Virginia man lobbies to rename Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway

Race Issues
by Katlyn Babyak
Posted 7/15/15, 09:27 am

The recent battle over symbols of the Confederacy has hit the road. A two-month old petition to rename Virginia sections of the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway reached 3,000 signatures last week. 

Officials named the highway in 1922 in honor of the president of the Confederate states during the Civil War. The petition calls on Virginia Gov. Terry McAulliffe, a Democrat, the Virginia General Assembly, and the Commonwealth Transportation Board to rename all sections of Jefferson Davis Highway within the state. 

“The name Jefferson Davis is far from what the state should honor,” it says.

Virginia resident Daniel Zim started the petition in May, curious to see how much support he would get. He told me news of racial tension in Ferguson, Mo., and Baltimore may have unconsciously influenced him to think differently about the highway. 

“I just thought it was offensive to people to have that name when he was such a champion of slavery,” he said. “[Davis] really committed horrendous crimes against half of the American people.”

Zim predicted signatures would reach 4,000 on Tuesday, given the rate of 15-20 new supporters per hour. He said support increased after the murder of nine African-Americans in a church in Charleston, S.C., in June but really took off after last Friday’s Washington Post article about the petition. 

“I think that Jefferson Davis is a lightning rod and his legacy leaves a bad taste in the mouth for … many people,” Zim said.

Lawmakers are concerned a name change for the highway would have a ripple effect on the rest of Virginia’s many roads, schools, and buildings with similar Confederate names. Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, which runs from the Potomac River to the North Carolina border, is part of the Route 1 interstate highway. According to the federal highway administration, the Daughters of the Confederacy, a historic national society of female descendants of Confederate soldiers, originally lobbied in 1913 for a highway honoring Davis to run parallel to the transcontinental Lincoln Highway.

Katlyn Babyak

Katlyn is a former WORLD intern.

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