The Jefferson Davis Highway in Alexandria should be renamed and the Confederate memorial statue in Old Town should stay, a group convened to address vestiges of the Civil War is recommending to the City Council.
The recommendations in a report released Thursday come almost a year after Alexandria officials began grappling with how the suburb honors its legacy of fighting in a war that would have kept African Americans enslaved.
City Council members considered the matter in September, setting up a task force of community leaders to examine Confederate memorials and street names by studying history and gathering comments from the public.
Their final report proposes a partial scrubbing of vestiges to the South’s lost cause: changing the name of a local stretch of the highway honoring the president of the Confederacy, adding more historic context to the Appomattox memorial statue and taking the local streets named after Confederate generals on a case-by-case basis.
“The war was and is an important thread in our ongoing local and national history, and we must understand it through treating it in the entirety of our national story,” the report says.
“This, in turn, requires we preserve the few authentic assets we have, yet amplify the complete story better than we have.”
The two African Americans in the group have said the recommendations should have gone further in clamping down on Confederate symbols. LaDonna Sanders, the president of the Alexandria branch of the NAACP, and Eugene Thompson, the first director of the city’s black history museum, dissented from the report’s recommendations.
The committee was most divided on changing the name of streets honoring Confederate generals and fighters. In 1953, the City Council set a policy of naming north-south streets in the newly annexed West End after Confederate leaders.
At least 30 street names in Alexandria honor Southern war figures, while another 30 may have Confederate-related names, but their historical origins are murky. The report says a wholesale change to street names, which would cost more than $200,000, is impractical.
“There’s value in those names even if they are currently offensive to people because it allows people to have that conversation,” task force member Molly Fannon said at a June meeting.
“If I could wave my hand and get rid of all these streets, I would,” Thompson said at the June meeting. “But it’s not going to happen from City Council, so I’ll take what I can get.”
The City Council in September had already agreed to stop flying the Confederate flag on public property. It will consider the group’s latest recommendations next month.
The report says that removing the Appomattox statue in Old Town honoring fallen Southern soldiers poses practical challenges including securing permission from state lawmakers, while changing the highway’s name would be easier.
The state of Virginia designated U.S. 1 within the state after the former Confederate leader, but several portions of the highway within Alexandria city limits are instead called Patrick and Henry streets, the report says.
In 1952, the Alexandria council changed the local stretch of road from River Road to Jefferson Davis Highway, which still appears on some addresses and on 20 street signs.
The report says there may be “significant costs” in changing the name for local businesses and residents, and urges the council to offer financial assistance to property owners to change deeds and legal documents. A price tag on those record changes isn’t available, but the city estimates spending $27,000 to replace the Jefferson Davis Highway street signs.
The local stretch of Jefferson Davis Highway extends into Arlington County, which would probably need approval from the legislature for a name change, Alexandria’s city attorney has said.
It probably wouldn’t get a welcome reception from the Republican-controlled General Assembly. State lawmakers had passed a bill earlier this year to prohibit cities and counties from removing Civil War memorials and monuments, but Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed the legislation.