UPDATE: This article has been corrected to indicate that the 26,552 names reviewed by the History Commission constituted the overall total in Fairfax County and were not all Confederacy-associated names. County staff reviewed 649 Confederacy-related names and focused on a final tally of 157.
Fairfax County officials continue to examine prospects for renaming roadways, parks or facilities with Confederate-associated names, but will not advance such initiatives without a public process, officials said late last year.
Fairfax County Public Schools in recent years has renamed two high schools that had been named after Confederate generals and the Board of Supervisors last year ordered the removal of an obelisk and historical marker in Fairfax commemorating the 1861 death of a soldier who served in what would become the Confederacy.
During discussions last June about the removal of those last items, supervisors directed the Fairfax County History Commission to compile an inventory of streets, monuments and public places in the county that had names linked to the Confederacy.
The commission also researched the legal and financial implications of renamings and sought input from community groups.
During a follow-up meeting last July, Supervisors Dalia Palchik (D-Providence) and Walter Alcorn (D-Hunter Mill) asked the commission to examine such items within towns in the county (including privately owned spaces), focus on well-known Confederate officers, and describe how historical markers depict the county’s history.
At last December’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ Land-Use Policy Committee, supervisors admired the commission’s final 539-page report, which began by reviewing 26,552 named assets in the county, including streets, places, subdivisions, shopping centers and streams.
The Confederate Names Committee provided county staff with a list of 649 total last names, nicknames and other Confederate-related terms for comparison with the named assets above.
Many names on the list were of families established in the county before the Civil War and had members who fought for the Confederacy, said History Commission chairman Anne Stuntz. Such names often were attached to roads, mills, stream fords, farms, railroad stations and small communities, she said.
The commission’s inventory listed 157 county resources with confirmed Confederate-associated names, including nine in Dranesville District, four in Hunter Mill District, 44 in Providence District and none in Mount Vernon District. The report also listed 14 Confederate-named parks and nearly 100 Civil War-related historical markers.
“The county really was a crossroads of war,” Stuntz said.
The commission recommended that supervisors hold community meetings to engage the public in an open dialogue regarding potential renamings, then have a deliberation period before reaching any final decisions.
The voluminous research conducted for the inventory also should be archived at the Virginia Room of the City of Fairfax Regional Library, said Barbara Naef, who chaired the commission’s Confederate Names Inventory Committee.
The History Commission’s 2021 initiative will be to develop research materials on the county’s African-American communities, including publications, documents, oral histories and other materials, Naef said. The effort also will include collaboration with black groups, churches, and social and community organizations, she said.
County officials also have been examining renaming initiatives and related efforts in the cities of Alexandria and Fairfax, said Denice Dressel, senior heritage resources planner with the county’s Department of Planning and Development.
The Alexandria City Council in recent years has renamed Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1) within the city as Richmond Highway, prohibited the flying of the Confederate flag on city property during Robert E. Lee’s birthday (Jan. 19) and Confederate Memorial Day (May 31), and worked with the United Daughters of the Confederacy to remove the group’s Appomattox statue, Dressel said.
City of Fairfax officials have been inventorying monuments, markers and memorials to ensure they represent a “broad, interpretive focus, including African-Americans’ experience,” Dressel said. The city also is working with George Mason University’s Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution to hold community discussions on race and equity, she said.
Fairfax County supervisors expressed an interest in possibly renaming Lee Jackson Memorial Highway and Lee Highway within the county. Because those are primary roadways administered by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB), supervisors would have to obtain public input first, then petition CTB about renaming the highways, said Tom Biesiadny, the county’s transportation director.
Supervisors would have to agree to cover all associated renaming costs and list proposed new names for the roads, he said.
The county already has a process whereby 51% of residents on a street can sign and submit a petition requesting a Board of Supervisors hearing to rename the street, said Paul Fernandez of the county’s Land Development Services division. That process usually takes a month or two, he said.
Alcorn expressed satisfaction with the renaming initiative’s early results.
“I think we’re definitely moving down this path, not to in any way erase history, but actually to bring it alive, to make it meaningful for folks in our community and, where appropriate, to think about where we do want to glorify something or someone and perhaps not a Confederate leader,” he said.
Supervisor Patrick Herrity (R-Springfield) urged the county to use a bottom-up approach, with much community input, before renaming things.
“I would encourage us not to rush into anything,” Herrity said.
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