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NC Looks To Remove Jefferson Davis Name From Highway

An original Jefferson Davis Highway marker in Stovall, N.C., between the railroad tracks and US-15.

It’s the end of the road for an unofficial honorary designation naming a highway route of about 160 miles through North Carolina for the president of the Confederate States of America.

The state Department of Transportation last week approved removal of about 20 small signs marking the “Jefferson Davis Highway.”

The state does make such honorary designations, but Kevin Lacy, the state traffic engineer, says research found this one was apparently never approved, so the signs were a kind of mystery.

“The ones in Granville County are official (Department of Transportation) signs. We looked into that,” Lacy said. “And why were we doing that? The local folks said well, we were told to do it by the guy who was doing it before."

A transcontinental Jefferson Davis Highway was the brainchild of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The NCDOT will also ask that group to move eight stone markers along the roughly 160-mile stretch of the route from Virginia to South Carolina.

Lacy says NCDOT research showed the state had actually turned down requests in the last century from the United Daughters of the Confederacy for the designation of “Jefferson Davis Highway.” For unknown reasons, though, local supervisors had told DOT workers to put up a handful of signs in Granville County referring to it.

“We don't really know when it started,” Lacy said. “We don't know if it was in the 60s, don't know if it was in the 20s. We just know that they're not supposed to be.”

The Daughters of the Confederacy conceived of the Jefferson Davis Highway in 1913, partly as an answer to the Lincoln Highway between New York and San Francisco dedicated that year. The group identified the highway’s route along existing roads, then promoted the name with signs, stone markers and state and local government resolutions.

The route they chose through North Carolina runs from the Virginia state line, follows U.S. 15 through Durham and Chapel Hill south to Sanford, then U.S. 1 to South Carolina near Rockingham.

Virginia officially adopted the name, but NCDOT officials say despite requests from the Daughters of the Confederacy in the 1920s and again in the late 1950s, North Carolina never did.

The groundwork for the removal was laid this summer after the death of George Floyd led to a review of Confederate monuments and symbols.

While wanting signs and markers gone, NCDOT is not trying to rename a section of U.S. 1 in Lee County that is actually called Jefferson Davis Highway. The Daughters of the Confederacy asked the county to so designate the road in 1959, and Lee commissioners agreed, according to a copy of the resolution provided by the county.

Lacy suggested that, because the county named the road, NCDOT should let the county handle any changes, which would affect the addresses of numerous residents and business owners. But Lee County officials say if the highway is to be rechristened it should be up to NCDOT or the General Assembly. No one has asked Lee County commissioners to rename the road, said spokeswoman Jamie Brown, and the county isn’t considering it.

Jay Price has specialized in covering the military for nearly a decade.
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