To the editor:
A subtle turn of phrase in the letter “Keep Fitzgerald’s name on waterfront park” in the Nov. 8 Alexandria Times illustrates the underlying issue with naming the park at the foot of King Street. The writers observe, “Fitzgerald … filled in land to establish the current Alexandria waterfront,” when many of the slaves listed in the facing letter, “John Fitzgerald did own slaves,” were probably the ones who filled in land to establish the current Alexandria waterfront.
Fitzgerald may have advocated for filling in the land on which the warehouse from which he profited would ultimately stand, and may or may not have turned the ceremonial first shovel, but it was more than likely his and others’ slaves, in the blazing sun and bitter cold, actually wielded the shovels and died in the accidents attendant on filling in land to establish the current Alexandria Waterfront.
Fitzgerald’s lifetime was in the age of Alexandria’s founders and so Founders’ Park would be a suitable venue to erect a memorial or statue to him. But just as we should be loath to repudiate what previous generations bequeathed by, for example, taking down statues that have stood for a century, we should understand there is a difference between that and today naming a new park for a major slaveholder because what we honor today reflects on us, not previous generations.
Were we to name the waterfront park for a major slaveholder, the recriminations would continue to roil the contemporary polity; today’s elected officials would have to answer over and over for such a vote to an electorate which does not consider such a name to reflect their sentiments, with such a naming decision subject to endless reconsideration.
Instead, we should name the waterfront park after Alexandria’s first woman mayor, Patsy Ticer, which would be appropriate not only for the #MeToo movement but also the record numbers of women being elected to federal and local office. And naming the park for Patsy, one of the controversial waterfront plan’s most prominent opponents, would help close the wounds the waterfront plan controversy opened and which have persisted in today’s divisive local politics, different from but no less bitter than those nationally.
-Dino Drudi, Alexandria