Jefferson Davis Highway name changed in Arlington

Jefferson Davis Highway will be no more in Arlington County. Virginia.

The Commonwealth Transportation Board voted Wednesday to change the official name of U.S. Route 1 through Arlington County to Richmond Highway this fall.

“Jefferson Davis had no known connection to this region …. and the very designation…was a direct and antagonistic response to the proposed Lincoln Highway,” Arlington County Board Chair Christian Dorsey said.

It symbolized white supremacy in a Jim Crow south, Dorsey said.

Dorsey emphasized that Arlington has pressed for the change for years — even before the 2017 attack in Charlottesville – and that the road will now have the same name from Fort Belvoir to the Potomac.

The Arlington County Board requested this name change vote last month after a new opinion from Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring concluded the Commonwealth Transportation Board had the power to rename the road after a law change in 2012, even though the name was originally designated by the Virginia General Assembly nearly a century ago.

Del. Mark Levine says he has been waiting for this change to the “offensive” name for a long time, that he says was chosen only to honor the Confederate cause.

“We all call it Route 1 because we don’t want to call it by its real name,” Levine said.

“This road is not historical … it comes from 1922,” he said. “It was done specifically to terrorize the black population.”

Levine worked with Herring to secure the legal opinion that paved the way for Wednesday’s vote.

Gov. Ralph Northam, who, like Herring has faced backlash over an admission of once wearing blackface, wrote a letter to the board Tuesday endorsing the change and the board’s authority to make it.

“While it is necessary for us to honestly discuss and interpret Virginia’s history, I feel strongly that commemorating the president of the Confederacy through the name of a major thoroughfare is not appropriate,” Northam wrote.

Northam has been engulfed in scandal since a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page came to light.

Members of the board are appointed by Virginia’s governor on staggered terms.

“Together, I know we can move forward a swift resolution of this issue in a manner that best honors and reflects the history of all Virginians,” Northam wrote.

Arlington County expects to pay about $17,000 for new street signs. The official name change is effective in October.

The Arlington Chamber of Commerce supports the change and believes it could help businesses who have at times reported people going elsewhere due to the name. The Crystal City BID also supports the change as “good for business” and people who live in the area.

According to the BID, even the hotel where the meeting was being held had lost a conference booking because the organization did not want to hold a meeting at a location with an address named for the Confederate leader.

Businesses and residents on U.S. Route 1 will be able to continue using Jefferson Davis Highway as their mailing address if they choose for now, but the street signs will be changed to reflect the Richmond Highway name also used in Fairfax County.

Alexandria already made the change on its own recently, since Alexandria has more power over its roads as a city rather than a county.

WTOP’s Max Smith reported from the Commonwealth Transportation Board meeting in Crystal City, Virginia. 

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