Family and friends believed it was a long shot that they would be able to bring Walter E. Fauntroy home.
Still, hopes remained high that Fauntroy, the former congressman and retired pastor who left the U.S. more than four years ago and whose actual whereabouts were unknown, would be found and that he could be convinced to return home to his wife, Dorothy, and his two adult children, Melissa and Marvin.
Hopes turned into reality when Fauntroy, 83, landed at Dulles Airport on June 27. Though he was immediately arrested by Loudon County police on an outstanding bench warrant for writing a bad check for an Obama inaugural event in 2012, he was released the next day and began the process of picking up where he left off.
“I can’t tell you how glad I am to be home,” Fauntroy said in an interview with The Washington Informer. Seated on his living room couch, in a blue polo shirt, blue sweatpants, brown socks and sandals, he looked around the room filled with a lifetime of memorabilia and said, “I have suffered everything that Jesus suffered, but God told me if I ask for forgiveness, he would give it.”
Then, as “The Singing Congressman” is apt to do, he joyfully began clapping and singing, this time the chorus to “Clean Up,” a gospel favorite of his by the Canton Spirituals.
In a clear and crisp tenor voice, he sang, “I got to clean up what I messed up, I’ve started my life over again.”
Rumors of Fauntroy’s whereabouts began circulating three years ago when he was noticeably absent at the 50th anniversary celebration of the March on Washington. As president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, King appointed close friend Fauntroy to coordinate the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. But 50 years later, with thousands of marchers returning to the nation’s capital to commemorate the historic occasion, Fauntroy was nowhere to be found, not even at a reception held in his honor.
Fauntroy was also noticeably absent from the funeral of his old colleague Marion Barry, as well as the 50th anniversary march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in March 2015. His absences, he insists, were necessary in order to fulfill his plans to provide opportunities for 780 million families to become entrepreneurs. He also said he needed to leave his family in order to protect them.
In March 2015 when Fauntroy’s return seemed far-fetched, the Fauntroy Family Support Group — organized by civil rights attorney Johnny Barnes, former DC-SCLC President Keith Silver and several acquaintances of Fauntroy’s — decided to focus their efforts on his wife, Dorothy, who faced foreclosure of their Northwest home and other family emergencies. The support group began fundraising to pay for necessary home repairs and to stave off the foreclosure proceedings.
It was last month when Fauntroy made the call that he wanted to come home. He had been living in Dubai, sometime on the streets, he said. A Sudanese family that recognized him for his work in their home country took him in, providing him food and clothing.
In Dubai, Fauntroy said, “I felt safe.”
Two members of the support group traveled to Dubai to escort Fauntroy home. Previous attempts track him down had failed, but this time was a success. With a temporary passport issued by the State Department, Fauntroy was soon on a plane and headed back to the U.S.
“I came back like Paul.” Fauntroy said. “I got to Rome but I didn’t get back they way I wanted to get back. He [Paul] had a shipwreck. I came back without any teeth.”
Smaller, feeble and in need of a knee replacement, he nevertheless bragged he’s “healthier today than I have ever been,” flexing his bicep and touting his newfound vegetarian diet.
Members of the support group say they are working on getting Fauntroy much needed medical, psychological and legal attention before he makes any public appearances. He still faces a court hearing in Prince George’s County on the balance of the $55,000 owed on an Obama inaugural event in 2012. His court date is July 20 and the group is hoping to raise enough money to pay off the remaining debt.
Fauntroy said he is looking forward to returning to New Bethel Baptist Church in Northwest, where he pastored for 50 years before retiring. In the meantime, he said he’s happy to be back with his wife and to play with his 2-year old grandson, Jason.
“That’s my boy,” he said proudly. “And he loves me.”