When I read about the celebration of the District of Columbia quarter honoring Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington on Numismaster.com, I am reminded that although Ellington was a great musician and worthy of an honor, those who were involved with the District of Columbia quarter selection process missed an opportunity to properly honor the district and make a statement.
An issue of local interest to the residents of the district and is Maryland and Virginia suburbs is that Washington, D.C., is the only world capital that does not have representation in the government which it hosts.
Activists have been working for many years to gain home-rule and representation for the people of the Washington.
Following the passage of the budget bill that contained the provisions for the D.C. and Territories quarters program, Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed a committee to determine the design of the D.C. quarter. When the design descriptions were submitted to the U.S. Mint for approval, the narrative included the phrase “Taxation Without Representation.”
The phrase, which is on district license plates, is a protest noting that U.S. citizens who live and vote in Washington does not have a representative in congress who levies taxes and has veto authority over the city’s mayor. The Mint rejected the design as being too political.
When the design was rejected, Mayor Fenty reconvened the committee to come up with a new design. Several designs were considered and put to a vote by district residents. The design honoring Duke Ellington won decisively. Unfortunately, the best option for the quarter design was considered.
If the district government was serious about getting their message out about the lack of congressional representation for Washingtonians, they could have sparked the conversation by selecting a design that honored Walter E. Washington, the first elected home-rule mayor of Washington, DC.
The Georgia-born Walter Washington was appointed as Commissioner of the District of Columbia by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1967. His early years were marred with race riots and other issues that he had problems dealing with because of the restrictions placed on the appointed commissioner. After much lobbying, congress passed the District of Columbia Self-Rule and Governmental Reorganization Act of 1973 that allowed the city to elect its own government. Walter Washington was elected as the first mayor of Washington, D.C. Walter Washington was able to assemble the governmental infrastructure that continues to serve district residents today.
If the District of Columbia honored Walter Washington on its quarter, not only would it have been more appropriate from a historical perspective, it would have given the home-rule activists an opening to talk about their lack of representation in congress. People who receive the quarter would have asked about this person and the district leaders could have filled in the blanks. While it would not have been an overt message that the Mint would have cause to reject, it would have been a subtle statement given with integrity.
I love Duke Ellington’s music, but Walter Washington would have been a better subject.
Scott Barman is a hobbyist from Rockville, Md.
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