Alexandria mayor promises to keep tight rein on Confederate discussion

The Alexandria City Council on Tuesday night held its fire on the decision of what to do about the multiple public commemorations of the Confederacy in this historic Virginia town, preparing for what is expected to be a heated public hearing Saturday before their vote.
Mayor Allison Silberberg (D) warned that she will strictly enforce the “three-minute rule” limiting each speaker during the public hearing, a rule that she has not enforced in the past. She also urged residents to “be careful and respectful and understanding. It’s a difficult subject for some, for many, and for all of us.”At issue will be the recommendations of a task force which last month advised the council to rename Jefferson Davis Highway (also known as Route 1), retain the “Appomattox” statue of the pensive, South-facing Confederate soldier at Prince and S. Washington Streets but add more context to it, and do nothing about the myriad streets named after Confederate heroes, unless residents petition to change the names of specific streets.

The task force’s recommendations are advisory; it is up to the City Council to decide whether to accept them. The task force was divided in its decision; the two African Americans who served on the group said the advice should have gone further in clamping down on Confederate symbols.

The Civil War ended more than 150 years ago with the defeat of the rebellious states, but in Alexandria, the first Southern city occupied by Northern troops, indications abound that some secessionists never quite accepted their defeat.

This small Virginia city just across the Potomac River from Washington has long preferred to disregard its pro-slavery, antebellum past and focus on its role during the American Revolution.

But in the summer of 2015, prompted by the shooting of nine worshipers at a historic African American church in Charleston, S.C., city leaders decided it was time to reconsider whether the city should hoist the Confederate flag twice a year at a major entrance to the city and in the public right-of-way. The council last year decided to end the practice.

That discussion led to the subsequent examination of the city’s many related markers: the plaque erected in 1929 at Pitt and King Streets, which leaves out key details of the first Civil War-related deaths in Alexandria; the city’s allowance of a privately-owned statue of the mournful Confederate soldier in the middle of a busy intersection near the southern entrance to Old Town; the decision in 1953 to name north-south streets in the newly annexed West End after Southern military leaders, such as Gen. G.T. Beauregard, Maj. Eli Hamilton Janney, Gen. Jubal Early and many more.

A portrait of Confederate leader Gen. Robert E. Lee hangs in the city council’s chambers, sharing pride of place with the first U.S. president, George Washington, both of whom called Alexandria home.

September 14 at 12:27 AM VIA

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