In 1965, when the issue of home rule for the District of Columbia first faced a congressional test, it supporters found an unlikely friend in a Birmingham Baptist minister, Republican Rep. John Buchanan. "I didn't know John when our freedom issue came up. I just put Buchanan and Alabama toether and said 'oh my God,'" remembers Rep. Stewart McKinney (R-Conn.)
But, added Democratic Del. Walter Fauntroy, as the tributes to Buchanan continued last night at a fund-raiser for the D.C. voting rights amendment, "It so happened that God had placed someone there under the Goldwater banner."
Buchanan, whose head of salt-and-pepper curls stood above the crowd at the Touchstone Gallery on P Street, savored the boosting. In the chronicle of his association with the various drives for voting rights for the District, the final irony was that his support had added to his defeat in his primary this year. "It's true I was elected in the Goldwater sweep, but I believe if the people of my beautiful Birmingham were denied an essential freedom, I would feel a sense of outrage," said Buchanan, explaining his alliance. "It has been a critical issue in the last two campaigns. And this year it was just part of the Moral Majority's laundry list."
In the art gallery, a friendly informal contest ensued over seniority in the cause of District voting rights. Dick Lyons remembered discussing the issue on a radio show in 1938. Ruth Dixon, president of the local League of Women Voters, noted that they endorsed national representation for the capital city in 1924. Yvonne Price, the executive assistant of the Leadership Conference on the Civil Rights, recalled the first fights in the mid-1960s. Richard Clark, the chairman of Self-Determination for D.C., the group sponsoring last night's benefit, reviewed the last decade's battles that brought a non-voting delegate to Congress, then enabled the election of the mayor and city council, then the full-voting delegate amendment which has to be passed by 38 states by August 1985.
Despite the longevity and setbacks (only nine states have ratified the amendment and California and Louisiana defeated it in July), the supporters remain enthusiastic. "It's kind of simple," and attorney Joseph Rauh. "We can't lose because we are right." Voicing the same sentiment, Mayor Marion Barry quoted the spiritual, "I ain't no ways tired." Ruth Dixon gave one example of the grassroots work ahead. "New York hasn't ratified, but we just got a letter from our League there asking if we could get letters from legislators in states that have passed, saying why."