How White Fears of ‘Negro Domination’ Kept D.C. Disenfranchised for DecadesHistorians in the News
tags: racism, African American history, urban history, Washington DC, DC Statehood
Rep. Pat Fallon came to the hearing armed with 150 years of census data, and when it was his turn to speak he turned to D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser.
“Do you believe that Washington, D.C., has been historically denied statehood based on racial grounds?” the Texas Republican asked, hours into the House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on March 22 over whether to make D.C. the 51st state.
Bowser (D) had said in her opening statement that the growth of the city’s Black population over time led to “racist efforts” to deny suffrage to the District — so she answered Fallon: “I think it certainly contributed.”
“Well, for 150 years, there was a White majority in the District,” Fallon said, just after pulling out his decades of Census Bureau data, “and it never became a state. … So it doesn’t seem like that is actually factually historically accurate at all.”
Historians beg to differ — particularly the historians who released a report just two days before the hearing describing how race played a role in decisions to continue disenfranchising D.C. residents for decades.
The report, “Democracy Deferred: Race, Politics, and D.C.’s Two-Century Struggle for Full Voting Rights,” brings to the surface a trove of overtly racist ideas about D.C.’s incapability to govern itself dating from Reconstruction — when Black men gained the right to vote — through the civil rights movement, when the city finally won limited home rule. The report was commissioned by a new nonprofit organization, Statehood Research DC, which is an offshoot of the Federal City Council, D.C.’s nonprofit conglomerate of business and civic leaders.
“For a solid 100 years after 1871, we know for a fact that the reason the city lost the franchise was principally about race,” said George Derek Musgrove, co-author of the report, as well as “Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital.” “The justification for the city losing the franchise, and for maintaining it as a voteless capital of the democracy, was principally about race.”
At the heart of the resistance to granting suffrage to D.C. residents: a fear of Black political power.
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