As an early supporter of big changes with respect to the city’s confederate memorials and street names, I was extremely disappointed to learn that at its May 8 legislative session City Council voted unanimously to receive the recommendation of an advisory body to change the name of Jeff Davis Highway to Richmond Highway. (The item was docketed for a public hearing on June 23.)
This was disheartening given that way back when (September 2016) City Council established the Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Confederate Memorials and Street Names to develop recommendations on actions with respect to the Appomattox statue and the name of Jeff Davis Highway, it directed the Advisory Group to “bring community values, knowledge and ideas into its discussions and considerations.”
Unfortunately, Council provided no instruction as to what “community values” should be considered. One can only presume, however, they didn’t mean to repeat those norms that existed in the late 19th century when the statue was erected or early 20th century when the Jeff Davis Highway signs were first posted. But I’m suggesting that’s what indeed will happen if they proceed with the Richmond Highway recommendation.
For guidance on contemporary community values, the Advisory Group and subsequent bodies needed to look no further than to those expressed in council’s previous Strategic Plan and in its updated (FY 2017-FY 2022) version. Values such as “caring and inclusiveness,” “diversity,” “kindness,” “just and equitable” permeate throughout both plans. Such values were given added weight by council’s bold November 2016 resolution that the City of Alexandria is a “Hate-Free Community.” In it council’s “core value” is clearly spelled out: “We are an accepting and embracing community where we treat each other with human dignity and respect. There is no place for intolerance in our community.”
It was reported that Richmond became the consensus choice of the joint Arlington/Alexandria Task Force principally because “that’s what the road is called in Fairfax County.” First of all, it bears asking, how does changing the name of the highway from Jeff Davis (the president of the Confederacy) to Richmond (the capital of the Confederacy and therefore location of Jefferson Davis’s headquarters, from which he presided over a regime of white supremacy and preservation of slavery) advance houncil’s declaration that “Alexandria is a city of kindness and compassion and is committed to diversity and to fostering an atmosphere of inclusiveness that respects the dignity and worth of every person.”?
And, secondly, are we seriously going to squander the opportunity to honor a current or former Alexandrian or a great American, past or present, whose life exemplified the values of “diversity, inclusiveness, human dignity and respect” just because Richmond is “what the road is called in Fairfax County?” There are so many better names that come to mind such as Frederick Douglass, Emily Edmondson, Patrick Henry, John Porter, Martha Napper-Miller, Otto Tucker, Dovey Johnson Roundtree, and Audrey P. Davis, just to name a few.
I am aware that many are simply weary of the process and want to move on, and therefore are willing to accept almost “any change.” But once “we’ve moved on” can we really look back with pride on Richmond Highway? I believe not.
Richard E. Merritt