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Eleanor Holmes Norton’s brass ring: DC statehood

Political Theater, Episode 132

A Hill staffer in February hands D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton an American flag with 51 stars, commemorating the possibility of the District of Columbia becoming the 51st state.
A Hill staffer in February hands D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton an American flag with 51 stars, commemorating the possibility of the District of Columbia becoming the 51st state. (Thomas McKinless/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is a third-generation Washingtonian who has been witness to the biggest turning points in the capital city’s long struggle for civil and political rights.

In the course of her lifetime, she has also seen the city’s wide demographic shifts, from majority white to majority black to no majority.

From a population of more than 800,000 in 1950 to 570,000 five decades later, the steady growth of the last two decades has inched the city back above 700,000 and into a cultural destination.

One thing has been constant, though: Citizens of the District of Columbia, federal tax-paying citizens, have been denied full voting representation in Congress.

Making her congressional colleagues, and the nation, aware of this is part of Norton’s life’s work, whether through impassioned floor speeches or even by appearing on Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” before host Stephen Colbert made the leap to CBS to take over “The Late Show.”

As a federal district, and not a state, the franchise of D.C. citizens has been denied. During the civil rights struggles of the ’50s and ’60s, during passage of the Voting Rights Act, as Washington became a mecca of Black life in America — “Chocolate City” — D.C. was nevertheless always denied statehood and full political rights.

And now a perfect storm has pushed D.C. sovereignty to the fore. This week, the House will vote on a bill granting Washington full statehood. That’s the first time that will happen in almost 30 years. And Norton, the bill’s sponsor, talks about it on the latest episode of the Political Theater podcast.

Show Notes:

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