It was with the black welcome mat in the townhouse—a slim beige building on South Floyd Street—where Alex Sprague managed to collect the Signature No.
“I’m starting a petition to change the name of this street. Is this something that interests you?” The 25-year-old asked to ring the doorbell, clipboard in hand.
The man standing inside, barefoot and in sweatpants, was halfway to shut the door before eagerness got at its best. “What are you naming it?” He asked. “And why?”
Like many of his neighbors, the man gave little thought to the name of this quiet, four-block strip in Alexandria’s Seminary Hill neighborhood: John Buchanan Floyd, the former governor of Virginia, a brigadier general in the Confederate Army.
But as Mr. Sprague explained, Mr. Floyd is not the only union whose name appears on nearby addresses. At least 40 other streets in this northern Virginia city are also respected by federal leaders, thanks largely to a city ordinance that at one point required it for all new roadways to run from north to south.
Following demonstrations last summer for racial justice, Alexandria officials lowered the bar significantly in August to remove some Confederate names from the map. A petition signed by 25 percent of property owners on a given street, down from 75 percent, now needs to be questioned before city lawmakers.
So Mr. Sprague has made it a personal mission to knock on door after door, hoping to replace the generals’ names with figures from the other side of history: Jenny’s Lane now named Elijah Cummings, Will be named after the civil rights figure and Maryland. Congressman who passed away two years ago. Van Doorn Street will now honor Breonna Taylor, the black woman who was shot in her apartment by Louisville police.
And Floyd Street will be named in honor of George Floyd, whose murder forced many local governments – including Alexandria – to confront their role in perpetuating racial injustice.
The man at the door said to Sprague, “You should have led it.”
As one of the oldest cities in the country, Alexandria has no shortage of Civil War statues. Lee Street, in the city’s historic Old Town, bears the name of a military family living in the neighborhood, including a young Robert Lee.
However, most of the city’s federal roads did not exist until the middle of the last century. In 1951, the Alexandria planning officer – “influenced by the glory of the Civil War”, as a local newspaper article called it – wrote in the city code that all new north–south streets should be named after federal military officers. .
“The naming was not done naturally,” city council member John Chapman, a Democrat, said in an interview last week. “It was done as a way of keeping the Lost Cause alive. … We’re going to make sure our Confederate troops are protected, even if they never set foot in Alexandria,” he said. ‘”
That ordinance was largely ignored in the 1960s, before city lawmakers formally repealed it in 2014. But the street names remained.
Alexandria’s chief city planner Tony LaCola said it wasn’t until after the protests last summer that local officials decided to reconsider a proposal to amend the city’s renaming policies.
By then, the city and its neighbors had already begun reckoning with federal hold on many of its most prominent routes. Alexandria, and then Virginia state legislators pushed for the renaming of the Jefferson Davis Highway.
In 2015, the city ended its practice of hanging three Confederate flags from traffic-light poles near “Appomattox”, a statue of a Confederate soldier. Six years later – a week after Mr Floyd was murdered – that statue was taken down.
Mr Chapman, who serves on the city’s facilities naming committee, said the matter of renaming becomes more complicated when dealing with smaller streets and residential neighborhoods. Landlords and business owners may be reluctant to fork over large sums of money to change deeds and addresses.
That’s why the city is only testing the waters, he said, with a pilot program — only for the first three petitions — that would reduce the extent of support needed.
“You pick a number that doesn’t predict the outcome,” said Mr. Chapman. “If you have (of the property owners) 25 percent, that means you’ve just opened the door for additional negotiations.”
The reduced percentage automatically takes effect for 41 streets bearing Confederate names. If the petitioners can prove a different name is Confederate origin – with 27 other roads being investigated – the bar for those roads will also be lowered from 75 percent to 25 percent.
Then the request goes to the naming committee and then to the city council. But Alexandria officials themselves would not lead the charge.
“The city,” said Mr. LaCola, “is not in the business of renaming streets. We are letting this become a citizen-led initiative.”
Much of the initiative came from Sprague and a small group of activists, Reconstruction Alexandria. Animated by conversations across the city over the summer, they set their sights on stripping each Confederate name off the map.
“I don’t think the streets should respect those who tried to undermine our democracy. The streets should honor those who tried to speak up,” Mr. Sprague said. “And I think if If I don’t do it, who will?”
So far, it has been a lonely battle.
Residents of Janice Lane laughed or raised their voices, activists said, saying their history was wrong. On Columbus Street in Old Town – which the group is also targeting – Mr Sprague recalls being chased down the block while trying to sign a replacement for the Navigator’s name with Anthony Fauci.
Earlier this week on Floyd Street, Mr. Sprague faced little hostility.
Russell Miller, who lived in a brick house on the corner, had never had a relationship with General Floyd. But the decision to sign was easy.
If the general represented “four years of treason and persecution,” said Mr Miller, a transgender man, “George Floyd represents the struggles of all of us minorities who have been killed and abused and underrepresented.”
But its lack…
Credit: www.independent.co.uk /