Virginia county votes to rename highways named after Confederate leaders

Associated Press/Dan Huff
This Monday, July 26, 2021 photo shows a sign for Lee Highway in Fairfax County, Va. The names of Confederate leaders are being stripped from schools and major highways throughout Virginia. But when it comes to the many side streets in the state that carry Confederate names, it’s a different story.

The board of supervisors in Virginia’s Fairfax County has voted to rename two highways named after Confederate leaders.

The county board voted 9-1 on Tuesday to recommend calling Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway in the Washington, D.C., suburbs by their federal highway numbers — Route 29 and Route 50, respectively.

Supervisor Pat Herrity, the group’s only Republican, voted against the measure. The decision now awaits final approval by the state transportation board.

“If approved by the [state board], this change will remove these divisive relics of the past, names that were assigned to these roads not to honor history or individuals but to celebrate parts of our history that have inflicted much pain on members of our community,” Board of Supervisors Chair Jeff McKay said in a statement. “In 2022 we expect better, more inclusive policies that more accurately reflect our diverse county.”

Herrity told The Hill that the public did not support the change, and he also had concerns about the plan’s cost amid high inflation.

“It is pretty clear from all the evidence that we have from the public feedback that our residents do not support this change,” said Herrity.

“The only voice we have for the change is a task force that based on the public impression of many who participated in the process — from the task force members themselves to survey participants and to those who otherwise submitted feedback was that the committee was formed with a pre-determined decision in place,” he continued. “That is my impression as well.”

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors first asked a county history commission in July 2020 to create an inventory of street names, monuments and public places named after Confederate figures.

In July 2021, the county board created a task force to review the two highway names. The task force in December recommended the board change the names of both roadways and consider providing financial assistance to those affected.

The board projected a cost of $1.4 million to replace 233 signs bearing the highway names.

County staff also projected they could need an additional roughly $1.5 million to help businesses and residential units that are located on the roadways and would need to change documents or signage.

But the staff members indicated they need additional time to develop such a program, saying they will return to the board with a formal proposal this fall.

The highway renaming suggestions are the latest moves by the county to change the names of public assets honoring Confederate leaders.

The county’s school board in 2020 voted to rename Robert E. Lee High School in honor of the late Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.).

The move comes as a congressionally-appointed naming commission makes recommendations to scrub the names of Confederate figures from the nation’s military bases, schools and other Department of Defense assets.

The commission has suggested the renaming of landmarks at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy that honor Lee and other Confederate officers. 

Earlier this year, the commission recommended the renaming of nine Army bases, and the group is expected to make additional renaming recommendations on other Defense Department assets by Oct. 1.

This story was updated at 2:39 p.m.

Tags Confederate leaders Confederate leaders Confederate naming Fairfax County John Lewis renaming Robert E. Lee Virginia

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