Antonio Olivo, Washington Post, May 15, 2022
On the corner of Confederate Lane and Plantation Parkway in the Civil War-themed housing development of Mosby Woods, a “Black Lives Matter” lawn sign faces the two street markers.
A few blocks away in the same Northern Virginia development, other signs urge neighbors to “Save Ranger Rd!!” while cars bear parking permits with the neighborhood’s logo: a Confederate Raider on horseback charging into battle with saber raised.
Mosby Woods, a quiet cluster of 523 homes in Fairfax City built in the mid-20th century, is a community that has grown divided over its identity as the City Council considers renaming its Confederate-named streets.
For decades, street names that reflected Virginia’s Confederate past were a sometimes awkward fact of life for the neighborhood’s residents, in line with the surrounding landscape of Civil War battleground sites and historical markers, monuments and highways honoring Confederate generals like Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson.
That changed with the murder of George Floyd by a former Minneapolis police officer in 2020, which unleashed a reckoning over systemic racism in the country that, in turn, ignited a backlash against perceived anti-White sentiments that has filled social media feeds and fueled a culture war over race and ethnicity.
Now, the increasingly diverse neighborhood, named after Confederate army battalion commander John S. Mosby, that is otherwise a typical suburban enclave — with summer block parties and holiday decoration contests — is another battleground, with the City Council set to decide in June whether nine streets in Mosby Woods should be called something else.
Residents say their community is straining under the weight of the topic, noting that some neighbors are no longer friendly to one another as they walk their dogs past Reb Street or shuttle their kids to school along Blue Coat Drive.
Grace Gillespie realized the group she co-founded in 2020 — “Neighbors for Change” — had touched a nerve when she returned home after passing out fliers about renaming the streets and read an email accusing the volunteer organization of being funded by liberal philanthropist George Soros.
Gillespie’s family has been in Mosby Woods since it was built, a common boast in a neighborhood of brick ramblers and two-story colonial-style houses 45 minutes from D.C. that features its own community swimming pool.
In the early 1960s, Gillespie’s grandparents bought into developer Stephen Yeonas’s vision of a self-contained community surrounded by parks, restaurants and shopping plazas in what was then a rapidly growing section of Northern Virginia.
The name “Mosby Woods” and its Civil War theme was a marketing scheme born during local centennial commemorations of the start of the Civil War, Yeonas told the local community association president for a 2012 book commemorating the development’s 50th anniversary.
Mosby was known for his “Midnight Raid” of 1863, when the Confederate colonel and his Rangers captured a Union Army brigadier general while he was sleeping in nearby Fairfax Courthouse — a southern victory commemorated by a local historic state marker that inspired the developer’s son to suggest the name, according to Bob Reinsel, the book’s author. Yeonas died in 2020.
Gillespie paid only passing attention to the street names while visiting her grandparents as a child, she said. Then, they passed away and Gillespie and her husband moved into the home on Plantation Parkway.
Their son, Micah, brought up the street names one day in 2017 after a fourth-grade lesson in Virginia history, Gillespie said.
“He started asking: ‘Is it racist to have streets like Plantation and Confederate?’ ” she recalled.
Others in the community had similar questions after the white supremacist rally over a Confederate statue in Charlottesville that year led to the death of a 32-year-old woman.
But it was the Floyd killing that moved Gillespie and Bowles into action.
They invited neighbors to join and petitioned the city, which was already discussing changing other Confederate markers around town — including the city seal that features an image of John Quincy Marr, the first Confederate soldier killed by a Union soldier in combat.
Neighbors for Change also researched the history of Confederate monuments and street names in the South, noting on its website how such memorials to “The Lost Cause” multiplied during the start of the civil rights movement, about when Mosby Woods was being built.
Amy Chase said that awareness made her think differently about her cheerful home on Ranger Road, named after Mosby’s troops.
“Within these walls were people sending their White kids to White-only schools,” she said. “It made history feel more recent.”
Laura Gerber, whose daughter Monet, 22, is half-Black, said the national tension over race during the past two years has made the street names unbearable.
“I don’t want my Black daughter and her friends driving down Plantation Parkway,” Gerber said. “It’s wrong. It’s hurtful.”
Last fall, an advisory group convened by the Fairfax City Council recommended a host of changes to the Confederate markers across the city of 24,000 residents, nearly a third of whom are foreign-born.
For example, the city seal — a coat-of-arms noticeable on police officers’ uniforms during traffic stops — should not feature Marr’s square-jawed image next to that of Thomas Fairfax, the British lord for whom the city is named, the group said. The City Council is now considering a new seal that only features an image of the City Hall.
Monuments to fallen Confederate soldiers and the United Daughters of the Confederacy could remain untouched in the local cemetery. But the text on other markers — including the one about Mosby’s raid — should be changed so they’re not reflecting an anti-United States view, the group said.
Opponents of the changes argued that they would be an unnecessary and potentially costly inconvenience, forcing residents to alter the address on their driver’s licenses, credit cards, wills and other documents.
The street names carry the memories of a community that has long been welcoming to newcomers, they said, though Mosby Woods is still mostly White. Latino immigrants, who have stayed out of the debate, live in an apartment complex on the edge of the development.
Yo Kimura, a Japanese American who has lived on Confederate Lane for 46 years, wants the street name kept as it is.
“We are not responsible for this history,” Kimura said about Virginia’s role in the Confederacy. “We are not carrying the spirit of this history either.”