To the Editor:
At its June 13 meeting, two members of the Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Confederate Memorials and Street Names made mistaken statements about Jefferson Davis. Chairwoman Lyman, a Massachusetts native who earlier noted she does not know much history, declared that he was not a Virginian and was guilty of “egregious behavior.” She gave no substantiation for either allegation. Mr. Thompson’s objection to honoring him deserves close scrutiny.
Although Kentucky-born Davis was one of the Senate’s most distinguished members while representing Mississippi, his family chose to be buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery. Thus, Davis has been in Virginia longer than anywhere else. Virginians who cherish our history proudly claim this American hero and regularly celebrate his June birthday with ceremonies.
Mr. Thompson objected that Jefferson Davis was unworthy of having a street named in his honor because after the war he failed to pledge allegiance to the Union like others, including RE Lee. However, Davis’ case was unique. Lincoln had openly declared that he would pardon all others, but never Davis (despite “with malice toward none and charity for all …”). Such bitter hate is all the more lamentable because Davis gave decades of outstanding service to the U.S. before the war: distinguished West Pointer, hero of the Battle of Veracruz, persuasive orator in the U.S. Senate who tried to avert war, and visionary who as Secretary of War created the formidable military machine Lincoln used.
Davis’ health was poor so he declined to be President of the Confederate States, but was persuaded by an appeal to his sense of duty. That onerous burden further damaged his health, and he almost died under the two years of persistent 24-7 torture at Fort Monroe, Va., at the direction of President Johnson, vengeful Cabinet members and the U.S. Army. Only his wife’s persistent public statements about his outrageous mistreatment and pleadings from the public saved his life.
Notably, Lincoln’s successors never pardoned Lee, although he was beloved in both North and South after the war. Davis expected the same fate. Should a man pledge allegiance to an obviously corrupt government wreaking additional ruin with impunity on his helpless countrymen? Why give his enemies fodder for ridicule? What would Mr. Thompson or any of us do in these circumstances?
No Ad Hoc Advisory Group member asked and no one reported how many businesses and residents would be affected before voting to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway in the city. Members declared that fewer people would be inconvenienced (time and a minimum of hundreds of dollars) than by changing other Confederate street names. Kudos to Ms. Fannon, the only "No" vote, who thought the majority’s inability to state a guiding principle for treating this street name differently from others made a change inappropriate.
Shame on members who thought forcing occupants into a name change — without a statement of their approval and based on members’ incomplete/mistaken statements of relevant facts — is justified. Because of these serious errors, this recommendation’s validity and usefulness is greatly compromised. Council should reject it.
Ellen Latane Tabb