Inflammatory highway name retired in favor of a somewhat prosaic replacement

photoPhoto via Wikimedia

Arlington no longer has a Jefferson Davis Highway. The Commonwealth Transportation Board this week voted to officially scrap the name and change it to Richmond Highway. Many advocates had pressed for something a bit more inspirational — like Lincoln Highway. But proponents of the change said they were happy with the Richmond moniker.

The Arlington County Board had tried to have the name changed for years, saying it symbolized white supremacy and was “offensive” to minorities and those whose sympathies did not lie with the Confederacy. Also known as US-1, the route is maintained by the state and Arlington was thus not able to make the change unilaterally.

In fact, there was some question whether the state would be able to change the name. That concern was put to rest in March when Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion  stating that the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) had the legal authority to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway in Arlington County, provided that the Arlington County Board passed a resolution requesting such a change. Arlington did so and deed was done.

“Route One runs through the heart of my district, but its current name does not reflect the hearts of the people of Arlington and Alexandria I’m proud to represent. It’s 2019. The vast majority of Northern Virginians no longer wants to honor the Confederacy or Jefferson Davis,” said  Delegate Mark Levine (D-45th District).

At last word, there was no similar effort to rename the portions of US-50 through Fairfax County that are still known as the Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway, memorializing Gen. Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. JEB Stuart High School in Fairfax County recently became Justice High School but there remain numerous other schools, buildings, streets and highways named after Confederate figures.

Route One

The former Jefferson Davis Highway, known by locals as “Route One” (its designation in the US Highway System) enters Virginia in Arlington and passes through Alexandria and Fairfax down to Richmond and points further south. Although the Virginia General Assembly in 1922 designated the entirety of the highway as “Jefferson Davis Highway,” the road has at least 18 different local names as it wends its way from the District of Columbia to the North Carolina border.

Arlington would most likely rename the road “Richmond Highway,” the name long used in Fairfax County and the name which the City of Alexandria adopted just last year to replace “Jefferson Davis Highway.”

Jefferson Davis, the Mississippi Senator and slaveowner who became President of the Confederate States of America, had no significant ties to Northern Virginia. But the Virginia General Assembly’s 1922 law nevertheless praised Davis’s service to the Confederacy and issued the statewide designation in response to a request by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to build a Southern transcontinental highway in Davis’s honor. Davis was indicted for treason against the United States in 1865. He was pardoned in 1868 and never tried.



About the Author

Truman Lewis
A former reporter and bureau chief, Truman Lewis has covered presidential campaigns, state politics and stories ranging from organized crime to environmental and consumer protection.