Friends of Walter E. Fauntroy, the 82-year-old civil rights legend who has been overseas for three years, appealed to the public for donations to help him and his wife stave off the foreclosure of their longtime Washington home.
Fauntroy’s associates, who held a news conference Wednesday at the United Black Fund offices in Southeast Washington, said the retired pastor and former D.C. congressional delegate has been traveling abroad since early 2012 and is in Dubai but doesn’t want to come home.
Keith Silver, a former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said his friend is working on issues related to “world hunger” and “green technology” but didn’t know anything more specific.
One of Walter Fauntroy’s attorneys, Johnny Barnes, said he frequently communicates with him, speaking to him as recently as three days ago. Barnes added that Fauntroy also speaks with his 80-year-old wife, Dorothy — who did not attend the news conference — on a regular basis. They have been married for 57 years.
“Apparently, she’s not angry with him,” said Denise Rolark-Barnes, publisher of the Washington Informer. [Rolark-Barnes and Johnny Barnes are not related.]
A few weeks ago, Fauntroy missed a huge gathering in Selma, Ala., marking the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” which helped pave the way for the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. He was among the civil rights leaders who helped the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. plan the Selma protests along with the 1963 March on Washington.
Fauntroy’s absence comes amid serious financial and legal problems that have alarmed friends and relatives, some of whom had no clue about his mounting difficulties.
Earlier this month, the Fauntroys filed for bankruptcy protection, claiming debts between $500,000 and $1 million. Since May 2014, the couple has been battling in D.C. Superior Court against the Bank of New York, which filed for foreclosure against the Fauntroys’ home in Crestwood, the Northwest Washington neighborhood where they’ve lived for decades. The couple had taken out an additional mortgage on their home in 2006 but defaulted on payments between July 2008 and February 2013, owing more than $146,000.
Fauntroy, in documents in his bankruptcy protection case, wrote that he recently “suffered a medical emergency,” although he offered no details. He is also facing a criminal charge for writing a bad check for $55,000 to an event-planning company that helped him organize a ball for President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center at National Harbor. He has failed to show up for hearings on the matter, despite two bench warrants ordering his presence in court in Prince George’s County.
The predicament represents a sobering fall for a man who wielded a sizeable amount of influence on the civil rights movement and the District’s political fortunes. Fauntroy was elected the District’s first nonvoting congressional delegate in a century — and the first African American to represent the nation’s capital.
After serving for 20 years in Congress, where he helped lobby for home rule, he ran for mayor in 1990 but didn’t make it past the Democratic primary. A graduate of the Yale University Divinity School, he also served as pastor of New Bethel Baptist Church in Shaw before retiring six years ago.
He has always felt a calling to human rights issues, especially abroad.
During his time in Congress, he spent time railing against apartheid in South Africa and calling attention to human rights abuses in Haiti.
In 2011, he traveled to Libya just as Moammar Gaddafi’s government spiraled into descent. At one point, he was feared dead. Not even his wife knew the circumstances of his visit, according to a statement at the time from now-Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton.
In an interview with the Afro.com, Fauntroy said he personally met with Gaddafi on a peacekeeping mission but then “went into hiding for about a month in Libya after witnessing horrifying events in Libya’s bloody civil war.”
It appears that Fauntroy has gone back into hiding. At Wednesday’s news conference, Barnes, the attorney, could not definitively say that his client was in Dubai, only that there are “indicators” that he’s living there. Barnes said he has received packages from Fauntroy that say Dubai was the mail’s “place of origin.” He added: “I do think he’s in Dubai, but no one can be certain.”
Even as a line of Fauntroy’s prominent friends in the African American community pleaded with the public for money, none was either willing or capable of explaining why Fauntroy is abroad, what he’s specifically doing, whom he’s working with or where he’s living.
Barnes said that Fauntroy wants to come home soon but that there are “steps that need to happen.” Would the attorney care to elaborate? “I think on that,” he said, “I’m going to claim attorney-client privilege.”
Those who wish to help the Fauntroys can write checks payable to the Walter E. Fauntroy Family Fund and mail them to the fund’s fiduciary agent, the National Congress of Black Women, at 1250 Fourth St. SW, Suite WG-1, Washington, D.C., 20024.