Not Just Monuments: Charlottesville Violence Prompts New Scrutiny of Confederate Names

Aug 18, 2017

A postcard view of the Lee Bridge
Credit Library of Virginia

The violence in Charlottesville is prompting people to take a new look at Confederate statues and memorials. What's more, they are taking a second look at the names of highways, schools and bridges.

Should a high school be named in part for a general who took up arms against the United States? Many parents in Arlington say no, and they are pressing the Arlington County School Board to change the name of Washington-Lee High School. School Board chairwoman Barbara Kanninen says the events of the last week are opening a new conversation. “It’s time to talk about the names of our schools and what they mean and why they matter," Kanninen said. "It is time to talk about the values these names reflect and the messages we are sending our children.”

There is also Jefferson Davis Highway. It runs up and down parts of U. S. Route One. Cities like Fredericksburg and Alexandria have the authority to change the name of highways there. In counties where the road is called Jefferson Davis Highway, places like  Chesterfield County and Arlington County, General Assembly action would be needed.

Frank Earnest with Sons of Confederate Veterans says Jefferson Davis is much more than the president of the Confederacy. “He also was the secretary of war for the United States. He was also a senator. He was also a colonel in the U.S. Army. He led the Mississippi Rifles in the Mexican War and was wounded in combat. Oh well we don’t want to know any of that.”

Route One has many names as it winds its way up and down the eastern side of the Commonwealth. In many places it’s know as Jefferson Davis Highway. It’s also called Richmond Highway and Boydton Plank Road. The crossing at the Appomattox River is the Martin Luther King Memorial Bridge and the crossing at the James River is the Robert E. Lee Memorial Bridge.