jeff davis highway

Jefferson Davis Highway at the intersection with Mary Washington Boulevard. 

NEARLY 100 years ago, the General Assembly named Virginia’s portion of U.S. 1 in honor of Jefferson Davis, the failed Confederacy’s only president.

The naming came as part of the Lost Cause veneration that swept the South around the turn of the 20th century, with the United Daughters of the Confederacy leading the charge for the designation.

That was then. This is now. We repeat our call that it’s time to give the highway a uniform designation across Virginia. The divisive name of Jefferson Davis needs to be dropped.

The recent protests over systemic racism and police brutality have forced Richmond to confront its Confederate past.

Since protests began in late May after the horrific murder of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, nearly all of Richmond’s Confederate monuments are gone, toppled by protesters—including the Monument Avenue statue of Davis—or removed by the city.

Counties and cities across the state—and nation—are similarly taking down Confederate icons or eliminating these anachronistic names from such places as schools, buildings and parks.

Jefferson Davis Highway must top the list.

Over the past couple of years, Arlington, Fairfax County and Alexandria have renamed their stretches to Richmond Highway. From their perspective in Northern Virginia, it’s the road that leads to Richmond.

But why not have a unifying name that ties the commonwealth together?

In Richmond, where Davis briefly lived when he presided over the Confederacy nearly 160 years ago, City Council finally is pondering a new name.

City Councilwoman Reva Trammell offered a measure this past month that would designate the roadway as Richmond Highway. However, members of the council’s Land Use, Housing and Transportation Standing Committee said they wanted more input from residents before settling on the name.

But rather than create a patchwork of names across Virginia, U.S. 1 should carry one moniker that reflects the commonwealth of today. The General Assembly approved the appellation in 1922; why can’t it be changed during an upcoming session?

State and local officials, with public input, should work together on finding one name that unites, not divides—and that is not Jeff Davis.

—Richmond Times–Dispatch

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