Student Leads Move to Change Name of Van Dorn Metro Station
By Russell Brooks
Why are heroes of the “Lost Cause” still being honored in northern Virginia? Specifically, why should the Van Dorn Metro Station implicitly celebrate General Earl Van Dorn of the Confederate States of America? That question is being asked by Springfield resident and Spelman College sophomore, Taylor Brigman.
Earl Van Dorn (September 17, 1820 – May 7, 1863) was born near Port Gibson, Mississippi. He graduated from West Point and served in the U.S. Army until he decided to side with the Confederacy in the Civil War. He held the rank of Major General and commanded the Trans-Mississippi District in the Western Theater of the war. He was considered a notable cavalry officer, but his service ended when he was killed by a man who claimed Van Dorn was engaged in an affair with his wife.
Upon learning who the station is named after, Brigman started a petition to demand that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority change the name of the station. “Our community must embody our core principles and pay tribute to those who have significantly and positively impacted society. Renaming the station would represent a symbolic stride toward inclusivity and the rightful recognition of deserving individuals,” says Brigman.
To date, the online petition has garnered 218 signatures from local residents and continues to grow. Brigman is also seeking support from the Fairfax County NAACP, the Link, Inc, and alumni of Spelman and Morehouse colleges who reside in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia.
The Van Dorn station straddles the boundary between Fairfax County and Alexandria City. The station opened on June 15, 1991 and is located at South Van Dorn Street and Eisenhower Avenue. Alexandria is the home of 41 streets named after Confederates, 20 of which were named after a 1953 city ordinance that required that streets running in the north to south direction be named after Confederate military heroes. Van Dorn Street was previously Lincolnia Road until 1953.
According to Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, ““Our predecessors used street naming policies as a form of permanent protest against the burgeoning civil rights movement and growing political power for African-Americans. As a symbol, these honors persist today, honoring virulent racists, many of whom took up arms against our nation. These honors are not defensible and should be removed.”
Fairfax County also has numerous streets named after Confederates, but the County changed the name of Lee Highway (now Rt. 29) and Lee-Jackson Highway (Rt. 50) in 2022 as well renaming Robert E. Lee High School to John Lewis High School in 2020 in an effort to get in step with current sensibilities.
Alexandria City changed Jeferson Davis Highway to Richmond Highway/Rt. 1 in 2019 and will begin a process this year to rename its streets honoring the Confederacy by announcing three streets that will be renamed. The Alexandria City Council has agreed to a plan to rename three streets each year.
Taylor Brigman hopes Van Dorn street will be one of them. “In view of recent advancements in renaming streets and removing controversial monuments, I am confident that WMATA will also recognize the need to rename the Van Dorn Metro station to something that truly reflects a positive contribution to our society.”
To sign the petition to rename the Van Dorn Metro Station, you can go to this site https://www.change.org/p/sign-for-a-purpose-help-rename-van-dorn-metro-station
About the author: Russell Brooks is a member of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee and the Precinct Captain in the Kingstowne area of Franconia. Russell grew up in New Jersey and moved to Virginia in 2004 to work for the Federal government. He is an alumnus of both the University of Pennsylvania and Seton Hall University’s School of Diplomacy. Russell is also an avid reader of history.