William R. Spaulding served as the first Ward 5 council member from 1975-1987. (Courtesy photo)
William R. Spaulding served as the first Ward 5 council member from 1975-1987. (Courtesy photo)

The late former D.C. Council member William Ridley Spaulding has received accolades from District residents for his pioneering work as a legislator as well as his efforts in the fields of education and community service.

Spaulding died on Nov. 1 at the age of 97. He served as the first council member to represent Ward 5 in 1975. Council member Kenyan McDuffie, one of his predecessors, spoke affectionately about Spaulding at his funeral that took place on Nov. 13 at the Northeastern Presbyterian Church in Northeast.

“We appreciate his service to the nation’s capital,” McDuffie said. “He will truly be missed by the residents of Ward 5 and throughout the city. Mr. Spaulding was among the first D.C. Council members and among the first Black council members across the country to serve in a majority Black city.”

The Life of William Spaulding

A native of Hallsboro, N.C., Spaulding, born June 15, 1924, moved to the District at 16 to attend Howard University’s School of Engineering and Architecture. After a series of jobs, he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering from Howard in 1947. He then worked as an educator in the District’s public schools from 1947 to 1952 and on Howard’s faculty from 1950 to 1960 while also working as an engineer at the National Security Agency.

During his tenure at Howard he met Dolores Hinton who he married on Aug. 27, 1954. The Spauldings would have three daughters: Michele DeLois Spaulding (deceased), Angelyn Spaulding Flowers and Deidre Spaulding-Yeoman.

When President Nixon signed the Home Rule Act in 1973, Spaulding left his position at the National Security Agency and embarked on his political career. He won his first election to the D.C. Council in 1974. While serving on the council from 1975-1987, Spaulding has been credited with legislation creating the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) from three separate institutions. He also served as the chairman of the Committee on Education and later the Committee on Government Operations.

While serving on the council, Spaulding produced a show, Metro Talent, designed to highlight the artistic talents of District youth.

In 1986, Spaulding lost re-election to Harry Thoma,  Sr. in the Democratic Party primary. After leaving the council, he remained in the District government as the director of Administrative Services for the city’s court system. He also taught mathematics at UDC from 1986-1998. Additionally, he volunteered for organizations including the Fort Lincoln Foundation, the American Kidney Foundation and the American Heart Association. Howard’s Engineering School honored him as an outstanding alumnus and in 2014, UDC awarded him the Doctor of Humane Letters.

Spaulding Praised as a Leader, Good Person

Spaulding’s body laid in a casket draped with the District’s flag on the first floor of the John A. Wilson Building on Nov. 12 as a part of the city’s farewell viewing for him. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson participated in the viewing along with present and past members of the council.

Harry Thomas Jr., the son of the man who defeated Spaulding in 1986, said even though his family and the Spauldings became political rivals, they always had a close personal connection.

“I grew up with one of his daughters and I served on an advisory neighborhood commission with another of his daughters,” Thomas Jr. said, who served on the council from 2007-2012. “Our families have always been intertwined in the community and as neighbors.”

Thomas Jr. wants to reclaim his council seat. He faces former Council member Vincent Orange, who served as the Ward 5 lawmaker from 1999-2007, and former Bowser administration executive Faith Hubbard, D.C. State Board of Education President Zachary Parker and Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Gordon Fletcher in the June 21, 2022 Democratic Party primary.

Longtime Ward 5 resident Frank Wilds remembers when Spaulding ran for the seat in 1974. Wilds would not elaborate on whether he supported him then but said Spaulding “was always considered a good person.”

“He was so committed to this community,” Wilds said. “He was an outstanding guy.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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