Me and Jeff Davis, Part VI: Living on Jefferson Davis Highway

Map_of_the_Jefferson_Davis_Memorial_Highway
This map does not show the alternate routes I mention here, but it offers you an idea of what the UDC had in mind.

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.

2004-D03-315There 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.

jdhwyMy 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.

 

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The Larger Meaning of the King Holiday

From the Selma to Montgomery taken March 25, 1965. MLK, Jr. at Center.
Photo from the Selma to Montgomery taken March 25, 1965. MLK, Jr. at center.

Lest we forget why we commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday today, we must understand that it is more than about one man, but about an entire movement for civil rights.  King is recognized as its most significant leader, but the leaders were many and it took thousands of men, women, and children to effect change in our nation’s laws.

So often, college students of this generation do not truly understand what is meant when they are told “people gave their lives for the simple act of voting.”  The new film Selma helps to illustrate that struggle for this generation, but today as we think about the meaning of the King holiday, it is worth being reminded that those risks were very real as seen in this original news clip from “Bloody Sunday,” the first of the Selma marches that took place on March 7, 1965.

Selma: Hollywood’s Latest Foray into the Civil Rights Movement

 James Karales (1930–2002), Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965, 1965. Photographic print. Located in the James KaralesCollection, Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke University. Photograph © Estate of James Karales.

James Karales (1930–2002), Selma-to-Montgomery March for Voting Rights in 1965, 1965. Photographic print. Located in the James Karales Collection, Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library, Duke
University. Photograph © Estate of James Karales.

The new civil rights film Selma opened on Christmas Day and by January 9th will appear in theaters across the country.  In Selma, director Ava DuVernay examines what the film’s official website describes as “the story of a movement [that] chronicles the tumultuous three-month period in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. led a dangerous campaign to secure equal voting rights in the face of violent opposition. The epic march from Selma to Montgomery culminated in President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the most significant victories for the civil rights movement.”

As previously discussed in this blog, the American South has consistently provided Hollywood with dramatic material since the dawn of film. For much of that history, movies have romanticized the Old South and often portrayed slavery as a benevolent institution. Last year’s Best Picture winner, 12 Years a Slave, helped to right that ship by showing the brutality of slavery in all its forms.

Hollywood has also tried to “do” civil rights films before, though not very successfully.  Films like Mississippi Burning (1988) or The Long Walk Home (1990) presented a civil rights story where the heroes were white men and women.

This is not the case with Selma where DuVernay has focused her lens not only on well-known black heroes like Martin Luther King, Jr., but on the real heroes of the movement–local people whose grassroots organizing and willingness to march and subject themselves to violence resulted in changes to our nation’s laws.

Early reviews of the film are either glowing (see the NYT review) or have criticized how the film misrepresented President Lyndon B. Johnson’s role.  Joseph Califano, LBJ’s top assistant for domestic affairs from 1965-1969 argues that the Selma march was Johnson’s idea and in his review of the film takes DuVernay’s version to task. DuVernay has responded with vehemence, tweeting that the suggestion that the Selma march was LBJ’s idea is “jaw dropping and offensive to SNCC, SCLC and black citizens who made it so.”

As with any film that seeks to dramatize historical events, it’s always a good idea to read a good book to help you gain perspective.  For that, I recommend David J. Garrow’s Protest at Selma: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Then see the film for yourself and decide.