Virginia House votes to turn ‘Jefferson Davis Highway’ into ‘Emancipation Highway’

The name “Jefferson Davis Highway” has recently been removed from U.S. 1 in parts of Northern Virginia, but it would disappear completely statewide if a bill that passed in the House of Delegates this week makes it all the way through the Virginia General Assembly.

The bill would impact all parts of U.S. 1 that are still labeled Jefferson Davis Highway, turning them into “Emancipation Highway,” referring to the 1863 order from President Abraham Lincoln stating that slaves in rebel states shall be “forever free.”

Most of U.S. Route 1 in Virginia was named for Jefferson Davis, who was president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865.

“Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederacy, a constant reminder of a white nationalist experiment and a racist Democrat,” said Del. Joshua Cole, D-Stafford. “Instead we can acknowledge the powerful act of the Emancipation Proclamation.”

The name change would not affect any stretch of U.S. 1 that has already been renamed.

Arlington and Prince William counties, as well as Alexandria, all changed the name in their jurisdictions to Richmond Highway in recent years.

It had already been called “Richmond Highway” in Fairfax County for decades.

The highway, which runs north to south in Virginia, is still named for Jefferson Davis in several areas, including parts of Stafford, Spotsylvania and Caroline counties.

“It has been long overdue in our Commonwealth’s history,” said Cole.

Local governments would be responsible for paying to add and replace signs, which would cost $102,000 in Stafford County, $94,000 in Spotsylvania County and $18,000 in Caroline County.

Chesterfield County would need to pay the most amount of money at $373,000 because “there are 17 overhead signs on Routes 288 and 150 at their respective U.S. 1 interchanges that bear the name Jefferson Davis,” according to the legislation.

All 55 Democrats in the House approved the bill along with 15 Republicans.

While Republican Del. Nick Freitas, who represents the Virginia counties of Madison and Orange and part of Culpeper, expressed concerns that state lawmakers may be overriding local governments, he said he “was inclined to support it.”

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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