A task force of nearly 30 people has recommended renaming two highways in Fairfax County, following concerns that their invocation of the Confederacy runs counter to the county’s goal of creating an inclusive environment.
After months of meetings and debate, the Confederate Names Task Force voted 20-6 yesterday (Tuesday) in favor of a change for Lee Highway (also known as Route 29) and 19-6 for Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway (Route 50), with at-large member Tim Thompson abstaining.
The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and state’s Commonwealth Transportation Board would have to sign off on any name changes.
Some committee members argued that renaming the highways would “erase history.” Jenee Lindner, one of four Springfield District representatives, said doing so was wrong.
“If we’re going to move forward, let’s eradicate that term, ‘erasing history.’ It’s not true. Personally, we’re erasing stupidity and injustice and immorality,” Pastor Paul Sheppard from Providence District countered.
Dranesville District representative Barbara Glakas, a retired teacher from Fairfax County Public Schools, said if Confederate leaders had their way, the U.S. might look more like Europe, with fragmented countries, and slavery might have continued for much longer.
The task force’s votes diverged from the results of the public survey, where 23,500 respondents said they support keeping the names as they are, and 16,265 called for changing them.
“We can’t just ignore that opinion, whether you agree with it or not,” said Braddock District’s Robert Floyd, who voted against the recommendations and was one of a handful of people who tuned into the meeting remotely.
The survey was more designed to be a pulse check than as a poll that met scientific sampling standards and could be representative of the entire population. It had a mechanism to prevent people from taking it repeatedly, but it only blocked Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, meaning people could still participate multiple times, skewing results.
For respondents who wanted the highways to be renamed, many people proposed using Route 29 and Route 50, which are already used on maps.
Sully District committee member Marvin Powell said society renames things all the time and the county needs to think of the citizens of today and tomorrow.
The committee also discussed how families’ properties were taken by eminent domain for the roads in question. Sheppard said his family was affected and joked one road could have originally been named after his family.
The Board of Supervisors appointed the task force in July after the Fairfax County History Commission compiled an inventory of streets, monuments, and public places with names tied to the Confederacy. It found “approximately 157 assets, including parks, within the County that bear confirmed Confederate associated names,” the December 2020 report said.
Michael Champness, an at-large member of the Confederate Names Task Force, said before the votes that changing the two highway names sends an important message, but the county doesn’t necessarily need to rename all of those landmarks.
“We might be in a good position to maybe call a truce after this,” he said, before voting “yes” on each motion. “I think it’s very important to change these names because it’s important to be heard. It’s important for action to take place…but I don’t think we need to try and change every street name.”
The task force is scheduled to vote on Dec. 13 on alternative names to recommend to the Board of Supervisors, which could schedule a public hearing and act on the recommendations in early 2022.
For anyone who feels strongly about whether or not Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway should continue to bear those names, the time to share that opinion has arrived.
The Fairfax County Confederate Names Task Force launched a survey yesterday (Thursday), kicking off the community engagement phase of its review of whether to rename the highways.
Open until Nov. 12, the survey is available in English, Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Korean, and Vietnamese. Chinese and Urdu versions will be coming soon, and print copies will be available at county libraries and district supervisor offices starting next Wednesday (Oct. 20), according to the task force’s website.
According to the news release, the task force will send out a countywide mailer to all residents later this month encouraging them to weigh in on the issue, and four public meetings — three in person, one virtual — have been scheduled through early November:
- Thursday, Oct. 28: Providence Community Center, 3001 Vaden Drive, Fairfax, 7-8:30 p.m.
- Saturday, Oct. 30: Fairfax County Government Center, 12000 Government Center Parkway, 10-11:30 a.m.
- Monday, Nov. 1: via WebEx, 7-8:30 p.m.
- Thursday, Nov. 4: Sully District Governmental Center, 4900 Stonecroft Boulevard, Chantilly, 7-8:30 p.m.
Comments can also be sent to the task force by email, phone (703-877-5600), and regular mail (Fairfax County Department of Transportation, 4050 Legato Road, Suite 400, Fairfax, VA 22033).
“Symbols matter and we want our community to feel welcome and reflect our values,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “Community feedback is a key part of the renaming of Lee and Lee Jackson Memorial Highways process and will determine our next steps forward. There are multiple ways to offer feedback including a survey and community listening sessions. I encourage everyone who can to join the discussion.”
The Board of Supervisors appointed the 30-member task force in July after getting a report from the county’s history commission that identified more than 26,000 streets and other local landmarks bearing names associated with the Confederacy.
The Fairfax County History Commission narrowed its inventory down to 150 sites named after well-known Confederate figures, with Lee and Lee-Jackson highways among the most prominent.
The county’s portion of Route 29 spans 14.11 miles from Centreville to Falls Church and was named after Confederate general Robert E. Lee in 1919, according to the task force. Lee and fellow general Stonewall Jackson became the namesakes for the 8.43-mile stretch of Route 50 from Loudoun County to the City of Fairfax in 1922.
While those monikers have stuck for around a century now, nationwide efforts to remove names linked to the Confederacy or slavery from public places have gained momentum in recent years. Fairfax County Public Schools alone has renamed three buildings in the past four years.
Neighboring Arlington County renamed its section of Route 29 this past summer, replacing Lee’s name with that of abolitionist John M. Langston, Virginia’s first Congressional representative of color.
Expected to present a recommendation on whether to rename the roadways to the Board of Supervisors in December, the Confederate Names Task Force has been meeting on a regular basis since Aug. 16. The agenda for its upcoming meeting on Monday (Oct. 18) includes a staff briefing on the cost implications of a name change and a discussion of criteria for street names.
If the task force recommends changing the names, it will then offer up to five possible new names for each road, and after holding a public hearing, the Board of Supervisors will vote on the recommendation, potentially early next year. The name changes would then have to get state approval and go through the county budget process to cover the costs.