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Alexandria aims to rename three Confederate-honoring streets per year

Forrest Street, named for Nathan Bedford Forrest (via Google Maps)

At a City Council meeting last night (Tuesday), Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson unveiled the next stage of plans to ramp up the renaming of streets that honor Confederate leaders, the Washington Post first reported.

While the city has renamed the Alexandria portion of Jefferson Davis Highway and removed the Appomattox statue, streets honoring Confederate leaders like the “Gray Ghost” John Singleton Mosby or Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest still exist around the city.

Discussions to rename more streets began last October, but there’s a much longer history of Civil War names on streets dividing Alexandria. As of 2018, about 60 streets potentially were named for Confederate leaders, but in some cases — such  as Lee Street — the historical record is unclear about a street’s namesake.

The mayor said his new plans stem from the conversation that kicked off last fall.

“Last year, I talked on the dais about a process and a deliberate schedule to identify street names in our city that really were designed as a permanent protest against the civil rights movement and growing political power for African Americans in our city,” Wilson said. “Those places and those honors have no place in our city.”

Wilson said his plan is for two committees to work in tandem to find both streets to rename and suitable names to replace them.

Historic Alexandria Resources Commission would develop a list of people, events and locations that deserve honors, with a focus on women and minorities — people traditionally underrepresented in city honors. The City Council Naming Committee, meanwhile, would identify which streets should be prioritized for renaming.

Wilson said the city should aim to rename three streets each year, which would “keep us busy for quite a while” but would also give city leadership space to determine if that’s too ambitious or not ambitious enough.

The proposal found widespread support on the City Council, where others said they had first-hand experience with how difficult the legacy of Confederate honors can be to escape.

“As someone who bought a home in Alexandria just a few years ago on the West End, it was very startling how many houses we looked at were on streets with names I would have a hard time living on,” said City Council member Kirk McPike. “We thought we dodged that, but as it turns out our current street is named after a Confederate naval vessel.”

The memo is set for review as part of the city’s budget process. City Manager James Parajon is scheduled to present a draft of the budget to the City Council on Feb. 28, followed by a period of meetings and discussions that culminate with a vote on the budget in May.

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