Arlington seeks permission to rename Jefferson Davis, Lee highways

ARLINGTON, Va. – Arlington County officials say they are asking the state for permission to rename Jefferson Davis and Lee highways within the county.

Arlington County Board Chairman Jay Fisette said in a statement Thursday that the county has heard from many residents asking that Confederate names no longer be memorialized. The most prominent are two U.S. highways – Route 1 named after Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Route 29 named after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee – and Washington-Lee High School.

The School Board is responsible for naming its buildings and is considering what its naming policy should be.

County Board member Christian Dorsey told WTOP Friday that there is no reason for a highway in Arlington to be named after Jefferson Davis.

“It is a highway that has several different names along its route. In Fairfax, it’s Richmond Highway,” Dorsey said. “In Alexandria and Arlington, at present time, it’s Route 1. Historically, it’s been known as River Road. There isn’t any local connection to Jefferson Davis that merits such an application.”

It’s a little more complicated for Robert E. Lee, since the county’s name comes from the general’s estate.

For Dorsey, there is no current push to rename Lee Highway, but the county has wanted the power to name its major roadways for years.

“This is not a reactionary response to current events,” explained Dorsey.  “This has really been a thoughtful, reasoned approach that we have developed over a number of years.”

It comes down to one issue for Arlington, Dorsey said: “Roads that go through localities ought to have the ability to be named by localities.”

Currently, the General Assembly has the authority to name primary roads — interstates, U.S. highways and low-numbered state highways such as Leesburg Pike or Glebe Road.

Republicans have control of the General Assembly. Del. Dave Albo is retiring from the House and says he doesn’t know how the body as a whole feels about removing Confederate names from state highways. He, though, is against it.

“I thought that the position that Levar Stoney – who is the mayor of Richmond – was right, before he changed his position,” Albo told WTOP. “His position was that you can’t re-create history and rename things like history never happened, but you should create a context for it.”

The Republican said changing names opens a dangerous door.

“Where does it end? Do you start now taking down George Washington’s Mount Vernon because he had slaves?” Albo asked. “People might say ‘That’s ridiculous.’ No; it’s not ridiculous. That is a logical conclusion to where this whole thing is heading.”

Alexandria is currently in the process of renaming Jefferson Davis Highway within its city limits because it has the power to do that unilaterally. The city is also taking Arlington’s input for consideration when picking its name.

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