In response to the 2015 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, where the shooter displayed pictures of himself with the Confederate flag on his website, states across the country have been taking action to remove the flag from government grounds. Not only that, but states are also calling into question all memorials and street names that pay homage to Confederate figures. Recently, actress Julianne Moore and producer Bruce Cohen launched a petition on Change.org to rename J.E.B. Stuart High School in Falls Church, a school they attended as teens, because they feel the name is a symbol of racism. So far 35,048 supporters have signed the petition.
Now the City of Alexandria is going through the process of figuring out how to honor its past.
In mid-September Alexandria City Council members met to discuss the fate of the Confederate statue, called Appomattox, located at the intersection of South Washington Street and Prince Street in Old Town. They discussed the possibility of moving the statue, which is owned by the Mary Custis Lee-17th Virginia Regiment Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a mere 15 feet to the lawn of the nearby Lyceum, Alexandria’s history museum, but it is unclear whether this will happen. If it is moved, the city hopes to add a plaque to give context to the bronze cast statue first erected in 1889 and to give visitors a chance to get up close and read the inscribed names of Confederate soldiers from Alexandria who died during the war. “I want to be clear: This is a moving, not a removal,” Mayor Allison Silberberg says. “It’s important to remember our history. We came so close to not coming back together as a country; we can’t forget that.” However, it is unclear when or if the statue will be moved because it is protected by city legislation.
The council voted to remove Confederate flags from government property one year ago and has now voted to rename the Alexandria portion of Jefferson Davis Highway. Mayor Silberberg states that they have faced no complaints in regards to renaming the road thus far and hopes to move forward. It is now up to the city government process for naming streets.
When asked if there will be any further action on the subject of Confederate namesakes, Mayor Silberberg says: “I think we’re done. We’ve considered all the issues, and we’re moving forward.” The issue of the statue is now being overseen by the General Assembly. The discussion has been a long process, one that took into account hundreds of emails and statements from many viewpoints. “I feel everyone has been respectful of different perspectives and careful with their words, and I’m proud of that,” Mayor Silberberg says.
The task force that led the discussion on the issue held multiple meetings to gather the opinion of the community. “It was clear we couldn’t make everyone happy, but we felt we arrived at a good middle ground,” task force chair Mary Lyman says. “It is important to preserve history, but there is a difference between [that and] honoring someone who shouldn’t be honored.”
However, some residents are perplexed by the city’s attempt to move the statue, such as Alexandria resident Jimmy Carroll. “The whole thing is silly,” he says. “The war has been over for over 200 years. The Confederate cause is dead; moving the statue won’t fix anything.”