Your Views: Battle over Lee Street

Your Views: Battle over Lee Street
Photo/Cody Mello-Klein

To the editor:

How fortunate we are to have vigilant citizens like Alex Sprague to awaken the oblivious among us to the historical implications of our city street names, like Lee Street. Sprague, who appears to have lived in Alexandria all of five years and does not live in Old Town, nevertheless professes to have “always loved this town.” He says his campaign to rename our streets is “only the beginning of a magnificent fight for equality and awareness.”

Sprague didn’t explain how renaming Lee Street would accomplish either of those things. His friend and fellow street name activist, Huayra Forster, proposes to rename Lee Street “Wanishi Street” in honor of the Piscataway and Lenape Tribes, the latter whose historical territory, according to Wikipedia, included Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York City, Long Island and the Lower Hudson Valley – but not Virginia.

Today, the Lenape people live in Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Ontario, Canada. It is unclear how renaming a street in Old Town Alexandria will help the Lenape people, who never lived here, achieve “equality.”

As for the fight for “awareness,” my wife and I lived on South Lee Street for 31 years. Of course we were aware of who the street was named after, but it was just our street and not a constant conscious reminder of our nation’s fraught racial history, the Civil War or Robert E. Lee’s role in it.

Erasing the name will do nothing to create the awareness Sprague presumably wishes to foster. Cancellation is not education. Decades from now, Wanishi Street would evoke no memory, much less understanding, of the nation’s long struggle to overcome its racial past.

-Edward A. Lenz, Alexandria