The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Loudoun County renames John Mosby and Harry Byrd highways

An empty space in front of the Loudoun County courthouse in 2020 where a statue honoring a Confederate soldier stood before it was removed. (Mark Miller/The Washington Post)
Placeholder while article actions load

Loudoun County moved Tuesday night to rename two major highways that honored Virginia’s history as a Confederate state that later embraced segregationist policies.

The move is part of a broader reckoning over racism in the commonwealth that has also led to the removal of Confederate statues and monuments.

In an 8-to-0 vote, the county board agreed that John Mosby Highway (Route 50) and Harry Byrd Highway (Route 7) would revert to their original names before segregationists changed them during the mid- to late 20th century. Supervisor Tony Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) was absent from Tuesday’s meeting and did not vote.

The action means the portion of John Mosby Highway that is inside Loudoun will again be called Little River Turnpike, while Harry Byrd Highway will go back to Leesburg Pike. Both highways extend into neighboring counties, where their names will remain the same.

“The names of these roads were changed decades ago to honor people who should not be honored,” Supervisor Sylvia R. Glass (D-Broad Run), one of three African Americans on the board, said before the vote. “People who would not want me sitting here today.”

The move by the Democratic-controlled county board comes as Loudoun sits at the center of national tensions over racism and diversity — manifested in the heated battles at county school board meetings surrounding critical race theory, the academic framework for examining systemic racism that conservatives falsely say is part of the school curriculum in Virginia.

The highway name changes in Loudoun are also part of a larger effort in Northern Virginia to remove Confederate and segregationist names from highways, local streets, parks and buildings — sometimes replacing them with the names of historical Black figures.

In July, Arlington County’s board voted to rename the county’s portion of Lee Highway to Langston Boulevard, honoring abolitionist John M. Langston, Virginia’s first Black congressman.

In Fairfax County, a county board-appointed task force recently recommended that Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway be renamed, kicking off a public process to select new names before the board formally adopts the changes.

Loudoun’s name changes came after several months of discussion that included some resistance from business owners concerned about the cost of changing their addresses on company signs and stationery. Some residents also accused the board of wanting to erase Civil War history.

Harry Byrd Highway, previously Leesburg Pike, acquired its name during the late 1960s, a reaction to the civil rights movement.

John Mosby Highway, formerly Little River Turnpike, was renamed in 1982, the result of a push by a descendant of Mosby’s to have the former Confederate commander honored.

Phyllis J. Randall (D), the Loudoun County board chair, said it was “right and just” to return the highways to their original names.

Randall, who is also African American, said the county would work to ensure that business owners affected by the name change would not have to bear the cost of changing their address.

But, she said, “I join my colleagues in wondering: When the names were changed to Confederate names, was there this outcry about it?”

In an unrelated move Tuesday night, the Loudoun board also adopted an ordinance establishing the framework for collective bargaining negotiations between the county and unions representing about 2,400 county employees.

That framework allows for three bargaining units in those talks, representing fire and rescue workers, labor and trade employees, and general government employees. The ordinance, which passed on a 6-2 vote with Buffington absent, also called for hiring a labor relations administrator who would serve as an independent arbiter during disputes in contract negotiations.