Editor: The other day, a friend informed me that a relative of his lived on a street in Northern Virginia, ridiculously close to my residence in Arlington, named for a late Supreme Court justice who figured prominently, my friend said, in the “single most odious judicial case in the history of the United States.”
The news that this ignoble justice had a street honoring him amazed and even shocked me, as it conjured up visions of 19th-century, pre-Civil War Virginia where slavery was legal.
I had to see for myself if this street actually exists. Even as a long-time resident, I still have a propensity to get totally lost when driving around in Northern Virginia, and despite having my directions in hand, I couldn’t find the street.
Finally, there it was, just down Interstate 395.
I had crossed over the Arlington line into a residential section of Alexandria, distinct from its famous Old Town where the tourists go.
Certainly nothing against the people living in this neighborhood that has a tranquil feel of single-family houses, townhomes and apartments, a public park, recreation center, and kids attending an elementary school on the street that just happens to be called Taney Avenue in honor of Roger Taney, the fifth U.S. Supreme Court chief justice who wrote the Dred Scott decision of 1857.
Other locales in the U.S. also dishonor themselves by having a street for Taney – for example, in Philadelphia, where residents in that city launched a petition drive saying a name change is needed, with the mayor and City Council members reportedly backing the move. Frederick, Md., also has a street called Taney Avenue, along with the Roger Brooke Taney House, an historic site in the same city where Taney was buried after he died in 1864.
I’m glad that Arlington is part of the national movement to change the names of streets that dishonor the country’s history.As praiseworthy as that is, I don’t think it goes far enough. I’m someone who believes that naming streets after famous Americans is too divisive. So to create more unity, I favor innocuous street names like Apple Road, Orange Lane, Blueberry Drive, etc. – even if we might have those who object to apples, oranges and blueberries.
But if we’re going to change the name of Taney Avenue for important historical Americans, I propose calling it Ona Judge Avenue, in honor of the woman who escaped slavery from George Washington’s Mt. Vernon plantation in Virginia and was never captured when Washington sent men to retrieve her.
Or we could name it for Virginia-born Dorothy Height, an African-American civil-rights and women’s-rights activist who focused on the issues of unemployment, illiteracy and voter awareness, and was a former president of the National Council of Negro Women.
That would be what I call justice to compensate in part for the infinite injustice of the Dred Scott decision of long ago.
Eric Green, Arlington