WASHINGTON — Donald Folden of Alabama traveled to the District of Columbia some 40 years ago with his dreams and his plans to make his mark and hasn’t looked back. His sick mother led him over 600 miles to what would become his new home.
Folden, who was 23 at the time, had never seen such a high concentration of black people in one place and was in awe of the District, which was known as Chocolate City at the time.
Young Folden was independent and knew he wanted to master his own destiny.
“I always wanted to be my own boss even when I had a job I hustled on the side,” he said.
He began selling gift baskets at Judiciary Square and obtained his vendors license.
Trying to make an honest living wasn’t all it turned out to be and Folden’s outspoken attitude made him a constant target of the DC Police Department Vendors Unit. Folden decided to take a stand on what he saw was corruption.
The seven-member unit was adamant on running Folden out of town, but he vigorously fought back. He recalls being jailed behind tickets and being put in the back of police cars during hot summer days to break his spirit. Folden, however, maintained his strength and was helped by his faith in Jesus Christ.
After recording one of his encounters with a corrupt vendor police, Folden turned his recording into Internal Affairs. An investigation was opened which led to the arrest of two officers, David Brooks (deceased) and George Hardy. The two officers were brought up on bribery charges and the entire vendor unit was disbanded. Folden’s courage and adamancy to fight for equality resulted in justice.
Folden’s fight for equality didn’t stop there either. In 1996 he ran for mayor of D.C. as an independent forum candidate. Although he only mustered up about 200 votes his mission was bigger than the votes.
“It wasn’t about winning it was about putting issues on the table that no one else talked about,” he said.
Fast forward to 2017 and Folden is continuing to try and find new ventures. This time it’s through Capitol Buddy Tours and Travel. His tour company offers the only available Black History Tours in the city. Folden’s tour starts at Anacostia Metro Station in Southeast D.C., where tourists are afraid to go, he encourages them to see more of D.C.
Participants of the tour are impressed with it and what they learned from the excursion.
“It was amazing to gain knowledge on topics I knew nothing about,” Abena Disroe said.
Another participant Trey Chatman added,” I had no idea all this history was right in my backyard.”
From street vending to running for political office, Donald Folden came to D.C. a young man and ended up making history and building a legacy. He is a role model for the community as a black upstanding, outspoken, businessman.