County supervisors will ask the state to change the names of Rt. 7 and Rt. 50 where they honor segregationists, and will gather an inventory of other places in Loudoun that are named for racist figures.
Supervisors voted 7-0-2, with Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) absent and Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) having left the dais for both votes, in favor of Vice Chairman Koran T. Saines’ (D-Sterling) motion to start the process of renaming those two highways where they are named for lawmaker Harry Byrd, known for leading “massive resistance” to integration in Virginia, and Confederate cavalry commander John Mosby. County staff members were directed to report back to supervisors with a process and cost estimate for changing those names no later than May.
As primary routes, the state has the authority to change those names.
Saines said naming those roads “sends a message to both our residents and non-residents who use these roads about what kind of place Loudoun is.”
“Confederates were individuals who willingly took up arms against the United States in order to preserve slavery. We should not be honoring these traitors,” Saines said. “If they had their way, myself, Chair Randall, Supervisor Glass—we would most likely would not be sitting in front of you here today.”
In 2015, Saines and County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) were the first two Black people ever elected to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. After the 2019 election, Loudoun’s third-ever black supervisor, Sylvia R. Glass (D-Broad Run) joined them on the dais.
Glass recalled her own family’s historic role in desegregating Virginia Schools. Her family went to court to allow her sister to enroll in Prince William County public schools.
“She would be very happy to see that we are doing something, that we are not glorifying someone who tried to keep my family and other families that look like me from going to public school,” Glass said.
Mosby has already lost some namesakes in Loudoun; earlier this year, the Loudoun County School Board voted to remove the “Raider” mascot at Loudoun County High School, which was named for Mosby’s Confederate cavalry battalion he led in the area. The school’s new mascot is the Captain.
Similarly, the former Mosby Heritage Area Association, which this year marked a quarter century of preservation advocacy and American history education, also adopted a new name, the Virginia Piedmont Heritage Area Association.
Supervisors also launched work to inventory public Confederate and segregationist symbols in the county, with an eye toward possibly renaming those as well. That vote passed 7-0-2, Kershner absent and Buffington off the dais. That inventory is expected back by May or June.
“Our residents, especially those of color, shouldn’t have to drive on, walk by, play in or pay taxes to support public infrastructure that glorifies those who would tear apart our nation and continue a system of racism and oppression well beyond the end of the Civil War,” Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) said. “These symbols only serve to hold up the infrastructure and even confirm false legitimacy of white supremacy to the benefit of populations and to the certain detriment of others.”
“I will say it again: we should learn history, we should know it, we should study it, we should appreciate it, but every part of history should not be celebrated,” Randall said. “And when you name things—streets, buildings, schools—after segregationists and people who supported the Confederacy, it is a celebration. It’s not an acknowledgement of history, it is a celebration of that person, and they should not be celebrated.”
There will be practical considerations in that work, as Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) pointed out. While supportive of the initiative, she said she had found more than 200 homes or businesses with addresses with Byrd or Mosby in the name.
“Even though I think it's a slap in the face to too many people to continue to celebrate Mosby and Byrd in this county, it is a big thing when you ask someone to accept a change of street address, because what it means is your package is in your mail will probably get lost for about a year,” Umstattd said. She urged working closely with the United State Postal Service and delivery companies to ease that transition.
And Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), also supportive, suggested working with neighboring counties to achieve some consistency in names. Rt. 7, for example, is named Harry Byrd Highway from the Shenandoah River crossing in Clark County to Fairfax County.
This article was updated Dec. 16 at 7:18 p.m. to correct an error in vote tallies.
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