Push to rename roads honoring Confederate generals in Fairfax Co. moves ahead

The drive to rename a pair of Fairfax County’s busiest roads, Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway in Virginia, continues.

It isn’t clear though what they could be renamed, after a Confederate Names Task Force voted overwhelmingly to change the current monikers associated with stretches of U.S. Route 29 and U.S. Route 50. Some names will be suggested at the next meeting later this month.

Members of the task force who voted to keep the name pointed out that a slight majority of the tens of thousands of respondents preferred to keep the name.

“I think it’s fundamentally dishonest of us to ignore or overlook that feeling,” argued Robert Floyd, who also cited the recent gubernatorial election and the issue of history and how it’s taught as a reason to move cautiously with any changes.

Others argued on the task force that the response rate hardly suggests an accurate or scientific representation of how county residents as a whole feel, and that while the response rate overall was higher than usual, it was still statistically insignificant.

More than one who voted in favor of the change also argued that changing the names amounted to “erasing history.” That charge didn’t sit well with others on the committee.

“I personally struggle with ‘erasing history,'” noted Pastor Paul Sheppard. “We need to stop using that terminology. It’s a cop out. It’s not erasing history. We embrace history. If we’re going to move forward let’s eradicate that term ‘erasing history.’ It’s not true. Personally, we are erasing stupidity. And injustice. And immorality. That’s what we’re erasing. So if we’re going to say it, let’s get it right.”

Ed Henderson took it one step further, noting other countries have figured out how to acknowledge their history, without honoring the aspects that don’t deserve it.

“In Germany,” noted Henderson, “they have a history of Hitler. But they have an Autobahn Highway, not a Hitler Highway. They don’t want to remind people, have a visual reminder, of that history. And to me there’s a lot of parallel, because slavery in this country, and those who fought to perpetuate slavery, are not deserving of the honor of a visual reminder. You can go find them in a book. Find them in a museum. But not on the highway.”

Ultimately, the task force voted 20-6 in favor of changing the name of Lee Highway, and 19-6 to change the name of Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway, with one member there abstaining.

Later this month the task force will meet again, this time to come up with a list of new names for the Board of Supervisors to consider. How to approach that also generated significant discussion — including whether the committee should shy away from naming the roads after anyone at all.

They’re set to meet again on Dec. 13, with a goal of discussing some new names that the Board of Supervisors can consider.

Ultimately, the county’s Board of Supervisors will make the decision on whether or not to change the names and what the new names would be. The Commonwealth Transportation Board will then have final approval.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up