There's so much going on regarding monuments and symbols of the Confederacy these days. Last week William and Mary's president Taylor Reveley announced that they were taking the Confederate battle flag and the Confederate seal (which, btw, is the Washington Equine Statue in Richmond and here) off the College's mace and that they're removed a plaque put up in the early twentieth century in the college's Wren building to honor students and a few faculty who went off to fight for the Confederacy. At UT Austin they're about to move the Jefferson Davis statue.
Up in Southampton County, Virginia, the site of the Nat Turner rebellion, there's a move afoot to change the name of "Blackhead Signpost Road." John Ricks, a retired Marine who lives in Southampton, made the request at the County Commissioners meeting back in July. Mr. Ricks told the commissioners that “I’m asking that Blackhead Signpost Road [be changed] … This is 2015, this is not 1860 ... It is an insult. I have a son, granddaughter and grandson. I explained to them what I was coming to do today, and I told them I was going to do it because I believe this is the right thing to do."
I completely understand those sentiments -- though I think what we need is another sign, which explains where the road got its name in the first place: in the violence of the Turner rebellion. A slave -- I think it was the blacksmith Alfred -- was killed and then his head put in a post as a warning to others. Want to know more about the circumstances of Alfred's death? Check out the petition sent by his owner to the Virginia legislature to ask for compensation and the supporting affidavits. The short version is that Alfred had his hamstrings cut by the local militia, so that he could not escape. They left him by the side of the road. Then a group of mounted militia from Greensville County came along, tied him to a tree and shot him because, as Alfred's owner wrote, they "deemed that his immediate execution would operate as a beneficial example to the other Insurgents—many of whom were still in arms and unsubdued." I believe that Alfred is the person whose head was placed as a warning.
But here's where the story takes a surprising turn. Mr. Ricks said he was inspired by an op-ed(irony of irony opposing the removal of Confederate monuments). "About a month ago I was reading The Washington Post, and it knocked my socks off, gentlemen. I was embarrassed because a paper way out of the state writes an article explaining how Blackhead Signpost Road got its name. I had heard this growing up, but I didn’t want to believe it."
I'll be following this story closely; my hope is that there'll be another sign added, which explains the origins of "Blackhead Signpost Road." But this may be an instance where the community members decide that the name needs to be changed.
I have some more thoughts about this in the Tidewater News.