Plan to Rename Stretch of Lee Highway Angers Some
By Peter Whoriskey
Sunday, June 20, 2004; Page C04
Like many places in Virginia, Fairfax City makes many gestures to its Confederate past.
The high school team is known as the Rebels, and the road running by it is called Rebel Run. Two of the city's biggest roads -- Lee Highway and Old Lee Highway -- are named for Gen. Robert E. Lee. Five years ago, the city purchased the historic Blenheim house to create a Civil War house museum.
"I can't imagine another city more entrenched and more proud and that does more to promote its history in the Civil War," Mayor Robert F. Lederer said recently.
But the City Council's unanimous decision last month to change the name of Lee Highway as it passes through the city is provoking outcries from some defenders of the region's Confederate heritage.
The city says it wants to create a "distinct marketing identity" for the stretch of Lee Highway that coincides with Route 50 in the city by renaming it Fairfax Boulevard.
But Mike Goodloe, a leader in a local Sons of Confederate Veterans group, said that the move represents "a callous disregard" for Lee's memory and that his group will try to block the name change.
"The name of Lee is probably more revered in this state than any other except George Washington," Goodloe said. "To me, it's practically inconceivable that we would just throw his name away and the memory of the man in the process."
"People coming to the South expect to see Confederate things," said Mike Shumaker, another member of the group, which meets monthly at an American Legion post in the city. "It would be like going to France and not finding any French restaurants."
Lederer says he has received about 200 e-mails from across the country on the issue.
Opponents of the measure have contacted the office of state Sen. Jeannemarie A. Devolites (R-Fairfax). Her legislative aide, Taylor Gebert, said last week that it appears that under state code, the city does not have the authority to rename the roadway.
But, he said, "it's a question."
Lederer said city attorneys have advised him that the city does have the authority.
The idea of renaming Lee Highway, one of the city's main roads, emerged as part of an economic development effort aimed at reviving businesses along it.
At a council hearing last month, some people said the imposition of another name would make giving directions more difficult, while others said it would make navigation easier. Other Virginia cities have their own names for state roads.
"If you say 'Broad Street,' you know you're in Falls Church," said council member Patrice M. Winter. "Say 'Maple Avenue' and you know you're in Vienna. We want to move this project forward."
But most heartfelt concerns seemed to arise from the issue of Confederate heritage.
Business people weighed in on both sides of the renaming issue.
"Having ancestors who rode with both General Mosby and General Stuart, I think [the name] should be left alone," said Charles Stringfellow of Vienna.
Terry Simmons, on the other hand, said some people believe a name change would be "fresh" and "different."
"I see this name change as not being any disrespect to General Lee at all," she said, noting that she is a native Virginian. "If you want a statue somewhere, put a statue somewhere, or a placard."
© 2004 The Washington Post Company