Posted on October 20, 2021

Door by Door, a Push to Rename Confederate Streets for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor

Teo Armus, Washington Post, October 17, 2021

It was at the townhouse with the black welcome mat — a skinny beige building on South Floyd Street — where Alex Sprague managed to collect signature No. 4.

“I’m starting a petition to get this street renamed. Is that something that interests you?” the 25-year-old asked upon ringing the doorbell, clipboard in hand.

The man standing inside, barefoot and in sweatpants, was halfway through shutting the door before curiosity got the best of him. “What are you renaming it to?” he asked. “And why?”

Like many of his neighbors, the man had given little thought to the namesake for this quiet four-block strip in Alexandria’s Seminary Hill neighborhood: former Virginia governor John Buchanan Floyd, a brigadier general in the Confederate Army.

But as Sprague explained, Floyd is not the only Confederate whose name appears on nearby addresses. At least 40 other streets in this Northern Virginia city also honor Confederate leaders, largely thanks to a city ordinance that at one point required it for all new roadways running north to south.

Following last year’s summer of demonstrations for racial justice, Alexandria officials drastically lowered the bar in August to shed some Confederate names from the map. Under a new pilot program, a petition signed by 25 percent of property owners along a given street, down from 75 percent, is now required to raise the question before city lawmakers.

So Sprague has made it a personal mission to knock on door after door, hoping to replace the generals’ names with those of figures on the other side of history: Janneys Lane would now be named after Elijah E. Cummings, the civil rights figure and Maryland congressman who died two years ago Sunday. Van Dorn Street would now honor Breonna Taylor, the Black woman fatally shot by Louisville police in her apartment.

And Floyd Street would be renamed for George Floyd, whose killing forced many local governments — including Alexandria’s — to further confront their own role in perpetuating racial injustice.


As one of the oldest cities in the country, Alexandria boasts no shortage of Civil War iconography. Lee Street, in the city’s historic Old Town, bears the name of the military family that lived in the neighborhood, including a young Robert E. Lee.

Most of the city’s Confederate streets, however, did not exist until midway through last century. In 1951, Alexandria planning officials — “impassioned with the glory of the Civil War,” as one local newspaper article put it — wrote it into city code that all new north-south streets should be named after Confederate military officials.


That ordinance was largely ignored starting in the 1960s, before city lawmakers formally repealed it in 2014. But the street names remained.

It wasn’t until after the protests last summer that local officials decided to again take a look at a tabled proposal to amend the city’s renaming policies {snip}

By then, the city and its neighbors had already begun to reckon with the Confederate grip on many of their most prominent thoroughfares. Alexandria, and then Virginia state legislators, pushed to rename Jefferson Davis Highway.

In 2015, the city ended its practice of occasionally hanging three Confederate flags from traffic-light poles near “Appomattox,” a statue of a Confederate soldier. Six years later — a week after Floyd’s killing — that statue was taken down.


Much of the initiative has come from Sprague and a tiny group of activists, Reconstruction Alexandria. Animated by citywide conversations over the summer, they have set their sights on stripping every Confederate namesake from the map.


The biggest challenge will probably be on Lee Street in Old Town, where a number of residents have clashed on how that block was named — Was it after the Confederate general or his mother? Does it matter? — and whether the name should change.

Although Reconstruction Alexandria is pushing to call it Wanishi Street, after a Piscataway word meaning “thank you,” some of the street’s residents are considering other proposals.