Also 11/7/17

Also 11/7/17

Someone carelessly
looped the flag at half mast for
the latest victims.

Drooping from its slack
rope, even the autumn wind
leaves it listless, like

a hand in its last
moments, the slightest quiver
before giving up.

As before, so in
the aftermath, our lives less
worthy of life, death

dishonored for
not being money, crisp green
deserving a five

sided fortress and
the wealth of a nation. One
wet flag weeps for us.

 

(Photo Credit: The Washington Post / Eric Gay / AP)

26: The infinite mirroring of the horror we have created

Sutherland Springs

“Whose grave’s this, sir?”
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark

“Mourning. We will be speaking of nothing else.”
Jacques Derrida. Specters of Marx

26. Two mirrors face each other. “Sutherland Springs: Texas church shooting leaves 26 dead”. “Italy probes deaths of 26 Nigerian women from migrant boats”. These headlines both appeared on the BBC news website today. In Texas, the Governor said, “This will be a long, suffering mourning for those in pain.” In Texas, half of the people killed were children. In Italy, most of the women were between 14 and 18 years old. This is the fearful symmetry we have produced. No immortal hand or eye would dare produce such horror. This is completely ours. 26. We should all be in pain, and not just today. Who will remember the day in which 26 innocents here and 26 innocents there became specters, objects for the work of mourning, subjects for the never-too-soon debates? Who will claim responsibility, for the wholesale mass production of guns, refugees, asylum seekers, and corpses? 26. Whose world is this? Whose grave’s this, sir? 26.

Salerno

 

(Photo Credit 1: BBC / AFP) (Photo Credit 2: BBC / EPA)

The nation-State of Jane Doe: Jane Doe is very tired

Jane Doe is a 17-year-old undocumented woman currently caught in the State of Jane Doe, Texas and the United States of Trump. Both Texas and the United States are hell bent on torturing Jane Doe. Jane Doe is originally from Central America. Last month, Jane Doe discovered that she is pregnant. She requested an abortion. Jane Doe did everything that Texas required of her to obtain an abortion. Jane Doe is an “unaccompanied minor.” She did everything she had to do, and yet she is being held hostage by the United States government. Jane Doe is 17 years old, has played by the rules, and is being tortured for that. Her attorney reports that “she talks about being very tired.”

In the past week, a series of court hearings concerning Jane Doe have swung back and forth, one court allowing the abortion to proceed, the next disallowing Jane Doe’s immediate access to abortion and giving her until October 31 to find a sponsor to assume responsibility of the young woman and transport her to the clinic. Yesterday, another higher court heard an appeal of this decision. With all the attention on the legal proceedings, it’s easy to lose sight of the woman who never wanted to be called Jane Doe.

Jane Doe came to the United States on her own. She has reported that her parents beat her older sister when they discovered she was pregnant. Shortly after crossing the border, Jane Doe was apprehended. At the same time, she learned she was pregnant. She asked for an abortion. In Texas, an unaccompanied minor must obtain a waiver to get an abortion. Jane Doe did that. With the help of Jane’s Due Process and others, Jane Doe raised enough money for an abortion. Transportation was arranged. Everything was set. Despite court orders, the Office of Refugee Resettlement prohibited Jane Doe from travelling to her medical appointments. The Department of Health and Human Services forced her to attend a “Pregnancy Crisis Center” counseling and to have a sonogram. Even though Jane Doe had obtained a waiver that included confidentiality, the authorities informed her mother of her pregnancy. Those same authorities now say that Jane Doe can return to her family home, where she fears violence, and to her native country, where abortion is criminalized. In yesterday’s hearing, the government attorney argued, “Ms. Doe arrived here illegally and refuses to leave. She has put herself to a difficult choice. And if the federal government has to approve, assist, and be complicit in Ms. Doe’s abortion, the government’s interest in avoiding that facilitation outweighs any alleged ‘burden’ she has created for herself.”

Jane Doe bears the burden of living in a world in which the powerful hate young immigrant women of color, and impelled by that hatred lie, torture, and savage the life of a 17-year-old Latina who has braved so much. Then there is the historical burden we all share, that of living in a country in which “health and human services” means being held hostage and tortured and in which “refugee relocation” means being held hostage and tortured and then, of course, being told that the refugee “bears the responsibility.” We have seen this before.

“Who is on the look-out from this strange watch-tower
To warn us of our new executioners’ arrival?
Are their faces really different from ours?
Somewhere in our midst lucky Kapos survive.
Reinstated officers and anonymous informers.
There are those reluctant to believe
Or believing from time to time.
There are those who look at these ruins today
As though the monster were dead and buried beneath them.
Those who take hope again as the image fades
As though there were a cure for the scourge of these camps.
Those who pretend all this happened only once,
At a certain time and in a certain place.
Those who refuse to look around them,
Deaf to the endless cry.”
Night and Fog, Alain Resnais and Jean Cayrol

Jane Doe is 15 weeks pregnant. Texas bans elective abortion after a woman’s 20th week of pregnancy. Who is on the look-out to warn us of our new executioners’ arrival?

 

(Update: Jane Doe had her abortion, Wednesday, October 25, after a Court of Appeals ruling Tuesday, October 24.)

(Photo Credit: The Washington Post / Michael S. Williamson)

SB 4 and the Domestic Workers Fighting Against It: “We have a beautiful sisterhood”

Araceli Herrera

Amid the continuous attacks on undocumented immigrants across the United States, on September 25th courts permitted key elements of Texas’ Senate Bill 4 to go into effect, which allows police to work with immigration officials in detaining suspected undocumented people. SB 4 acts as a ban on sanctuary cities, by allowing police to inquire about immigration status during routine traffic stops, keeping undocumented people detained in jails, and punishing officers or city officials who refuse to comply with the legislation.

Opponents of the bill have raised concerns over the bill as infringing on people’s First and Fourth Amendment rights, and the risk of increased racial profiling during traffic stops. With the increase of racist, anti-immigrant sentiment permeating the country, it is a legitimate concern for those who are undocumented who may fear that they are one stop away from being detained and deported.

That concern has not stopped those who most at risk from speaking out against it. Many immigrants living in Texas have raised their voices in opposition to the bill, most notably domestic workers who fear they are most at risk because of the precarity of their jobs.

Araceli Herrera is a domestic worker who cleans houses for a living and was an undocumented worker for years. She was the founder of Domésticas Unidas, a coalition of domestic workers which fights to empower and educate undocumented domestic workers in San Antonio. The coalition is based on camaraderie and sisterhood among groups of domestic workers who met on a bus route before they started their workdays. Meeting on public transportation, the group could assist one another in instances of illness, which prevented a member from receiving her wages, to offering condolences after the death of a relative. When the bus route was suspended, the women organized, fought, and won the restoration of the route four years later. The group’s official motto became, “Cooking, Cleaning, Organizing and Fighting, The World Changes.”

Domestic workers in Texas have been subject to exploitative labor conditions that could be exacerbated if SB 4 isn’t struck down. 59% of all domestic workers are undocumented and 26% of those domestic workers are live-in nannies, placing them at the mercy of their employers. Many are subject to slave like conditions, abuse and exploitation, afraid to speak out because of their employers’ threats of report and deportation.

Live out domestic workers, who rely on having cars and driving to get to their jobs, do so without a license, as Texas has not issued driver’s licenses to non-naturalized citizens in nearly six years. Domestic workers in Texas therefore need to carefully navigate the public and private sphere for fear of deportation in all walks of life.

In response, domestic workers have organized workshops that educate undocumented women on the rights they have during traffic stops. Fear and anxiety about SB4 has persuaded many that ignorance of the law is the wisest route. According to Araceli Herrera, “Many don’t want to know how SB4 will hurt them because they are scared. They go with their little kids and open their eyes when their questions are answered.”  Instead of hoping and praying for the best,  Domésticas Unidas workshops advise undocumented immigrants in Texas to memorize their respective lawyer’s phone number.

Although racist ideology concerning undocumented people has won at the state level in Texas, the sisterhood of Domésticas Unidas forges forward, undeterred. Undocumented domestic workers and supporters have been out in force, marching in San Antonio, and protesting at the State Capitol in Austin. Workers have put their undocumented status on display, fighting against a bill that will put themselves and their families in jeopardy. During such time, they will make sure to provide advocacy campaigns to empower other domestics to fight for their rights against exploitation and abuse at their place of employment as well. In the words of Araceli Herrera, “We have a beautiful sisterhood.”

 

(Photo Credit: Scott Ball / Texas Monthly)

Why does the United States hate Samira Hakimi, her sister Nazifa, and their young children?

Samira Hakimi, her sister Nazifa, their respective husbands, and Samira’s two children were threatened by the Taliban in their home country, Afghanistan. The Hakimi family established and ran a high school and a private university, based on Western curricula, media of instruction English and Dari. The schools more than welcomed, they encouraged women to attend. For example, they offered more than half of their scholarships to women. For three years, the family weathered intensifying Taliban threats. Finally, last year, they fled Afghanistan. At the time of their departure, Nazifa was pregnant. In December, they crossed from Mexico into the United States and applied for asylum. They were all detained. Samira Hakimi, her 4- and 8-year-old children ended up in Karnes County Residential Center, as did her sister Nazifa and her newborn child. The husbands were detained elsewhere in Texas. In late May, Samira Hakimi and her two children were afforded asylum. Not her sister, nor her sister’s ten-month-old son, nor the husbands. Samira Hakimi knows why she was kept for six months, and why her family is still inside: “They told us you will only be a couple of days in there. I never thought that I would be detained here for such a long time. That I’m detained here because I’m from Afghanistan and that’s all. But I’m human.” Why does the United States hate Samira Hakimi, her sister Nazifa, and their young children?

The State is not supposed to hold families in detention for long periods of time. A federal judge arrived at that decision last year, and, as of now, that decision still holds … except that it means less than nothing in the immigration gulag. How is one supposed to respond when one is six months into a maximum three months’ stay in prison? What is one supposed to do when one’s children suffer day in day out, asking when they’re going to leave? How is one supposed to breathe surrounded by ever thickening despair? Samira Hakimi tried asking questions: “Here, no one talks to us. They don’t give us the reason why I’m detained in here. I never thought that I would be detained here for such a long time.” After months of no response, Samira Hakimi decided to take her own life, thinking that if she died, her children would be released from detention. She was found; taken to hospital, under guard; and then returned to Karnes.

Last week, Samira Hakimi and her two young children were released from Karnes, and are now `free’ in San Francisco. Samira Hakimi is 31 years old.

Two years ago, almost to the day, 19-year-old Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales, a Honduran asylum seeker also held in Karnes, tried to commit suicide. She and her four-year-old child had been in Karnes since October 2014. Lilian Oliva Bardales left a note, part of which, translated, read: “I write this letter so you know how it feels to be in this damn place for 8 months. You don’t understand that people’s lives have no price and you cannot buy it with money. You don’t have a heart for anybody. You just lie and humiliate all of us who have come to this country.” That was two years ago.

Since then, the situation has only grown more toxic. Laws against the detention of minors are routinely, and increasingly, ignored. Immigration detention death rates are skyrocketing. From October 1, 2015 to September 31, 2016, 10 people died in immigrant detention centers. From October 1, 2016 to the end of May, a week ago, eight people have already died in ICE custody.

Why does the United States hate Samira Hakimi and her family? Because they’re Afghan. Why does the United States hate Lilian Oliva Bardales and her son? Because they’re Honduran. Why does the United States hate Samira Hakimi, her sister Nazifa, Lilian Oliva Bardales, and their children? Because they’re vulnerable women and children who asked for help, because they’re human.

 

(Photo Credit 1: One America) (Photo Credit 2: Grassroots Leadership)

Why do we hate Sara Beltran Hernandez and Nasrin Haque?

Dr Nasrin Haque

Why does the United States of America hate Sara Beltran Hernandez? Why does Australia hate Nasrin Haque? Why does the State hate, and fear, non-native born women? Why does the State, built on the principles of white male supremacy, hate, and fear, non-native born women of color? What horrible crimes have these women committed that the State has chosen to persecute them?  For Sara Beltran Hernandez, it is the crime of being a Latina, of being a Central American, woman seeking refuge. For Nasrin Haque, it is the crime of being an Asian woman. The real crime is not in their bodies, but in our States and therefore in ourselves.

Sara Beltran Hernandez is very sick. Doctors say she may have a brain tumor and should have surgery quickly. Hernandez has been in immigration detention since 2015. Her family, in New York, say that she fled an abusive partner in El Salvador. They have been applying for asylum since her detention. This month, Sara Beltran Hernandez complained of headaches, nosebleeds, and memory loss. When she finally collapsed, she was taken to Huguley Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. While awaiting emergency surgery, Sara Beltran Hernandez was taken, by ICE agents, and removed to the Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas. Already weak and confined to a wheelchair, she was tied by her hands and ankles. The family is desperate and terrified.

The family is desperate, and by all accounts Sara Beltran Hernandez is dying: “Sara is worse than we thought. Death may be imminent.”

Nasrin Haque’s story is different and yet connected. Dr. Nasrin Haque, originally from Bangladesh, has lived in Australia for eight years. Previously Dr. Haque lived in Hungary. Nasrin Haque’s sister, brother, and parents are all Australian citizens. But her sixteen-year-old daughter Sumaya is not a citizen. When Nasrin Haque applied for permanent residency, she was turned down because her daughter lives with autism: “Her application for permanent residency was rejected because Sumaya’s condition, which is described as a `moderate developmental delay’, was deemed a burden on Australian taxpayers.” When does someone become a burden to the State, and how is that not only determined but calibrated and weighed? Where are the scales of injustice, and who set them?

Nasrin Haque is a successful doctor in Sydney. With friends and supporters, she waged a campaign to keep Sumaya, and the rest of the family, in Australia: “Although she does attend a special school, she has not received any other support from the state during her eight years in Australia. Sumaya is an independent young girl with strong computer skills and manages all activities of daily living on her own. My full-time position as a GP allows me to financially support my family without assistance from the Australian state … If we are deported back to Hungary, we will not be able to function. Deportation would tear our family apart, and destroy my childrens’ chances of completing their education and becoming productive members of society.”

Nasrin Haque was given until February 24, today, to present herself and her daughter with airline tickets in hand, or else they would be deported. Today, it was reported that, at the eleventh hour, the deportation was stayed and Nasrin Haque and her daughter Sumaya would be given permanent residency.

While the story for Nasrin Haque and Sumaya ends more or less happily, or at least with tears of relief, it’s a shameful episode in an even more shameful ongoing tragedy. When a young Salvadoran woman awaiting emergency surgery is forcibly and violently seized and taken off; when a young girl living with disabilities and her loving mother are told to leave, forever, because the disabilities cost too much, we have arrived at the intersection of State and Hate. The State built, like a fortress, on hatred, always assaults women, first, last, most intensely and most violently. Why do we hate Sara Beltran Hernandez and Nasrin Haque?

Sara Beltran Hernandez

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Dr. Nasrin Haque) (Photo Credit 2: NY Daily News / Melissa Zuniga)

The day 15-year-old Jacques Craig learned “how to sit in a police car”

Earlier this week in Fort Worth, Texas, Jacqueline Craig and her daughters, Brea and Jacques, were arrested, in yet another “incident” of police abuse against a Black woman and her children. Brea is 19 years old, and Jacques is 15. The whole thing was caught on video, posted to Facebook, and now the police officer is on restricted duty, the Fort Worth Police Department is scrambling to “keep the calm”, many are expressing “outrage”, and Black folk in Fort Worth can’t see much for the fog of quotation marks that these events raise these days, but they can see that this story would never happened if Jacqueline, Brea and Jacques Craig were White. Meanwhile, there’s Jacques Craig. What has she learned this week? “I didn’t know how to sit in a police car, I’ve never done it before. I was just crying and worried and thinking about how to get out.

Jacqueline Craig called the police to complain about a White neighbor who she said had grabbed her son by the throat, allegedly for having dropped some paper on the ground. Jacqueline Craig told the officer, “My daughter and son came home, saying that this man grabbed him and choked him.” The officer responded, “Why don’t you teach your son not to litter?” Jacqueline Craig answered, “He can’t prove to me that my son littered, but it doesn’t matter if he did or didn’t, it doesn’t give him the right to put his hands on him.” The officer answered, “Why not?”

Why not?

At this point, Jacqueline Craig and the officer are clearly tense, and Jacques Craig, the 15-year-old girl child, stepped forward and between the two, to help defuse the situation: “I am 15 years old. How was I supposed to know I wasn’t supposed to interfere? I was just trying to protect my mom.” Next thing, the officer pulls out his Taser, wrestles the 15-year-old Black girl to the ground, and …

By the end, Jacqueline Craig, Jacques Craig, and Brea Craig were all taken to the police station and processed. The Fort Worth Police Department quickly launched an investigation and released a statement, which read, in part, “The Fort Worth Police Department enjoys a close and cooperative relationship with our citizens; one of transparency, mutual trust and respect. The Fort Worth Police Department expects every officer to treat persons they encounter with that same trust, respect and courtesy. We acknowledge that the initial appearance of the video may raise serious questions. We ask that our investigators are given the time and opportunity to thoroughly examine this incident and to submit their findings. This process may take time, but the integrity of the investigation rests upon the ability of the investigators to document facts and to accurately evaluate the size and scope of what transpired. We ask our community for patience and calm during this investigation process.”

There’s a demonstration tonight in Fort Worth demanding justice and calling for an end to police brutality.

Across the country, from sea to shining sea, Black girls and young Black women face this form of State intimidation every single day. So do Latinx girls and young Latinx women and Native girls and young Native women. This particular officer may be one in Fort Worth, but there’s another in Galveston and another in Phoenix and another in Baltimore and another in Winslow and another in Auburn and another in Frederick County and another one somewhere right around the corner. Think of all those “rogue” police officers as the front line of secondary and tertiary public education for girls and women of color in the United States. What was this week’s lesson plan Jacques Craig? How to sit in a police car. Let’s hope she learns a better lesson.

Posted by Porsha Craver on Wednesday, December 21, 2016

 

(Photo Credit: NBC Dallas Fort Worth) (Video Credit: Facebook / Porsha Craver)

 

 

 

The nation-State of Jane Doe: Torture in Texas

Welcome to the nation of Jane Doe, where State violence forces women into anonymity. Last week, two Jane Doe cases garnered national attention. In one case, a rape survivor was jailed for more than a month to “ensure” she would be present at her rapist’s trial. In the second, a U.S. citizen was forced to undergo body cavity searches at the U.S. – Mexico border. Meet Jane Doe; she is the face, body and name of citizenship in the United States today.

Last Thursday, “the ACLU of Texas and the ACLU of New Mexico announced a record settlement in which U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) paid a New Mexico woman $475,000 for illegally subjecting her to vaginal and anal searches after she was detained at the Cordova Bridge point of entry in El Paso … Last year the University Medical Center of El Paso paid the same woman — referred to in the lawsuit as Jane Doe to protect her privacy — a $1.1 million settlement for its collusion in the invasive searches.”

Jane Doe’s story began in 2012, as she crossed the El Paso’s Cordova Bridge from Mexico to the United States. A drug-sniffing dog alerted border agents that Jane Doe was carrying drugs. The agents conducted a strip search at the station, using a flashlight to examine her genitals and anus. Finding nothing, the agents sent Jane Doe to University Medical Center, where Jane Doe was forced to undergo observed bowel movement, an X-ray, a speculum exam of her vagina, a bimanual vaginal and rectal exam, and a CT scan. There was no warrant and Jane Doe never consented to anything. Finding nothing, border agents gave Jane Doe “a choice”: sign a medical consent form or pay for the hospital “services.” Jane Doe refused to sign, and received a bill of $5,488.51.

Jane Doe sued and last week won. According to Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director for the ACLU of Texas, “This result could not have been achieved without Ms. Doe’s courage and perseverance. Had she succumbed to the threats of CBP agents and remained silent, who knows how many others might have suffered a similarly despicable experience.”

In another case, in 2013, a different Jane Doe was raped, in Houston, Texas. This Jane Doe lives with bipolar disorder. Three years later, in December 2015, Jane Doe was testifying against the man who raped her. Midway through her testimony, she broke down. Initially, Jane Doe was involuntarily committed to a psychiatric ward. Once “stabilized”, Jane Doe was sent to the Harris County Jail, where she stayed for 28 days. Why was Jane Doe sent to jail? The court had a holiday break coming up, and so the prosecuting attorney dumped Jane Doe in jail so that she would complete her testimony. Jane Doe “was imprisoned in the hellhole of the Harris County Jail for no reason other than being a rape victim who struggles with a mental disability.”

Jane Doe is suing Harris County, Texas, for the abuse and torture she experienced in jail. During her month in jail, Jane Doe was assaulted, insulted, verbally abused, demeaned, and worse. She was put in with the general population, even though there is a mental health unit in the jail. After all of that, Jane Doe did exactly as she had done all along. She cooperated with officials and completed her testimony in January.

Jane Doe was in the same county jail as the man who raped her: “Her rapist was not denied medical care, psychologically tortured, brutalized by other inmates, or beaten by jail guards,”

This is the State of Jane Doe where two women, all women, become one and the same. Their suffrage and citizenship is violence and torture: sexual, psychological, physical, spiritual, economic, political. Welcome to the State of Jane Doe, no country for women.

 

(Image Credit: Moviefone)

The treatment of Sulma Franco is a national disgrace

The signs read, “SULMA IS WELCOME HERE”, but for how long, and what is welcome? Ask Sulma Franco, a 31-year-old LGBT activist from Guatemala who has lived in Texas for six years, part of that in San Antonio, much of it in Austin. In Austin, she owned a thriving food truck business, La Ilusión. No longer.

In 2009, Sulma Franco applied for asylum as an open lesbian who faced violence if she returned home. She passed her initial interview with immigration officers, who determined she had a “credible fear” of returning to Guatemala. Released from detention, she was allowed to work. For years, she reported to immigration officers every three months. In June 2014, she was arrested and faced deportation. She says her former attorney failed to file some papers, and so her asylum case ended, abruptly and without her knowledge: “I didn’t have any problems until then. The immigration official said to me, ‘You know what, I want to tell you your case is closed and you’ll be detained.’ As simple as that. My record is clean. I’m not a criminal … I was paying taxes on my business, and was contributing to society. I had a work permit, driver’s license, business permits that were all in my name.”

No one disputes that Sulma Franco, as an open lesbian and prominent LGBT activist, faces peril if she returns to Guatemala. According to a 2012 study, Guatemala is a world leader in “the frequency and severity of violence against women — including lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender (LBT) women”. Sulma Franco already knows this: “The most difficult situation is that I would end up dead. The discrimination, the hate due to my sexual orientation … In my country, these are things that happen because of sexual orientation. That’s why I fear returning. They can’t tolerate the idea that two women can fall in love, have a child, run a business. If I fled this, why would I want to return? Here, I was able to take my girlfriend to a restaurant and have no problems … I don’t want to go back. I’ve suffered enough there. I’ve been discriminated against, abused and beaten up in every form because of my lifestyle … I can be tortured. I can be sexually abused. I can also be killed.”

On June 11, Sulma Franco was given sanctuary in an Austin church. Faith based groups joined immigrant rights organizers and women’s groups to push for a stay in deportation. On Tuesday, August 18, Sulma Franco was granted an order of supervision, which allows her to stay in the United States “for the time being.” Meanwhile, La Ilusión is no more, thanks to months in detention.

The treatment of Sulma Franco is a national disgrace, and it’s far from over. Yet again, for one woman to arrive at a precarious for-the-time-being, hundreds of people have to invest thousands of hours. In a famous scene in The Elephant Man, John Merrick, the protagonist, asks his mentor, “If your mercy is so cruel, what do you have for justice?” His mentor replies, “I am sorry. It is just the way things are.” Sulma Franco knows the way things are: cruel mercy, injustice posing as rule of law, and massive and intensive exploitation of those women who dare to dream. As simple as that.

Sulma Franco

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: Mari Hernandez / The Austin Chronicle) (Photo Credit 2: Alberto Martinez / San Antonio Current)

Turn “Jeff Davis” into Arthur Ashe. Do it now!

IMG_3775

If you live in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, California, or Washington, you might live near Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway. That’s right. From sea to shining sea, from the Rio Grande to the Canadian border, Jefferson Davis is “honored” and, presumably, you are honored to drive in his memory.

In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy designed, planned and sponsored the Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway system, which was to extend from Washington, DC, to San Diego. Their plan was to overlay the Confederacy onto the map of the United States, an ocean-to-ocean highway that would compete with the Lincoln Highway. While the coordinated highway system no longer exists, in each of the states mentioned above, parts of it survive, and under the name Jefferson Davis Highway.

In 2002, when Washington State Representative Hans Dunshee proposed changing the name of Washington’s Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, he ran into a whirlwind of opposition, because nothing says the Pacific Northwest like … the Confederacy and the war to preserve slavery. As Dunshee noted, “People are saying, ‘Oh, Jeff Davis was into roads for the Northwest.’ That’s their cover. But let’s be clear. This memorial was not put up by the AAA. It was put up to glorify the Confederacy.” The president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy weighed in, complaining that the change would “cause more hard feelings and certainly will not unify our country.”

When Dunshee first discovered the presence of the Confederacy in his home state, he said, “I was astonished that it was there. And then I was disgusted.” Disgust is a good response. Dunshee’s disgust only deepened, once he received calls telling him “to go back to Africa and take all of his kind with him.” Hans Dunshee’s “kind” would be German and Irish.

Nine years later, in 2011, in Arlington, Virginia, the Arlington County Board renamed a part called the Old Jefferson Davis Highway. It’s now the Long Bridge Drive. Why the name change? As then-County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman explained, “I have a problem with ‘Jefferson Davis’ [in the road’s name]. There are aspects of our history I’m not particularly interested in celebrating.”

While the “Old Jefferson Davis Highway” was part of the original Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway, it wasn’t included in the Commonwealth’s 1922 designation of the Jefferson Davis Highway, and so Arlington County could change the name, once it convinced opponents that perhaps the real “importance of history” is not its repetition but rather its analysis and critique.

Meanwhile, the rest of Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway in Virginia falls under the Commonwealth administration, and so any change there must go through Richmond.

The lesson of history has to be that people can change their histories and themselves for the better; that we don’t happen upon progress, we make progress happen. From Washington, DC, to Charleston to Washington State, make freedom ring. Move from astonishment to disgust to astonishment. Tear down the flag; rewrite the name. In Virginia, turn “Jeff Davis” into Arthur Ashe, a proud son of Virginia of whom we are all proud. Do it now. It’s the least we can do.

 

(`Jeff Davis’ Photo Credit: author’s photo) (Arthur Ashe Photo Credit: Charles Tasnadi / Associated Press)