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Confederate Roadkill Project, Cont’d

Unidentified Man Stands Guard at Fredericksburg’s Confederate Cemetery on Recent Memorial Day

F’burg City Council Makes a Pi Day Promise

By Steve Watkins

People are always asking me, “Steve, what is it you folks down at the PIE & CHAI do on Pi Day?” What I tell them is we eat a slice of pie, of course, and wash it down with a hot cup of chai. Then we take ourselves over to the Fredericksburg City Council meeting for a chat about an article I wrote back in the December P&C called “Roadkill: Something Smells. Must be Those Confederate Street Names.”

There’s a YouTube video of what I said to Council that won’t take you but a few minutes if you want to hear, and which you can watch right HERE

None of the seven City Council members said anything at first, though we did have meaningful eye contact. Later on, after I’d long since left the meeting, they added Item 8B to the agenda, which began with Council member Jason Graham wondering where the heck I’d gotten myself off to, then continued from there, Jason saying he agreed it was high time we got around to changing all these Confederate street and place names in the city, followed by comments also in general agreement from four of the six other council members, all of which you can find at the 59-minute mark on video of the March 14, 2023 City Council meeting posted HERE

Another member of Council emailed me later, offering her support as well, which put everybody except the mayor on the record saying they planned to move forward with the issue, which of course could mean just about anything–from a wholesale changing of all these odious Confederate street and place names, to formation of a committee to wring hands, buy time, and kick it all down the road.

To help goose things along, I wrote a follow-up letter to members of Council that went something like this, lightly edited in a couple of places for clarity:

I’d like to thank Jason Graham, Chuck Frye, Tim Duffy, and Jon Gerlach for speaking out the other night in support of the initiative to address—to change–the Confederate street names in the city. Thanks also to Council member Matt Kelly for the history lesson, and for his thoughts on possible directions for street names going forward.

If I may, I’d like to offer a few suggestions—likely thoughts you’ve already had, but just in case you might find them helpful. As was done at least twice in the past, if I read former City Planner Erik Nelson’s account correctly, Council might consider addressing the issue of changing street and neighborhood names all together, rather than one at a time, street by street. This piecemeal approach appears to be what’s happening right now with discussions about renaming Forrest Avenue, named for Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest. Nancy Moore, who chairs the city’s Memorials Advisory Commission, told me that they have suggested polling the residents of that street to gauge their support of a name change from “Forrest” to “Forest.” 

I would advise against this approach. Public input is important, of course. But if we had relied on these measures of public support in, say, the decision to desegregate the public schools, Massive Resistance in Virginia would likely have remained in place much longer than it did. 

Rather, if we’re in agreement, as I think we are, that there is a moral imperative here to stop this broad and misguided recognition and honoring of those who fought to protect the institution of slavery, then the decision shouldn’t come down to whether people mind, or don’t mind, being inconvenienced by the hassle of address changes. It should be a given that people don’t like change, and definitely don’t like change that will cause them any sort of perceived hassle. 

Better to announce Council’s intention to make these changes en masse to the city’s numerous Confederate street names–all of them, and not just the “worst,” such as Forrest, and Jubal Early, who espoused white supremacist doctrine all the way to his death bed—as well as to neighborhood names such as Confederate Ridge, and, yes, to Maury School and Stadium, named after a man who earned our appreciation for being a groundbreaking oceanographer and “Pathfinder of the Seas,” but who also sought to remake South America in the slave-owning mold of the Confederate South, and who spent years attempting to start a Confederacy 2.0 after the Civil War. In Richmond, as you know, they have removed the statue honoring him on Monument Avenue.

I would also suggest going ahead and positing a list of possible ideas for renaming these streets and other locations—perhaps giving consideration to steering clear altogether of naming streets after individuals—and inviting public input on other street name possibilities. At the same time, provide residents with clear information about the cost of renaming streets, the steps necessary for changing addresses, and the timeline—and hopefully lengthy grace period—for doing so. The city might even offer to set aside funds to cover the cost for residents for these address changes when they become necessary.

And, finally, of course, be sure to articulate the reasons for the name changes.

Thank you again for giving me the time to address the issue the other night at Council, and thank you once again for voicing your support for the initiative. I look forward to the next steps in making this very necessary and long overdue change happen.

Best,

Steve Watkins

Pie & Chai

Actual commissioned statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in Nashville—no kidding. Since taken down.