To the editor:
In 2016, the Ad Hoc Advisory Group on Confederate Memorials and Street Names recommended, and City Council concurred with, renaming portions of Route 1 and allowing the typical city renaming process – requiring three-quarters of street residents to petition for a change – for all other streets potentially named for Confederates.
In 2021, city hall temporarily reduced the signature requirement to only one-quarter for one year, implicitly requiring a kind of supermajority to keep these street names, but the time period elapsed without any such successful renaming petition being filed.
Ignoring these precedents, which presumably he had supported, Mayor Justin Wilson on Jan. 10 proposed a scheme whereby three such streets would be renamed each year, notwithstanding their residents’ objections. The proposal would reverse City Council’s earlier decision.
The mayor’s proposal should be viewed as political rhetoric rather than history because history weighs the full range of facts and interpretations, whereas the mayor’s proposal presents selectively skewed assertions about the historic figures for whom three streets are now named. Wilson would task the Office of Historic Alexandria with renaming recommendations, but the Office of Historic Alexandria staff points out the following countervailing factors would risk their jobs, given that the mayor has told them up front what the facts are.
The facts Wilson omitted are:
• Quantrell Avenue: Far from “executing nearly 200 men and boys” during William Quantrill’s raid on Lawrence, Kansas, typically they were Jayhawkers – a Union-allied guerrilla group which had committed similar actions in nearby Missouri.
• Forrest Street, whose name easily could be adjusted by dropping an “r”: Former Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest, as the Ku Klux Klan’s first “Grand Wizard,” after only a year faced with an ungovernable membership employing methods of which he disapproved ordered the Klan dissolved and their costumes destroyed. Forrest withdrew from participation, but few Klansmen complied.
• Taney Avenue: Taney’s “Dred Scott” decision’s reasoning persuaded Lincoln and other abolitionists that constitutional amendments were needed to expand civil rights to Blacks. Taney remained loyal to the Union until his death and, therefore, could not be considered a Confederate, even if his strict adherence to the Constitution frustrated Lincoln.
City hall’s handling of this topic is a case study in bad faith where decisions are made before the public hearing and where facts are not fairly weighed, but cherry picked to support a politically predetermined outcome.
-Dino Drudi, Alexandria