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Florence Pendleton, pioneering DC shadow senator and statehood champion, dies at 94

Pendleton was first elected in 1990, along with Jesse Jackson

Florence Pendleton one of the first shadow senators from D.C. in an undated photo. She died Thursday at age 94.
Florence Pendleton one of the first shadow senators from D.C. in an undated photo. She died Thursday at age 94. (CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Washington shadow delegation, elected representatives who advocate for D.C. statehood, has lost one of its inaugural members, Florence Pendleton, who died at her Georgia home on Sept. 10 at the age of 94.

“She was really a pioneer in so many ways,” said Paul Strauss, a current shadow senator who served with her for a decade.

Pendleton was first elected in 1990 as one of the two shadow senators selected by Washington residents. She and Rev. Jesse Jackson were the first people to fill the unpaid roles.

She had been in failing health after suffering a seizure last month, according to Strauss, who spoke with members of her family. A funeral has been planned for Wednesday in her hometown of Columbus, Ga.

Strauss said she was a champion not only for D.C. statehood, but for the rights of the city and its residents. 

“She was really part of the generation that grew up during the civil rights movement,” he said. “She was very committed; she never got discouraged.”

“Our city will remember this year, the year the House passed our D.C. statehood bill, with gratitude for Senator Pendleton’s service to the District of Columbia,” D.C. Democratic Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton said in a statement. Norton, like Pendleton, was first elected in 1990.

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The shadow delegation saw an early opportunity for its advocacy when President Bill Clinton was elected in 1992. Pendleton, at a Martin Luther King Jr. birthday celebration in 1993, expressed hope that King’s dream of equality would soon extend to statehood for Washington residents.

“The dream lives. It lives in me, it lives in you. Let’s work together and make statehood a reality,” she said to the crowd.

Pendleton was born in Columbus and attended Howard University in Washington, earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree there. Later in life, she attended Virginia Tech as a doctoral student, according to the Washington Post. She was also a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and an instructor at Morgan State University. 

The longtime D.C. educator told the Post in in 1999 that she moved to the Bloomingdale neighborhood in 1961. She served as a commissioner on her neighborhood advisory board and the president of the Bloomingdale Civic Association. 

In the 1990 election, the first to choose delegates and shadow senators for Washington, Pendleton wasn’t a sure bet for the shadow senator role, Strauss said. 

“It wasn’t the kind of race where she outspent anybody,” he said. “She probably outworked everyone and had a lot of support for her community.”

She was reelected until 2006, when she waged an unsuccessful write-in campaign after failing to get the required 2,000 signatures to appear on the ballot. Democrat Michael D. Brown, who is still serving as a shadow senator, was elected that year.

Strauss said Pendleton, after moving back to Columbus, was aware of some of the progress the city made in recent years toward statehood and that Pendleton and other advocates had predicted as much from the start.

“We’re going to get it,” Pendleton said to the MLK birthday crowd back in 1993. “Because we’re gaining strength as we go along.”

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