To the editor:
In 1953, the Alexandria City Council renamed more than 30 streets for Confederate military leaders after it annexed a portion of Fairfax County.
At the time, Virginia was a segregated state with segregated public schools, facilities and transportation. It is obvious that the renaming of these streets for Confederate military leaders was not because of their military achievements. Rather it was a deliberate racist response to send a message to the civil rights movement that was starting to gain traction.
Some argue that renaming streets, schools and military bases currently named for Confederates is erasing history. That’s absurd. It doesn’t erase the thousands of books written about the Confederacy and Civil War. But it does help to erase something else – systemic racism.
I commend the Alexandria City Council for changing the name of Jefferson Davis Highway to Richmond Highway. But more Alexandria streets should be renamed, starting with Pickett Street.
Confederate Brig. Gen. George Pickett is no military hero. He is best known for the bloodbath that was “Pickett’s Charge” at the Battle of Gettysburg. Pickett’s brigades sustained heavy losses during the assault. More than half of his troops were killed, wounded or captured, including his three brigade commanders and all 13 regimental commanders. Pickett survived because he positioned himself well to the rear of his troops.
After Gettysburg, Pickett commanded Confederate troops in North Carolina. Following a Confederate defeat at the Battle of New Bern, North Carolina, Pickett ordered the execution by hanging of 22 captured Union soldiers who were from North Carolina, but had joined the Union Army instead of the Confederate Army.
Following the Civil War, Pickett fled to Canada fearing that he would be tried as a war criminal. He returned to the United States one year later after being promised by General Ulysses S. Grant that he would not be prosecuted.
Why does Alexandria have a street named for this Confederate military leader and war criminal?
I propose that Pickett Street be renamed Loving Way, in honor of Mildred Loving, a black and indigenous woman, and her white husband, Richard Loving.
In 1959, the couple was convicted of violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, which made it a crime for persons classified as “white” to marry persons classified as “colored.” They were sentenced to one year in jail, suspended on the condition that they leave the state and not return for at least 25 years. They moved to Washington, D.C.
In 1963, frustrated over not being able to travel together to visit family in Virginia, they filed a lawsuit that eventually reached the U. S. Supreme Court. In a landmark civil rights decision, “Loving v. Virginia – 1967,” the Supreme Court ruled that laws banning interracial marriage violated the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and struck down the Virginia law.
Loving Way. It has a nice sound to it and would be an appropriate replacement name for Pickett Street.
-John Johnson, Alexandria