In 1913, UDC President-General Rassie White conceived of a memorial project unlike any other. The organization’s success with monuments was evident throughout the South and in some northern cities, including Chicago. Even San Francisco had a Confederate memorial in the form of a park planted with southern trees.
But it was the opportunity to honor their man once again that led President-General White and the Daughters to suggest that a highway, named for Jefferson Davis, be created. The transcontinental route would extend from ocean to ocean and wind its way through southern states, beginning in Washington, DC, and ending in San Diego, California.
There would also be two auxiliary routes: one from Davis’s birthplace in Fairview, Kentucky, to his last residence, Beauvoir, on the coast of Mississippi. Surprisingly, the other route would follow Davis’s escape route through the South to the site of his capture in Irwinsville, Georgia. Surprising, since this route ended at the place where the controversy erupted over his capture in feminine attire.
The Daughters’ did not fully succeed in completing this highway memorial, as some sections of the road were built but not connected as a continuous coast to coast route. Today, only some parts of the highway carry the Davis name. One, ironically, is U.S. 80 in Alabama, particularly the segment from Selma to Montgomery. It was indeed on this road, named for Jefferson Davis, that the Reverend Martin Luther King led the march that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a story recently dramatized in the movie “Selma.”
The other route, U.S. 1 in Virginia, also carries the name Jefferson Davis Highway. It was through this section of the memorial that I again crossed paths, literally, with the memory of the Confederate president.
In 2001, I moved to Arlington, Virginia. Friends of mine directed me to some apartments in the area known as Crystal City, adjacent to National Airport (I’m one of those who still resists the name change to Reagan National for good reason.) Because I had to make a quick decision, I settled on an apartment in this section of Arlington.
My new address, and a big surprise to me, was none other than Jeff Davis Highway. As serendipity would have it, it was there, with a Jeff Davis address, that I put the finishing touches on the manuscript that became Dixie’s Daughters.
For more information on this highway, see: Richard F. Weingroff, “Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway,” U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration website, http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/infastructure/jdavis.htm
My Lost Cause journey with Jeff continues. Come back next week for Part VII and the story of Jeff Davis and his crown of thorns.