Virginia deals with Confederate names on side streets


MCLEAN, Virginia (AP) – It came as a surprise to Motrum Drive resident Bo Fitzpatrick that he lived on a street he named a Confederate soldier.

“Really? I always assumed it was named after an apple or apple juice,” referring to the Mott brand of apple products.

In fact, the street in McLean, Virginia, near the nation’s capital, is named after Mottrum Dolany Paul, a Fairfax cavalry captain who was among the first Confederate officers to be captured in the Civil War. He became a Republican after the war and later became the founding father of Alaska.

Motrum Drive is among a dozen side streets designated last year by a Fairfax County commission tasked with discovering forgotten names of the Confederacy. Northern Virginia, which saw some of the biggest battles of the Civil War and was for decades an indisputable part of the South, is now one of the richest regions in the country with waning ties to its Southern roots.

As such, it was quicker than other locations in the South to rid themselves of the Confederate names and memorials that dominated the area. The database maintained by the Southern Poverty Law Center shows approximately 2,300 Confederate-associated roads, schools, and memorials scattered across 23 states. In recent years, fewer than 400 have been removed or renamed.

In Northern Virginia, the trend began in 2017, several years before the latest wave of name changes. The former J.E.B. Stuart High School in Fairfax County–named after the Confederate general–is now called the High School of Justice.

Fairfax and Loudoun counties also continue to make changes to the names of the major highways that run through their territories. In Fairfax, the effort is focused on the Lee Highway and on the Lee Jackson Highway, named after Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Loudoun County has asked the public for new names for the John Mosby Highway, named after the Confederate cavalry commander who conducted raids throughout northern Virginia, as well as Harry Byrd Highway, named after a 20th-century politician who led the massive resistance campaign in the state against federal demands. Abolition of racial segregation in public schools.

But the counties take a different approach to the many side streets in the area that also bear Confederate names, well known and long forgotten.

Fairfax leaves it up to residents to search for a name change on those streets designated by the History Commission. So far, no street has applied to do so.

Jeff McKay, chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said he does not see inaction as an endorsement of the Confederacy.

“We’ve raised awareness about where these streets are, and we’re leaving it to the petition process” to allow those who are motivated to push for change, he said.

He said he suspects that a majority of the county’s residents are against naming streets for Confederate members, but that that doesn’t necessarily translate into a desire to change your street name. I admit that it is a hassle to do so, as it requires changing the plates on file with the county and a full set of change of address notices that the resident must send to all the banks, businesses and facilities with which they manage their day-to-day affairs.

In the meantime, neighboring Loudoun County will not leave the decision to its residents. County officials in Loudoun identified fewer side streets, fewer than a dozen, connected to the Confederacy.

An official vote on the name change is scheduled for September, but at this month’s meeting, a majority of board members made it clear that they intended to change all names. In fact, they’ve sent county employees back to see the cost of doing a deeper search to identify more streets that might carry a hitherto undiscovered Confederate or discriminatory connection.

Koran Saines, the county superintendent who supports the name change, said the matter is simple.

“You’re part of the Confederacy, you should not be given the honor of a street name. I’m sorry to tell you that. If the Confederation had their way, Sainz, one of three African Americans on the Board of Supervisors, said at the July 6 meeting. Three of us are sitting here.”

On Early Avenue in western Loudoun County, longtime resident Bertie Jones was unhappy with the change.

“I think it’s corn bull,” said Jones, who has lived down the street since 1965.

Jones said she knew her street was named after Confederate General Jubal Early, who led a campaign across Union territory in 1864, to demand ransom from towns to avoid being set ablaze and threatening the nation’s capital. But it didn’t particularly bother her.

“Does this mean that everyone with a last name early on will have to change their name? It just makes the division more than anything,” she said.

Back in Fairfax County, Fitzpatrick said he didn’t see a need to rename the Motrum engine. He said he understood the rationale for changing the major highways named for prominent Confederate figures, but saw no point in wiping an already forgotten figure from a rarely traveled side street.

“I feel there is a middle ground,” he said.

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