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FairfaxTask force wants more Confederate names exorcised in Fairfax

Task force wants more Confederate names exorcised in Fairfax

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Fairfax County’s Confederate Names Task Force has recommended, despite internal disagreement and public opposition, that the county rename Lee Highway (Route 29) and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway (Route 50).

“Many of the task-force members agreed that the names Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Highway did not send an inclusive message to all members of the Fairfax community,” said the group’s chairman, Evelyn Spain, who presented the task force’s report to the Board of Supervisors Feb. 8.

The renaming initiative began in 2020 when supervisors directed the county’s History Commission to compile an inventory of Confederate–related street names, monuments and public places in the county. Supervisors in July 2021 created the Confederate Names Task Force to recommend whether those two routes should be renamed, and if so, suggest alternative names.

The 27-member task force met 11 times from August through December last year and did several surveys to obtain residents’ opinions regarding the proposed name changes. The group also held four in-person forums.


The task force voted 20-6 to change the name of Lee Highway and tallied a 19-5 vote (with one abstention) in favor of changing the name of Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway.

“At times, task-force members expressed strong emotions as they shared how the history of the Confederacy impacted their personal lives,” said Spain, who represents Sully District on the county’s Planning Commission.

“Some members of the task force felt changing the names of the highways would ‘erase history,’ said Spain, who did air quotes around the phrase, “since they were brought up honoring the Confederacy and the involvement of Virginia in the Civil War.”

Others thought changing the names would discount history, she said.

“However, in remembering the Confederacy, who lost the war, history has somehow discounted the race of people who were truly, truly erased,” Spain said.

When considering new names, the task force steered away from ones involving people because future generations might find “discrepancies” with them as well, Spain said.

The task force’s suggested new names for Lee Highway included Cardinal Highway, Route/Highway 29, Langston Boulevard/Highway, Lincoln-Douglass Highway and Fairfax Boulevard/Highway.

Possible different names for Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway included Little River Turnpike (same as in Arlington and Loudoun counties), Unity Highway, Route 50, Fairfax Boulevard and Blue & Gray Highway.

Residents, businesses and communities along those corridors would be affected by the name changes, and the task force recommended aiding them financially, Spain said. (The Vienna Town Council did that Feb. 7 by agreeing to pay $500 each to four households on Wade Hampton Drive, S.W., which Council members at that meeting chose to rename Liberty Lane, S.W.)

The task force’s report includes 27 pages of dissenting opinions. The potentially $1 million to $4 million needed to rename the two roads “would be more effectively spent pursuing a community engagement project (e.g. an African-American Heritage Trail, a museum, and/or new historic markers),” the dissenters wrote.

“It is a fact many citizens still regard Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as icons in American history for their military leadership and tactical successes,” they wrote. “Fairfax County cannot be an ‘inclusive’ society without acknowledging these opinions exists amongst its citizens, and respect the prevailing public opinion.”

Lee’s example after the Civil War helped reunify the nation, they wrote.
“Many Southerners wanted to continue to fight a [guerilla] war for years, but he refused, and many followed his example to return to the Union,” the dissenters wrote. “After the war, Lee also used his influence to encourage peace between the races, expelling white students from Washington College for harassing African-American citizens in Lexington.”

The task force last fall received more than 23,000 survey responses from the public. Fifty-eight percent of respondents recommended against changing the roadways’ names and overwhelmingly favored Routes 29 and 50 as their prime choices if the roads were to be renamed.

Spain in the report’s cover page called that survey “unscientific” because the number of respondents equaled about 2 percent of the county’s population.

“I’m really glad this board doesn’t just make its decisions on polling, because polling leads to wrong results,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D).

The task force proved to be a “learning and growth opportunity” for those involved, he said.

“We, as a board, look at tough conversations as progress,” McKay said. “You don’t make progress in a community unless you can sit down civilly, have a tough conversation, share people’s life experiences and how they affect them in their day-to-day life and try to learn from those.”

The Fairfax County Department of Transportation will survey residents and businesses along those two highway corridors to learn of possible impacts of changing the roadways’ names, McKay said. The department will present those results at the board’s Transportation Committee meeting on June 14, he said.

Supervisor Penelope Gross (D-Mason) asked whether Little River Turnpike, which between the cities of Alexandria and Fairfax also is known as Route 236, could have that name on Route 50 as well.

Department of Transportation Director Tom Biesiadny said the roadway’s state route number would not change, regardless of what other name supervisors might give it. The U.S. Postal Service does not recognize mailing addresses listed as route numbers, McKay added.

Renaming the roads would be expensive, said Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield).

“Changing a road name is harder and more impactful than removing statues,” Herrity said.

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