The back story on retrocession
The Feb. 1 Metro article “GOP looks at broader oversight of District” reported that Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, is considering “retroceding” the District to Maryland. I encourage Mr. Chaffetz to find out why we are not part of Maryland or Virginia. The answer is in part because of white supremacy.
Alexandria did not want to be part of the District because its residents knew slavery was likely to be banned in the District. As it turned out, the slave trade was banned in the District in 1850 and slavery itself was prohibited in 1862. Alexandria’s Duke Street had a lucrative slave trade, which thrived for more than a decade after 1850. Before and after the Civil War, African Americans came in large numbers to the District as part of a crucial workforce, building forts for the Union, the Capitol and later the White House.
While Maryland is a lovely state, it does not want the District, and the District does not want to be part of it.
Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, Mary Jane Patterson, Duke Ellington, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Brown, Stephen Colbert and Dave Chappelle are either from the District or contributed to its rich culture. We want and deserve representation, and it is only D.C. residents who can take ownership over our local government with our own elected representatives.
Mr. Chaffetz should do the right thing for the taxpaying citizens of the District and grant us equal representation. Justine Kalas Reeves, Washington
Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s (R-Utah) reference to possible retrocession of parts of the nation’s capital to Maryland, which had ceded the land north of the Potomac River to the U.S. government for creation of the nation’s capital, brings to mind the fascinating, seemingly endless debate about the location and legal status of Washington, D.C.
Despite continuous efforts by citizens’ groups in Maryland and Virginia throughout the 19th century calling for return of the lands they had donated from 1789 to 1791, only Virginia was successful: The land that today contains Alexandria and Arlington County was retroceded in 1847 after only desultory discussion in Congress about whether it could or should return one-third of the capital city. Virginia’s argument proved persuasive: By law, no public buildings had been built south of the Potomac River, its citizens were denied the right to choose their government, and none of the promised economic benefits materialized.
While retrocession of any remaining part of Washington to Maryland is most unlikely, Mr. Chaffetz has placed himself in a historical tradition rich with irony and disappointment for many Washingtonians.
John P. Richardson, Arlington