Mia Heller believes that we can learn about American history without commemorating actors such as Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee and Confederate battalion commander John S. Mosby by naming our roads after them.
“These people are on the wrong side of history…and we shouldn't be memorializing them,” Heller told FauquierNow.
Last month, Heller, 14, a rising freshman at Kettle Run high school, started a petition requesting that Fauquier County rename Lee and John S. Mosby highways. Lee Highway is U.S. 29, and Mosby Highway is U.S. 50. She argues that naming roadways and erecting statues of historical figures, including Mosby and Lee, were an attempt to “protect the honor of the southern states” and make the Confederacy “seem better than it truly was.”
“And we're trying to memorialize them,” Heller said. “I know that a lot of people from here, they're great, great grandparents maybe fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy. And I understand that that's why some people are hesitant to change the names. But ultimately, they were on the wrong side of history.”
It all started a few years ago when Heller said she was researching the Civil War outside of school. She had learned about the war as early as fourth grade while attending Greenville Elementary School. But it wasn’t until several years later that she began doing her own research at home and learning about the actions of people like Mosby and Lee -- actions she didn’t read about in the textbooks.
“It's like viewing the Confederacy through rose-tinted lenses,” she said.
Heller said that after reading more about the Confederacy online, she realized the importance of changing the names of roadways.
“And when you're in fourth grade, you don't really realize because you're not looking at the road names that much,” she said. “But when you get older, you're like, that's really not the right thing to have here.”
Knowing the war’s history, Heller said it surprised her that people were not only complacent with the names of both highways, but were also trying to protect the names from being changed.
However, seeing changes in other localities -- such as the city of Richmond removing Confederate monuments or Loudoun and Arlington counties changing the names of Route 50 and U.S. 29 -- inspired her to start her own movement.
She began going door to door, asking her neighbors to sign a petition to rename both Lee and John Mosby highways in Fauquier.
Most people, Heller said, were indifferent. But she noted many were excited about the petition, and a few were hesitant.
“I've only had three or four people who've… debated with me with their side being that we shouldn't do this,” Heller said. “They say we would be erasing history if we didn't have these names here. That's a big one. And another big one is…that we would forget if we didn't have the road names.”
Heller said she usually responds to these arguments by asking people to look at other countries, such as Germany, that also have bad actors who are part of a nation’s history.
“Germany doesn’t have the names of Nazis as their roads ... They don't glorify it.”
As of Aug. 2, Heller’s petition on Change.org has 145 signatures. But Heller said she wants to wait until she accumulates at least 500 signatures before she brings the issue to the Fauquier Board of Supervisors and state legislators.
According to Chapter 5 of the Fauquier County Code of Ordinances, with the exception of private streets, “changes to official street names shall only be granted by the Board of Supervisors.”
Heller must submit her petition to the Department of Community Development. After its submission the board must consider the petition at its “first regularly scheduled public hearing of the calendar year.”
Heller said she is aware that changing the names of the roadways may not be popular, but she noted she doesn’t believe the issue should be partisan.
“A lot of people view racism…as a political issue, but to me, it's not right or left, it's not blue or red, it's none of that,” Heller said. “It's just something we all should be coming together as a whole, and just saying this isn't right.”