Alexandria city council votes on Confederate symbols

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ALEXANDRIA, VA - The Alexandria City Council voted unanimously on Saturday to rename the portion of Route 1 named Jefferson Davis Highway, after the president of the Confederate States of America, and to look at moving the Appomattox statue that stands in the intersection of Prince St. and S. Washington St.

The decisions were made in response to recommendations made by an Ad Hoc advisory group formed to look at the issue of Confederate symbols in the city and what to do with them. The council voted after several hours of public input.

The Ad Hoc group had recommended to rename the Jefferson Davis Highway and the majority of those who spoke were in support of the move, but those opposed said it’s an attempt to whitewash history.

“I am against this name change and I do hope that the council will want to continue to spark conversations and to help to educate the public through encouraging questioning by kids and adults alike, when they see the name of Jeff Davis Highway,” said Gale Nemec. “Please don’t try to erase our own history, your history, my history, our nation’s history,"

But supporters countered that having Davis’ name on a street sign and the Appomattox statue were glorifying the Confederacy.

“It must always be remembered, but never be glorified,” said Cat Clark, a member of the group Showing Up for Racial Justice in Northern Virginia. “Placed on a pedestal if it were something worthy of admiration. There was no honor in the Confederate cause and there should be none in it’s memory."

City staff have been directed to begin the process to determine what to rename the street, something that could take well into 2017. Recommendations from the council include Route 1, Richmond Highway, and Patrick Henry St. The latter would be a combination of Patrick St. and Henry St., the two roads that make up Route 1 in the south of Alexandria, and merge to become Jefferson Davis Highway north of Old Town.

City staff were also directed to reach out to Arlington County to see if they would be open to renaming the portion of Route 1 named Jefferson Davis Highway that runs through the county to whatever Alexandria chooses. However, staff pointed out that while Alexandria can change the name of the road itself, Arlington County would need state approval.

The council also voted to approve the Ad Hoc group’s recommendation regarding the renaming of other streets in the city. They will take up the possibility of renaming other streets only if petitioned by residents. The reason is that there might be confusion over who, exactly, certain streets are named. The example given was Lee St. and whether it was named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee or his father, and Revolutionary War General “Light-Horse” Harry Lee.

As to the Appomattox statue, the Ad Hoc group had recommended keeping the statue in the intersection, but after a speech by Councilman John T. Chapman, the council voted to attempt to move the statue to the southwest corner of the intersection. The idea is that the statue would be placed on the grounds of the city’s Lyceum museum.

"I think it is a terrific teaching point that we are not all equal yet. We have not sown up our wounds from, whether it’s civil conflict, whether it’s racial conflict. We’re not there yet,” said Chapman.

However, while the city owns the land the statue is on, the statue itself, is owned by the Mary Custis Lee-17th Virginia Regiment Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). The group would have to agree to the move and then it would have to be approved by the Virginia General Assembly.

DCW News at 10 emailed the president of the UDC chapter, Deborah Mullins, about the council’s vote and she replied that her group will not be making any comments at this time.