Politics

01.15.14

Virginia Town Decides that, Maybe, Honoring Traitors Isn't a Great Idea

In Alexandria, there is a new push to not name streets after Confederate military leaders. Really.

Yesterday, in the Northern Virginia city of Alexandria, City Councilman Justin Wilson introduced legislation that would to repeal a law requiring that any new “streets running in a generally north-south direction shall, insofar as possible, bear the names of confederate military leaders.”

That’s right. This year, in 2014, a Southern city is just beginning to end the requirement to name streets after men who betrayed their country and fought a bloody war to preserve slavery. Here’s more:

Wilson said that symbolically, he believes it’s a good thing to strip from the code a provision that in some ways glorifies the Confederacy. But he made clear he is not proposing that the city change existing street names, some of which honor Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Supreme Court Justice Roger Taney, whose Dred Scott decision denied citizenship and constitutional protections to blacks before the Civil War.

“I think we struggle in the city with our history,” Wilson said. […]

On historic Duke Street in Old Town, the building that was once home to the nation’s largest domestic slave trading company is now home to the Northern Virginia Urban League, which operates the Freedom House Museum there to tell the story of the slave trade.

Status quo bias guarantees that some, long-standing Alexandria citizens will speak out against the proposed change in the name of an exclusionary Southern “heritage.”

But this law was passed in 1963——the tail end of massive resistance in Virginia, where towns and cities rebelled against desegregation by closing schools, holding protests, and passing symbolic laws like this one. “Heritage,” in other words, has nothing to do with it.

Indeed, you can say the same for a wide swath of Confederate remembrance, including the popular “battle” flag, which emerged from disuse in the 1940s and 50s, as white southerners raised it in defiance of integration—a standard for those committed to the defense of public spaces from black Americans. To wit, it’s during this period that the Confederate flag made its way onto the Georgia state flag, where it remained until 2001.

In any case, it’s good that Alexandria is working to rid itself of Confederate nostalgia. Let’s just hope that other Virginia cities, like Richmond, can do the same.