookers, Duval Patricks, and Artur Davis' - and yes - the Barack Obama's.
Rev. Fauntroy, far from being bitter about being overlooked by those who travel a road he helped pave, says that in retirement he will be, "...touring the nation with many other pioneers of the civil rights movement at historically black colleges and universities, holding 'pass the torch' ceremonies and symposiums."
That spirit is another reason why Walter E. Fauntroy, should never be forgotten!