The back story on retro­ces­sion

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION -

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

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