RIDGEFIELD, Wash. — A Washington highway once named after a controversial Civil War leader may soon get a new name.
And two groups that don’t agree on much are criticizing the effort.
The highway once ran from Vancouver to the Canadian border.
In 1939, it was named after Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederate States of America, a man state Rep. Hans Dunshee of Snohomish said Washington should not be honoring.
“He symbolizes the institutional slavery and economic system that was built on slavery and all the horrors of slavery that the Civil War was fought about,” said Dunshee.
The highway, State Route 99, no longer has an official name and it’s now much smaller, running only from Fife to Everett in the Seattle area.
But that hasn’t stopped Dunshee from repeatedly trying to name it after African-American Civil War veteran and former Snohomish resident, William P. Stewart.
“The first attempt in 2002 didn’t work,” said Dunshee, a Democrat. “It didn’t pass in the Senate back then. The Senate was controlled by people who had Southern sympathies.”
But this week another bill co-sponsored by Dunshee to rename the highway was unanimously approved by the state House.
“A lot of it isn’t state route anymore but the stain is still there and we need to remove that stain,” said Dunshee.
“I think that it’s a nice gesture,” said Cecelia Towner, organizer of Black Lives Matter in Vancouver.
But she told KATU she’s skeptical of the renaming effort.
“I don’t think that it helps black people,” Towner said, “and I like things that do and I don’t think that it really helps veterans.”
Towner said she’d rather see lawmakers focus on things like House Bill 2907, a measure that would put tougher restrictions on police officers’ use of deadly force.
“I think that’s more important. If they’re going to focus on how to have a gesture, it should be something that isn’t just changing street signs,” said Towner.
Erik Ernst, commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans Pacific Northwest Division, emailed KATU about the renaming bill, saying Davis was “a great man, who was a West Point graduate, U.S. Army lieutenant in the Mexican War, United States Secretary of War, United States senator and president of the Confederate States of America.”
But Ernst also wrote, “We do not support the renaming of Highway 99, but would rather see Mr. Stewart better honored by having a more prominent highway named after him, such as Interstate 5 or U.S. Highway 101 … We feel it is dishonoring to William P. Stewart to name a decommissioned highway after him.”
“I’m really excited to hear that and I think they’re right,” Towner said. “I think we have common ground.”
House Bill 2907 never got out of committee.
But the state House did pass another bill Tuesday to create a task force on policies regarding deadly use of force by police.
“There is nothing that indicates that the perspectives of the task force will result in change,” said Towner.
The highway renaming bill is expected to be voted on soon in the state Senate.
The last two remaining markers of Jefferson Davis Highway in Washington are now on display in Jefferson Davis Park, a private piece of land in Ridgefield owned by the Sons of Confederate Veterans.
“The Jefferson Davis Park board and the Sons of Confederate Veterans do not tolerate any form racist activity or intolerance,” Ernst wrote.