Recently, my friend Dave, who hails from the capital of the Union (the District), was driving through the old Confederacy on Jefferson Davis Highway in Virginia, after having driven on Lee Highway in Rosslyn. He wondered if the Civil War actually was over. How can Virginia still honor people, he asked, who fought to secede from the United States? In his and my worlds, that meant they were traitors to their country.
Others before me certainly have found it beyond strange that the symbols of the Old South are allowed to perpetuate on Virginia byways, so I won’t rehash the history of how these roads came to be named for leaders, who, if successful in their cause, would have continued the evil system of slavery.
But it is way past time that we find new names for these highways.
It’s been suggested that Jefferson Davis Highway should be called the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Highway (for obvious reasons) or Freedman’s Village Highway, to honor a camp, established in South Arlington during the Civil War, where African Americans fled to escape slavery in the South.
Another idea is to just drop the Davis and call it Jefferson Highway in memory of the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. But Thomas Jefferson also was a slaveholder, so maybe that wouldn’t work either.
The Arlington County Board voted in 2011 to change the name of a segment of Old Jefferson Davis Highway to “Long Bridge Drive” after the board chairman said he had a “problem with ‘Jefferson Davis’ — there are aspects of our history I’m not particularly interested in celebrating.” Long Bridge was the old name for the 14th Street Bridge that symbolically and physically connects North and South, so maybe that’s what the whole highway in Virginia could be called. Hopefully, in these politically sensitive times, people in both regions would not find that offensive.
Then there’s Lee Highway, named for Southern commander Robert E. Lee. I could go for changing it to honor Francis Scott Key, who wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” and who already has the Key Bridge between Georgetown and Arlington named for him.
Of course, there’s a Key Highway in Baltimore, so the good residents of Charm City might object to Virginia taking the same road name. If so, call it Babe Ruth-Walter Johnson Highway, soon to be nicknamed the Babe-Walter Highway, in honor of two baseball icons: Ruth, who was born in Baltimore, and Johnson, a pitcher for the old Washington Senators.
Giving the highway a dual name strikes me as a better combination than the current Lee-Jackson Highway in parts of Virginia, where Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson gets his props.
But if Babe-Walter Highway also offends some people, with its both sexist and gender-bending overtones, I’d name it Abe Pollin Highway for the late owner of the Washington Wizards (née Bullets), whose many philanthropic deeds continue to help people across the community.