D.C. Residents Want Name of ‘Racist’ Taken Off Chevy Chase Fountain
A group of D.C. residents wants to remove the name of the man who founded Chevy Chase from Chevy Chase Circle because of his racist views.
The Advisory Neighborhood Commission that represents the D.C. section of Chevy Chase will introduce a resolution next week calling on the D.C. Historic Preservation Office to remove the name of Francis Griffith Newlands from the fountain that bears his name in the small circular park.
Chevy Chase Circle is the official border separating D.C. and Chevy Chase, Md., the place Newlands named and developed during his time in Congress starting in the 1890s.
The Chevy Chase ANC says Newlands also created Chevy Chase with the idea that it “be forever racially segregated,” a fact that shouldn’t be celebrated.
“He included in most property deeds in Chevy Chase a racist covenant precluding land from ever being owned by African-Americans or Jews (these covenants have since been declared void but are still present in original deeds, usually lined out). He also used the formation of Rock Creek Park as a segregationist barrier in D.C. generally,” according to the resolution that will be introduced on Dec. 8.
An official history of the Chevy Chase Land Company — the company that now owns many of Newlands’ original properties — says Newlands came to D.C. “with the dream of building a planned settlement outside of the nation’s capital.”
He bought more than 1,700 acres of land stretching from Dupont Circle to Jones Bridge Road along what is now Connecticut Avenue. It was Newlands who named the area Chevy Chase, after his ancestral Scottish homeland of Cheviot Hills.
Newlands built Connecticut Avenue and dedicated it to D.C. at no cost, according to the Land Company, and ran a streetcar up the road to Chevy Chase Lake — what was then a newly-built suburb.
In 1938, the fountain in Chevy Chase Circle was built to memorialize the contributions of Newlands. The Land Company refurbished and repaired the fountain in 1990 to recognize the 100th anniversary of the founding of Chevy Chase.
It also rededicated the fountain as the Francis Griffith Newlands Memorial Fountain — recognized by a plaque on site and the National Register of Historic Places.
The ANC says that’s only part of the story.
Besides intending to create a whites-only society in Chevy Chase, Newlands called for prohibiting blacks from voting during his 1912 campaign for president. The ANC also says “he fought to limit education for African-Americans to domestic and menial work only, and for other measures to suppress the rights of African-Americans,” during his career as a member of the House and Senate representing Nevada.
The ANC recommended renaming the fountain after World War I General John J. Pershing or abolitionist Frederick Douglass. The text of part of the resolution follows:
WHEREAS, Chevy Chase acknowledges the historic role played by Senator Newlands as the lead developer of Chevy Chase, but as we long ago progressed beyond his segregationist vision for our neighborhood, over the last many decades building a warm community that is open, tolerant, and inclusive in every respect;
WHEREAS, the primary purpose of this Resolution is to create a positive opportunity to name the fountain for a person that our current community (and the area and nation as a whole) respects and honors, leaving Senator Newlands to the annals of history;
NOW THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED:
The Chevy Chase ANC supports the renaming of the fountain at Chevy Chase Circle, and suggests the name [TBD, nominees include John J. Pershing (who lived in Chevy Chase) and Frederick Douglas (who lived in DC)]. The Chevy Chase ANC requests that the D.C. Council pass a Resolution supporting this Resolution, and forwarding both resolutions to the D.C. Historic Preservation Office for implementation through a name change on the National Register of Historic Places (which lists the fountain), a new plaque at the fountain itself, and such other measures to complete the renaming of the fountain.