Northern Virginia Communities Remove Jefferson Davis Name from Highway

Sep 4, 2019

The name Jefferson Davis is slowly being removed from public highways. But the civil war of old names remains an open conflict.

Back in the 1920s, the United Daughters of the Confederacy organized what they called the Jefferson Davis Highway project, and effort to create a transcontinental road parallel to the Lincoln Highway up north. Flash forward almost 100 years, and now Alexandria and Arlington have both removed Jefferson Davis Highway from street signs and business cards.

Jefferson Davis in 1855
Credit Brady-Handy photograph collection, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington says don’t expect other local governments to follow suit anytime soon. “Like the Confederate Army itself," Farnsworth says, "the name Jefferson Davis Highway is resistant to yielding the further south you go from D.C.”

The Alexandria City Council ditched the name last year. This week, Arlington was finally able to abandon the name after getting the Commonwealth Transportation Board involved.

But Quentin Kidd at Christopher Newport University says other parts of Virginia have a political culture that is less inclined to discard history.  “Many people in Caroline County, many people in the Northern Neck have generations of family in those areas, and so that’s their history and they are less inclined to want to change that history or toss that history out.”

Opponents of Confederate names say they will continue their fight to remove Jefferson Davis Highway, even if they have to go through every City Council and Board of Supervisors up and down Route One to do it.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.