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Celebrating 50 Years of the D.C. Home Rule Act of 1973

Celebrate 50 Years of Home Rule during Civic Learning Week at DC Public Library! Civic Learning Week (March 11-15) is hosted annually by iCivics and seeks to highlight the importance of civic education in sustaining and strengthening constitutional democracy in the United States.  This year's celebration is particularly important for D.C. residents as we honor the decades of advocacy done to bring back Home Rule to the District. Throughout the week you are invited to check out resources about Home Rule, learn about ways you can be more involved in your community, visit your neighborhood library for events and more.

Upcoming Events

Dancing in the Darkness

Dancing in the Darkness with Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III | Thursday, Mar. 7, 7 p.m. | MLK Library

Join us for our kick-off event for Civic Learning Week with a lecture by Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III. Using his book, Dancing in the Darkness, Dr. Moss will discuss the significant events and experiences from Martin Luther King Jr.'s childhood and youth that shaped his perspectives and propelled Dr. King to become a civil rights leader and social justice advocate.

DC Government Agency Resource Fair | Thursday, Mar. 14, 3 - 7 p.m. | MLK Library

Stop by the Great Hall of the MLK Library for a DC Government Agency Resource Fair. Staff from various DC Government agencies, including ANC's, DC Board of Elections, DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities and more will be on-site to provide residents with information about their agency, their services & programs, and answer any questions you may have.

Hands Raised

Political Discussion Group: What Should Democracy Look Like? | Thursday, Mar. 14, 6:30 p.m. | Petworth Library

Join us for a special edition of the Political Discussion Group. We will talk about democracy, what it should look like, what it should do...and its limitations. Please bring a friendly and cooperative vibe to this event!

Story District

This is What Democracy Looks Like Storytelling Show | Thursday, Mar. 14, 7 p.m. | MLK Library

Join us for our signature Civic Learning Week event, "This is What Democracy Looks Like," a live storytelling show presented by Story District that will feature five true stories about democracy in action. Each story will delve into real-life situations and events that highlight the principles of democracy, its challenges, and the diverse ways people engage with it. The stories cover various topics such as grassroots movements, citizen activism, electoral processes, community organizing, and the power of collective action. This show aims to inspire and educate viewers about the different facets of democracy and the impact individuals can have on shaping their societies.

Civic Learning Week Check-List


Stay civically engaged before and after election day! Pick up your Civic Learning Week checklist at your neighborhood library. Find all the resources you need to complete the list below:

  1. Check your Voter Registration on the DC Board of Elections website. Not registered? Registering to vote is easy to do online, or right at your neighborhood library!
  2. Mark the primary and general election dates on your calendar.
    1. Primary Election | Tuesday, June 4, 2024
    2. General Election | Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2024
  3. Attend an ANC meeting for your ANC or another community meeting.
  4. Check out a book or an online resource about social justice or civic engagement.
  5. Learn about D.C.'s Home Rule
  6. Attend a DC Public Library Civic Learning Week Event or visit Up From the People or We Who Believe in Freedom: Black Feminist DC exhibitions at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
  7. Stop by your neighborhood library to share what democracy and home rule mean to you.
  8. Organize or join a neighborhood clean-up.
  9. Contact your DC Council Member or ANC Member about an issue you care about
  10. Volunteer at the library or sign up to volunteer for your community through Serve DC.

The History of Home Rule

Since the earliest days of our nation, residents of the capital city have fought for the right to self-government, also known as home rule. The Constitution gives Congress, not D.C. citizens, control over Washington, D.C. For most of the nineteenth century, Congress allowed D.C. a degree of freedom. Residents elected their own local government officials. Yet only white, male landowners had the right to vote. In 1867, however, Congress granted Black men the right to vote in D.C. elections. Following the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, which granted Black men the right to vote across the country, D.C’s white leadership and Congress became fearful of Black Washingtonians’ growing political power. In 1874, Congress took D.C. Home Rule away. For decades to come, the city would be managed by three federally appointed Commissioners, and all decisions were ratified by Congress. 

Washingtonians fought unsuccessfully for home rule for decades. Between 1948 and 1964, five different bills were introduced and failed in Congress. By this time, civil rights leaders in D.C. saw home rule as central to the struggle for citizenship. After turning out by the thousands for the March on Washington to support Black voting rights across the country, they couldn't vote in their home city. In 1965, D.C. leaders wrote to their friend and ally, Dr. King, to recruit him for their cause. King spent three days in  D.C., meeting with community leaders and leading rallies in support of racial justice and D.C. Home Rule. New leaders—including Marion Barry, founder of the Free D.C. movement, Julius Hobson, and comedian/activist Dick Gregory—shook up the status quo and inspired citizens to protest D.C.’s status in many ways, from street protests to public hearings. 

To increase local control over D.C.’s affairs, in 1967 President Lyndon Johnson appointed Walter Washington as Mayor-Commissioner and a nine-member Council. D.C. became the first U.S. city with a Black chief executive. In 1968 Congress granted Washingtonians the right to vote for their Board of Education, the first local election in nearly a century. In 1971 the District of Columbia Delegate Act re-instituted a nonvoting Delegate to represent the nation’s capital in the House of Representatives. With support from civil rights allies including Coretta Scott KingWalter Fauntroy was elected and held the position for three decades. In 1973, Congress finally passed the Home Rule act. In 1974, D.C. elected its local government for the first time in more than 100 years. Walter E. Washington was elected Mayor, and longtime civil rights and anti-poverty activists, almost all of them Black, were elected to the D.C. Council.

Visit "Up from the People" at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library

Four teens watching a video about home rule at MLK Library

Explore Up from the People: Protest and Change in D.C., the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library’s permanent exhibit. It is located outside The People’s Archive on the Fourth Floor of the MLK Library, and is open during the library’s regular public hours. This exhibition was made possible by the generous support of the DC Public Library Foundation, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

Visit Up From the People