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Alexandria Ends Street-Naming Requirement

Margaret Summers | 1/29/2014, 3 p.m.
Courtesy photo

Civil War and American history buffs may have felt a twinge of sadness on Saturday, Jan. 25, when the Alexandria, Va., City Council voted to end a decades-long street-naming practice outlined in its more than half century-old City Code.

During its public meeting, the council voted to eliminate a portion of the City Code requiring that new streets in Alexandria be named after Confederate military leaders or American history figures and places.

“These are among the portions of the City Code which are obsolete,” said City Councilman Justin M. Wilson, 34. Wilson introduced the ordinance to amend the Code during a city council hearing on January 14. During the first reading of the measure on that date, it passed the seven-member council unanimously, 7-0. Wilson explained at the time that the ordinance is part of a comprehensive effort to update the Code.

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Dino Drudi (left), of Alexandria, and Sam Smith, a Civil War historian from D.C., stand in front of a painting of Gen. Robert E. Lee at the City Council Chamber in Alexandria, Va. The two men testified during a recent public hearing to discuss whether to stop naming new city streets after historic American people and places, and Confederate figures such as Lee.

Other sections of the Code which the council deleted during its January 25 meeting included one which created the Alexandria Transportation Safety Commission, an entity which no longer exists, and a section that prohibits bootblack stands on the streets and sidewalks of the city.

The street-naming ordinance was the 15th legislative matter under consideration during the January 25 seven-and-a-half-hour meeting, which also included public discussion about bike lanes in Alexandria, the construction of a new hotel, and the adoption of Alexandria’s Civic Engagement Principles and Handbook as city policy.

Wilson had said there was no opposition to his street-naming ordinance. Only two individuals spoke about the measure during the public discussion period, and neither was representative of such organizations as Sons of Confederate Veterans, or others which work to preserve Confederate or American history.

“The definition of what is or is not ‘obsolete’ is very subjective,” said Dino Drudi, 56, an Alexandria resident. He suggested that new Alexandria streets be named after military figures on both sides of the Civil War.

“You could name a new street for Colonel Elmer E. Ellsworth,” said Drudi. “He was the first Union military officer to be killed in Virginia at the start of the Civil War.” Ellsworth, reportedly a close friend of President Abraham Lincoln, was staying in The Marshall House hotel on the corner of King and South Pitt Streets. Ellsworth was shot and killed by Marshall House proprietor James W. Jackson on May 24, 1861, the day after a referendum in Virginia confirmed the Commonwealth’s secession from the Union. Ellsworth had removed a Confederate flag from the hotel’s roof, and Jackson shot and killed Ellsworth afterwards as he was coming down the stairs from the roof. Jackson was immediately shot dead by one of Ellsworth’s corporals.

Drudi said streets named for famous or historic figures have sometimes helped him find his way around in unfamiliar communities or cities. “The problem with naming streets for people who were prominent 50 or more years ago, is that after they die, people won’t know or remember who they were,” he said. Drudi added he is against naming streets after present-day politicians as a reward or favor after they complete their terms.

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