The Connecticut Avenue gateway to Washington DC is second only to Memorial Bridge in its beauty. A broad treelined street leads to a large fountain that marks the border between Maryland and the District.
But the beauty of this entrance is spoiled by the fountain’s namesake – one of Congress’ leading segregationists, Francis Newlands. You see, memorials to white supremacist
aren’t just the found in the south. They’re everywhere. Like this entrance to our nation’s capital.
Newlands who represented Nevada in Congress from 1898 to 1917. He’s best known for the creation of the Bureau of Land Reclamation which created dams and irrigation projects out west and being a member of the committee that investigated the Titanic sinking.
Newlands was an avowed white supremist. He wrote that African Americans were “a race of children” that posed a threat to the country and that they should be resettle in the Caribbean. He believed that Asian immigration would take over the west coast and he wrote in the New York Times that “I believe this should be a white man’s country and that we should frankly express our determination that it shall be.” To that end he proposed a White Plank in the 1912 Democratic convention platform that would repeal the 15th Amendment and restrict immigration to only whites. He is the only Democratic senator to vote against Lous Brandis, the first Jewish nominee to the Supreme Court.
Newlands doesn’t make much headway in spreading his hatred legislatively. But he does get to put it into practice elsewhere. In the 1880s he forms the Chevy Chase (no relation to the actor) Land Company and buys nearly 2,000 acres of farmland and creates the DC neighborhood of Chevy Chase and the adjoining town of Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Newlands does not put any restrictions on who can live in these neighborhoods. He’s more cleaver than that. Instead, he requires that any construction must be detached single-family houses costing no less than $3,000. This requirement makes building a house here out of reach to all but the wealthiest non-whites. In 1906 when a Black developer want to build a subdivision in Chevy Chase for African Americans, the Land Company blocks it in court saying the developer was committing fraud by planning to “sell lots to Negros.” And by the 1920s segregation was hard-wired into the neighborhood with covenants in Chevy Chase deeds preventing the sale of houses to Blacks and Jews.
Newlands dies in 1917 when what little heart he had failed. Mrs. Newlands thought so much of her dear husband she spends $12,000 to build this fountain in his memory in 1938.
Today Chevy Chase, Maryland is home to such illustrious folks like talking head George Will, Federal Reserve Bank chairman Jerome Powell, and Supreme Court justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh. In fact, Mrs. Kavanaugh used to work as the town’s manager.
The Chevy Chase Land Company is still in business and Newlands’ segregationists’ legacy continues. The requirement of building only single-family houses is still a well-used zoning method to keep this and neighborhoods around the country segregated to this day.
In 2020 neighbors asked the US Park Service to remove the plaque commemorating Newlands. To date there has been no action.