Lexington city council considers street renaming policy ‘test run’

There is only one house on New Market Place. John Knox, 78, a Washington and Lee University professor emeritus, has lived there the past 40 years. He said he wants the street to be renamed. (Felicity Taylor photo)

By Felicity Taylor

Two Lexington City Council members have suggested a test run of a proposal to allow residents to seek renaming streets that honor the Confederacy.

During an April 1 meeting, Council Members Dennis Ayers and Marylin Alexander supported the idea of using New Market Place, a short street behind the CVS, as a test case to help officials figure out what works and what doesn’t in the proposed street renaming policy.

City Council has not yet voted on the draft proposal, and members plan to continue hearing from the public on the issue at their April 15 meeting.

Ayers said New Market Place would be a good test because it’s not named after anyone, and there’s only one house on the street.

“It’s painfully ironic that the last trip for people who are buried, in the historically black cemetery Evergreen, their last trip on earth has to be on a street named after a Confederate battle victory.” – Council Member Dennis Ayers

The most recent draft of the proposed policy would require 75% of homeowners on a street to sign a petition supporting a name change.

John Knox, 78, a Washington and Lee University professor emeritus, has lived in the only house on New Market Place for the past 40 years. He said he wants the street to be renamed.

New Market Place is named after the Battle of New Market, a Civil War battle in 1864 fought and won by Virginia Military Institute cadets, according to the American Battlefield Trust, a charitable organization that focuses on preservation of battlefields of the Civil War, the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 through acquisition of the land.

The street is also the only entrance to the Evergreen Cemetery, where mostly African Americans are buried.

New Market Place, the street being considered for the street renaming policy test run, leads to Evergreen Cemetery, a predominantly African American cemetery. (Felicity Taylor photo)

“It’s painfully ironic that the last trip for people who are buried, in the historically black cemetery Evergreen, their last trip on earth has to be on a street named after a Confederate battle victory,” Ayers said during the April 1 council meeting.

Both Ayers and Knox said they support changing New Market Place to Evergreen Place.

“I hope to show my solidarity and affection for these good neighbors and their still living relatives, and to show support for racial justice by being more mindful of American history,” Knox said in an interview.

It is unclear what happens next. “I think the ball is in the court of Lexington” Knox said. “I am ready to sign the document giving support for this change.”

Ayers said he wants to incorporate lessons learned from a test case to determine whether possible adjustments to the proposed policy are needed.

He said he hopes that New Market Place’s experience would prompt neighbors to start talking to each other about the names of their streets—and whether they want to change them.

The proposed policy also would require residents to pay a $400 fee.

Ayers said he wants City Council to waive the fee for New Market Place and provide the same option in future cases.