On June 19, the District of Columbia Office of the Secretary announced that the design for the DC quarter will feature Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington. The design will include the official District motto, “Justice For All.”
Ellington beat out designs honoring Frederick Douglass and Benjamin Banneker by a margin of 36-percent to 33-percent for Douglass and 31-percent for Banneker. Ellington was the only native of Washington, DC of the group.
As with most decisions in the nation’s capital, the design of the DC quarter was not without controversy. First, the DC government submitted a narration with the unofficial motto “Taxation Without Representation” to raise the awareness that the District of Columbia is the only national capital that does not have representation its government legislative body. The US Mint rejected the design as “controversial.”
Then it was questioned as to who should appear on the quarter to represent the District of Columbia. While Ellington, Douglass, and Banneker have various ties to the District, none could have been said to have really defined the District. In reality, Ellington’s major accomplishments occurred in New York, Banneker was from Maryland, and while Douglass’s work was important, it had nothing to do with the District itself.
Over the last few months, I have been trying to convince anyone who would listen to me to change the design to honor Walter E. Washington. Washington was the first Mayor of the consolidated District of Columbia (Georgetown had its own mayor at one time) under the DC Home Rule Act of 1973.
As the last appointed commissioner of the DC, Washington faced the rioters following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. refusing to shoot them, as recommended by FBI director J. Edger Hoover. Washington worked with city leaders in their push for home rule.
If the DC activists, including Mayor Adrian Fenty, wanted to make a statement, placing Mayor Washington on the quarter would have given them the opportunity to speak about Home Rule and the problems the city has faced since.
I love Duke’s music, but I think Walter E. Washington would have been a better choice.