Chevy Chase Circle is the official border separating the District of Columbia and Chevy Chase, Maryland. The inscription on the fountain at the center of Chevy Chase Circle honors Francis Griffith Newlands, saying, “His statesmanship held true regard for the interests of all men.” He was a three-term senator from Nevada, serving from 1903 until his death in 1917, but more important to this controversy, founded the Chevy Chase Land Co., which created neighborhoods on the Washington and Maryland sides of the circle. Yes, the founder of Chevy Chase is honored with a fountain in Chevy Chase Circle. What could possibly be wrong with that?
The problem is that Senator Newlands was a racist, and a proactive one. He was a white supremacist who described blacks as “a race of children” too intellectually handicapped for democracy. In 1912, he attempted to have the 15th Amendment, which granted voting rights to African American men, repealed. Not surprisingly, his vision of Chevy Chase did not include black residents, or Jewish ones for that matter.
The Advisory Neighborhood Commission that represents the D.C. section of Chevy Chase wants to remove Newlands’ name from the fountain, and has introduced a resolution calling on the D.C. Historic Preservation Office to rename the landmark “Chevy Chase Fountain.” The reason is his advocacy of anti-black policies.
This is a classic ethics conflict, a problem in which valid ethics principles oppose each other. There are so many conflicting ethical principles and objectives at work here: Continue reading