In a town that once took considerable pride in its Confederate past, the Alexandria City Council voted unanimously Saturday to change the name of Jefferson Davis Highway and seek permission from the Virginia General Assembly to move a renowned statue of a Confederate soldier in historic Old Town.
The council’s actions went beyond the recommendations of a task force that studied what to do about the city’s controversial Confederate symbols, but not as far as some residents wanted.
After a lengthy public hearing, the council agreed to try to relocate the “Appomattox” statue from the busy intersection of Prince and Washington streets, where thousands of motorists pass it each day. The pensive and unarmed south-facing Confederate soldier would be moved to a local history museum on the same corner.
Relocating the seven-foot, bronze statue will be a heavy political lift. It cannot be moved without the agreement of the legislature, and the General Assembly passed a bill earlier this year further strengthening prohibitions against cities and counties removing war memorials. T he legislation was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in March.
The statue occupies the spot where a local regiment mustered to retreat from the city just before Union troops seized Alexandria in 1861. Erected in 1889 and owned by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, it bears the names of Alexandria residents who died on behalf of the South. Once surrounded by an iron fence, grass and gaslights, its footprint has shrunk significantly, and vehicles have occasionally collided with it.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy did not appear at the public hearing, and it did not return requests for comment Saturday. But it earlier sent the council a book about the statue’s history.
“If this were on Monument Avenue in Richmond, where it is clearly [celebratory], I’d say knock it down,” said council member Timothy B. Lovain (D). But the statue is a reminder of the costs of war, he said. If it can remain at the same historic corner, with additional context explaining its significance, and be removed as a traffic hazard, the relocation might be politically possible.
Source: Washington Post | Patricia Sullivan