Correction: Earlier versions of this article inaccurately described a plaque that hangs from the outer wall of the Hotel Monaco in Old Town Alexandria. The plaque commemorates the death of the hotel owner at the hands of Union troops, but does not say that he was shot after he killed a Union soldier who had just removed a Confederate flag from the hotel roof. The original article also included inaccurate information about the name of the groups that paid for and installed the plaque. The article has been corrected.
The Alexandria City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to ban the flying of Confederate flags by the city and will form a citizens committee to study whether to rename streets named for Southern military leaders.
The action does not outlaw parades or forbid spectators to wave Rebel flags, council members said. And the waving of other nations’ flags by groups such as those that celebrate Irish or Scottish history will be allowed. But the era of city employees raising a Confederate flag on Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday and Confederate Memorial Day is over.
The presence of Confederate symbols in Alexandria extends far beyond the memorial statue to the Southern war dead that greets northbound travelers on Washington Street in Old Town.
Still unsettled is what will become of the name of U.S. 1, otherwise known as Jefferson Davis Highway. More than 33 streets and a public elementary school are named after Confederate military leaders. A plaque at a prominent Old Town corner presents a skewed account of a shooting at the start of the Civil War. In the council’s own chambers, a portrait of Lee hangs across the room from a portrait of George Washington.
Alexandria’s elected leaders were prodded into action by the shooting of nine worshipers in an African American church in Charleston, S.C., and that state’s subsequent decision to remove the Confederate flag from its capitol grounds. City officials agreed that now is the time to reconsider how Alexandria observes its history, which includes lynchings and slave trading as well as George Washington’s favorite tavern.
“While we’re a Southern town, this is a part of our history that should not be celebrated all these many years later,” Mayor William D. Euille (D) said in July.
But that leaves the matter of the other memorials and symbols.
In a memo to the council last month, City Manager Mark Jinks said the city has full authority over the flag raising and the chamber’s Lee portrait. But limiting flags to the U.S., Virginia and city ones means that Alexandria couldn’t fly the Irish and Red Cross flags, which it does for celebrations each March, he said.
The city’s Appomattox statue of the sad Confederate soldier cannot be removed without the authorization of the General Assembly, Jinks said.
While the General Assembly named Jefferson Davis Highway in 1922, the stretch of the road in Alexandria was called River Road until the council changed it in 1952. The city attorney believes the council has the power under its charter to change the highway’s name again, but neighboring Arlington County does not have charter authority, so it would have to get approval from the legislature.
“It would be logical to jointly decide on the same new name for that stretch of Jefferson Davis Highway,” Jinks wrote.
The 1953 City Council renamed and renumbered many streets west of Old Town when it annexed what is now known as the West End. At the time, it established the protocol of naming north-south streets after Confederate military leaders, such as Gen. G.T. Beauregard, spy Frank Hume, Maj. Eli Hamilton Janney, Gen. Jubal Early and many more. In addition to the 33 streets known to be named after Southern military men, another 30 streets may have Confederate-related names, but historical documentation is lacking.
The name of Maury Elementary School, honoring Matthew Fontaine Maury, who was responsible for Southern seacoast defenses, resides with the city’s school board.
The Lee Center, which houses the city’s fire training center and a number of administrative offices, is on the site of the former Robert E. Lee Elementary School, which closed in 1978. But it is connected to the Nannie J. Lee Recreation Center, which is named for a notable African American teacher and the city staff can’t determine which Lee was being honored by the center’s name.
Finally, the plaque attached to the outer wall of what is now Hotel Monaco, on the corner of King and Pitt streets, commemorates the 1861 death of the owner of what was then the Marshall House hotel. The hotel owner was shot by Union troops, after he shot a Union officer who had just removed a giant Confederate flag that was flying from the hotel roof. The plaque does not mention the Union officer’s death.
The plaque was paid for and installed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, according to a spokesman for the latter group.
It is considered a memorial for war veterans, and cannot be removed without the consent of Virginia’s General Assembly.
The city previously announced plans to erect a more historically accurate report of what happened at the hotel, an effort that should be completed within the next six months and is part of a broader effort to create a series of “mini-kiosks” of history along King Street.