Closer than Ever – Reflecting on Washington D.C.’s Civil Rights Journey to Statehood

DC residents protesting for Statehood rights.

UNITED STATES AUGUST 24: DC statehood supporters march to the Lincoln Memorial for the rally to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington on Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013. DC officials, including Mayor Vince Gray held a DC Statehood rally at the D.C. War Memorial before marching to the larger rally on the National Mall. (Photo by Bill Clark/Getty Images)

It’s Emancipation Day here in the District! Today, we celebrate the end of institution of slavery in our city, and the beginning of the advancement of African Americans in Washington D.C. While we have come a long way since then, there is still progress to be made in achieving true equity and dismantling systemic oppression. D.C. is closer than ever to becoming the 51st state, and it’s important to understand the journey to statehood is a civil rights story.

Last month, Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser shared before Congress how the District’s overwhelming majority of African American residents resulted in “racist efforts” to deny equal rights to residents. This started back in the 1870s when Congress removed DC residents’ voting rights specifically to dismantle the growing political power of African Americans in the city. John Tyler Morgan, a senator from Alabama and former confederate general, later said that Congress had “to burn down the barn to get rid of the rats…the rats being the negro population and the barn being the government of the District of Columbia”.

In a recent report by Statehood Research DC, historical data and information is presented to support the fact that the city lost its franchise and remained a voteless capital of democracy primarily because of race. D.C. became the first majority-black major city in the United States in 1957. By 1970, the District was more than 70 percent black, officially earning its alias, “Chocolate City”. While the city has rapidly gentrified since then, African Americans still make up 46 percent of the population.

Washingtonians could not vote in presidential elections until 1964. It was not until 1974 that they were permitted to elect their own municipal government, which still cannot pass laws or annual budgets without Congressional review. However, D.C. residents pay more taxes than residents in 22 states and pay more per capita to the federal government than any state — Hence the city’s coined phrase that captures their injustice, “No taxation without representation”.

This is why activists, D.C. residents, and people all around the world, are fighting the equal citizenship of the District’s more than 700,000 residents. This is unconstitutional, racist behavior, and we must call on Congress to make the fair, and just decision next week, to make Washington D.C. our 51st state.

At Octane, we are proud and honored to support the movement towards DC Statehood through our work. Our client, the Statehood division of the Office of Federal and Regional Affairs (OFRA), is leading this critical fight for justice every day.

“We know that DC Statehood is the one of the most pressing civil rights issues of our lifetime and we have the support from President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Americans across the nation who recognize this injustice. The time has come for this historic wrong to be corrected. – Senior Advisor to Mayor Bowser, Beverly Perry.

While we’re celebrating Emancipation Day today and over the weekend, let’s not forget about the fight we’re facing right now. Call on Congress to pass DC Statehood!

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