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NAACP pushes to rename Jeff Davis Highway: ‘Yessa massa days are over'

Posted at 7:46 PM, Jun 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-08 19:46:14-04

RICHMOND, Va — For nearly a decade, South Richmond civic leaders have been asking city officials to rename the portion of Route 1 that is currently called Jefferson Davis Highway, according to the Richmond chapter President of the NAACP. After ten days of protests over racial inequality and injustice in America, those same groups are calling on city leaders to rename the highway within 100 days.

“[Jefferson Davis] doesn’t have the right to be up there anymore. His time is up. The ‘yessa massa’ days are over, and we want justice," James “JJ” Minor, the President of the Richmond NAACP chapter, said. "Justice comes where we can put up new names, honorary street names, of black folks who helped pave the way."

Jefferson Davis was the president of the Confederate States of America. A statue of Davis along Monument Avenue has been repeatedly tagged over the past ten days by protesters upset that Confederate symbols still line Richmond’s historic boulevard.

Minor said South Richmond along Route 1 has its own rich history of strong cultural and civics leaders and thinks the highway should bear the name of a black Richmond leader instead of the Confederate president.

“We want it changed, and we want it changed in the next 100 days,” Minor said at a Monday evening press conference. “We would like the city to help expedite the process and make it happen ASAP.”

“It is important that we do something different here in the city of Richmond. In other words, we want black folks’ names up. It’s a shame that of the names [on street signs] here in the city of Richmond are all white,” Minor said.

In recent years, counties in Northern Virginia have sought to change the name of Route 1. In 2019, Arlington County changed the name of the highway to “Richmond Highway” after a years-long process, according to media reports.

The stretch of modern day Route 1, from Richmond the Petersburg, was called the Manchester-Petersburg Turnpike starting in the 1800’s, according to local historical research.

Then, in the early 1900’s, the United Daughters of the Confederacy sought to build a transcontinental highway named after Jefferson Davis, according to the US Department of Transportation.

Portions of the highway still named after the Confederate president are vestiges of that effort, federal officials said.

As of the publishing of this article, requests for comment sent to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, whose headquarters are in Richmond, have not been returned.

Several people who live along the highway, but were not planning on attending the NAACP press conference, shared their opinions with CBS 6 News. While their opinion on the importance of the issue was mixed, all said they would be fine if the highway got a new name.

Stretches of Route 1 through Chesterfield County also bear the name Jefferson Davis. Minor said they were specifically advocating in Richmond, where their chapter is based, but would encourage Chesterfield leaders to consider changing it too.

A spokesperson with Chesterfield said they would provide information Tuesday.

Minor said comparing the aesthetic of the Richmond stretch of Route 1 to the surrounding counties is stark. He said beyond a name change, the corridor needs economic “T-L-C,” which he said includes improved amenities like grocery stores and pharmacies.

“This whole district still looks like it's in the 20th century. We’re in the 21st century. This is years of neglect over here. We need some T-L-C over here,” Minor said.

The Richmond NAACP said they have a list of names of local black leaders who deserve an honorary street sign should the city council or the city administration pursue a name change.