While attending Virginia Union University in 1953, Walter Fauntroy was asked by Wyatt Tee Walker to make a room available for Martin Luther King, who was traveling from Atlanta to Boston to attend graduate school. Several years after their meeting, Fauntroy recalled the “lasting effect” of King’s visit, particularly the impact of two sermons that King had shared with him. “When first I heard your name mentioned in connection with the Montgomery boycott, I thanked God that He had placed in that crisis the man with the message for our time,” Fauntroy wrote to King in June 1960 (Papers 5:470).
Fauntroy was born on 6 February 1933, in Washington, D.C. He graduated from Virginia Union University in 1955 and received a BD from Yale Divinity School in 1958. The following year, he was called to the pulpit of New Bethel Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.
In 1960, Fauntroy contacted King in hopes of linking his organizing efforts in Washington, D.C., with those of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). King welcomed an affiliation with Fauntroy’s group and indicated that Fauntroy might serve “a most meaningful role” in SCLC (King, 18 June 1960). The following year, King appointed Fauntroy to the role of regional representative of SCLC. By 1964, Fauntroy was involved in many SCLC-sponsored events, including the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where he helped coordinate medical, health, and sanitation facilities. About three months after the March on Washington, Fauntroy represented SCLC by carrying the torch from the eternal flame at John F. Kennedy’s grave to ceremonies presided over by President Lyndon B. Johnson at the Lincoln Memorial. Fauntroy’s loyalty to SCLC was rewarded in 1964 when King named him director of the new SCLC bureau established in Washington, D.C. Fauntroy’s main responsibilities as director included serving as King’s spokesman on Capitol Hill, keeping SCLC abreast of matters pertaining to the civil rights movement, and acting as liaison between SCLC and various departments of the federal government. In addition to his work with SCLC, Fauntroy was appointed vice-chairman of D.C.’s first city council by President Johnson in 1967.
After King’s assassination in April 1968, Fauntroy served as national director of the Poor People’s Campaign, eventually leaving SCLC in 1971. From 1971 to 1990 he was D.C.’s representative in Congress. During his tenure, he was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus and served as the committee’s chairman from 1981 to 1983. In 1984, he was arrested after conducting a sit-in at the South African embassy in protest of the U.S. policy against apartheid. In 1990, after a failed bid for mayor of Washington, D.C., Fauntroy returned to preaching at New Bethel.
“Capital’s House Delegate Held in Embassy Sit-In,” New York Times, 22 November 1984.
Fauntroy, Interview by King Papers Project staff, 6 March 2002.
Fauntroy to King, 10 June 1960, in Papers 5:469–470.
King to Fauntroy, 18 June 1960, MLKP-MBU.
“SCLC Sets Up New Washington Bureau; Names Walter E. Fauntroy as Director,” SCLC Newsletter 2 (February 1964): 1-2, LDRP-NN-Sc.