Renaming explained: The process for renaming Confederate streets in Alexandria

Renaming explained: The process for renaming Confederate streets in Alexandria

By Caitlyn Meisner |

 The city has announced proposed name changes to six streets in Alexandria now named for Confederate leaders. Three are scheduled to be presented to City Council and voted on in December following a public hearing. 

Changing a street name involves many facets for both homeowners and the city. For instance, homeowners will need to update their address on everything from their driver’s license to Amazon to their checks, which will involve both money and time. There will be a cost to the city as well to replace street signs, redraw maps and retrain everyone from emergency responders to bus drivers. 

But what does this process look like, and how long does it take? Below is information on why certain streets were picked, the process for changing, the cost and comments from Alexandrians. 

Which streets are being considered soon? 

Streets currently up for consideration are North Breckenridge Place, North Frost Street, North and South Early Street, North and South Jordan Street, Jordan Court and Forrest Street. Here’s a list of the honoree for each street listed above: 

North Breckenridge: named for Brig. Gen. John Cabell Breckenridge, 

North Frost: named for Brig. Gen. Daniel Marsh Frost, 

North and South Early: named for Brig. Gen. Jubal A. Early, 

North and South Jordan, Jordan Court: named for Brig. Gen. Thomas Jordan, 

Forrest: named for Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, Gen., or Navy Commander French Forrest. 

All except Forrest Street were named in 1953 after an ordinance was passed, which forced all north-south streets in the western portion of the city to be named for Confederate leaders. 

What are the proposed new names? 

North Breckenridge, North Frost and North and South Early have four potential figures under consideration. All are Black and have Alexandria or regional ties. 

Benjamin Banneker, 1731-1806, was a free African American surveyor who helped draw the original survey of Washington, D.C. Sarah Gray, 1847-1893, was principal of Hallowell School for Girls, a school for African Americans. Harriet Jacobs, 1815-1897, was an abolitionist and established the first free school for African American children in Alexandria. Ona Judge, 1773- 1848, was an enslaved woman by the Washington family and is known for her 1796 escape to New Hampshire. 

North and South Jordan Street and Jordan Court is proposed to be renamed Hughes Street after the Hughes family. They lived in Foxchase while enslaved in the early and mid-1800s. Two members, David and Wilson, served in the Colored Infantry based in Alexandria. 

Forrest Street is proposed to be renamed Forest Street. 

There is a full list available of deceased figures being considered, including those who died as recently as this year. 

Councilor Alyia Gaskins said the Council Naming Committee – composed of her and Councilors John Taylor Chapman and Sarah Bagley – wanted to pay special attention to underrepresented communities in this first batch of renamed streets. 

“We wanted, at least in this first bucket, folks who had a specific history or tie to Alexandria,” Gaskins said. “We [also] wanted people who reflected diversity of perspectives as a reference in our All Alexandria resolution.” 

How many streets are there in total? 

Dana Wedeles, strategic initiatives officer for the city, said there are a total of 41 confirmed streets named for Confederates, 21 of which originated in 1953. 

“At this time … we’ll continue to do our research so that we’re only looking at those [streets] that we have confirmation on,” Wedeles said. “The list could grow as we continue to research, but those 41: we feel comfortable saying these were, in fact, named for Confederate soldiers and have the documentation on it.” 

Why these streets, and why now? 

Gaskins said the committee wanted this first batch of streets to have been directly affected by the 1953 ordinance. She said in future renaming initiatives, the committee may take a different approach depending on the full council’s perspective. 

“We thought, ‘Let’s pick streets that were intentionally changed so that we can be as intentional in changing them back,’” Gaskins said. 

She also said while Alexandria has many issues to be focused on, the role of Council is to manage and work through multiple issues simultaneously. 

“I think that people sometimes assume that just because we’re working on this, it must mean we’re not working on something else,” Gaskins said. “And that’s not true. We’re working on a multitude of things and thinking about those intersections and connections.” 

What is the process and timeline? 

According to the city’s website on this initiative, the naming committee will direct efforts and ultimately choose three streets per year, which will go before Council for a vote. The Historic Alexandria Resources Commission developed a list of individuals and locations worthy of honor. 

Currently, the city is in its public engagement phase, according to Wedeles. She said this is the point in the process where the committee seeks out feedback from city residents. 

“Either [residents] can agree with the names that have been suggested or they can suggest their own name,” Wedeles said. “If they suggest their own name, we are asking that they provide some sort of documentation that they have discussed that suggestion with their neighbors. This is really aimed to ensure there is a unified response … and a seriousnessness to the response.” 

On November 30, the committee will send their recommendations to the full Council at a public hearing. Then at the December 16 public hearing, Council will make an official decision in the form of an ordinance. 

Gaskins encouraged all residents who have questions, comments or concerns to contact the committee and read more about the process. 

“This is something that is just unfolding and this is a space where all of that is welcomed and is necessary to contribute to this process as we learn and figure out how it unfolds,” Gaskins said. “There are so many people who have been ignored in our history, but have done significant things to improve our community. Their history and their stories are part of what make Alexandria great.” 

Wedeles said the city plans on making the official change in January to avoid disruption during the holiday season. 

“If there’s any concern about mailing addresses when packages are being delivered at a high season for package delivery, we’ll certainly avoid that,” Wedeles said. “The [city] will be prepared in producing the street signs once the decisions are made.” 

How many streets will the city change per year? 

Wedeles said the city hopes to change three streets per year – one larger street and two smaller. She also said the amount was determined as to not overwhelm the production of street signs. Wedeles cited the budget restrictions as another reason. 

“There’s allocated resources for the street signs and it’s to help really focus the efforts … rather than a much broader initiative,” Wedeles said. 

What is the cost to the city? 

Wedeles said each year, the city allocates $60,000 for renaming streets; she said the cost is not standard, but depends on the size and location of the street. 

“It’s not only the street signs that we need to consider, but it’s intersections, if there are parks or if there’s other city signage,” Wedeles said. 

City Transportation and Environmental Services calculated $164,000 in manufacturing costs for the 41 streets, excluding labor. According to the city, streets with a “significant amount” of signage, including Beauregard, Van Dorn and Pickett, will cost between $16,000 and $44,000 each. 

What is the cost as a resident? 

The cost will fluctuate from home to home, but residents are responsible for notifying some agencies of the change. On the city’s FAQ site, it states residents will have to update their addresses, but not immediately. 

In many cases – such as a driver’s license or passport – an address change is not necessary until it expires and renewal is needed. Social security, insurance, banks, credit card companies and subscriptions, will need to be changed, but most can be done online. 

The city handles many facets for residents when streets are renamed. According to the city’s website, it will handle any changes with the U.S. Postal Service, utilities, personal property tax, voter registration, schools and emergency services. These agencies will be notified by the city and do not require any resident action. 

What do other Alexandrians think? 

This initiative is controversial and has sparked fruitful discussions online. In a Facebook post made by the Times in an attempt to interview residents, more than 35 comments were posted in support of and against the initiative. 

“I can understand if these street names had some kind of recognized significance, but they really don’t anymore,” Bruce B. wrote. “They are just names of long dead people on a street sign. This effort is pure virtue signaling to make some members of Council feel good about themselves.” 

Jen L. wrote a paragraphs-long comment, tying in the history of racism in Virginia and Alexandria and her frustrations with the city’s initiatives in zoning. She said as a resident of the city for many years, she does not believe this is a city that prioritizes righting the wrongs of racism. 

“Changing street names is a joke and an insult that I see as symbolic nonsense,” Jen L. wrote. “Leave the names. Change the real life residual effects of segregation that are still painfully visible in Alexandria today. I don’t care what these streets are called. Alexandria needs to change what living on them is like if you’re not white.” 

Kenneth Wolfe, an Old Town resident since 1996, wrote in an email to the Times that he believes crime is the main issue in the city. 

“Until the murders, carjackings, shootings, abductions and robberies get under control, the mayor and city council should be focused on nothing but crime,” Wolfe wrote. “Is renaming Early Street going to reduce crime? We really don’t have time for these cheap stunts by our local elected officials to get on television, like renaming streets, when crime is absolutely out of control in Alexandria.”