To the Editor:
I don’t support efforts to remove the Confederate statue from Washington Street, and rid Alexandria of Confederate street names. We can’t and shouldn’t erase the town’s past, even the unpleasant memories.
There are many streets that could be renamed for African Americans throughout Alexandria while retaining the Confederate street names that remind us for good or bad of the city’s past.
But that’s hardly a sufficient answer to the issue of whether to remove symbols of the city’s support for and participation in an economy based on slave labor. Where do you draw the line? George Washington was a slaveholder. Do we remove his name from the Masonic Memorial? Do we rename the Lee Boyhood Home? Rename Maury School?
I believe there are more constructive ways to examine and remember this terrible part of our history. We have already made a good start by memorializing the freed men and women and contraband slaves that died in Alexandria and are buried at the Freedmen and Contraband Cemetery on South Washington Street.
We could actually expand the African American History Museum and make it a centerpiece of our community. We could do more to draw attention to the slave trading activities that took place in Alexandria, and the impact slavery has had on the city, and the nation. I’m sure that the waterfront offers us an opportunity to look more closely at the role of African Americans in Alexandria’s shipbuilding and fishing industries, for example.
Alexandria has an important African American history that began long before the Civil War. Why not better tell the story of Benjamin Banneker, the son of a former slave from Guinea and his free African American wife? In 1791, Banneker, a surveyor and almanac author, made astronomical observations at Jones Point that identified the cornerstone for the start of the survey of the federal district.
My suggestion is that we do more to recognize the achievements and sacrifices of Alexandria’s African American community before, during, and after the Civil War and not to try to selectively remove reminders of our town’s history.