Jefferson Davis Highway here? Legislator outraged

By Susanna Ray

Herald Writer

OLYMPIA — The forgotten name of an old highway has so riled a Snohomish County state representative that he’s promising to change the name or go to jail over the matter, if necessary.

Highway 99, which used to run the state from its southern to northern borders until it merged with other highways, has little-known markers at either end that read: "Jefferson Davis Highway No. 99. Erected by the Washington division United Daughters of the Confederacy. September 1940."

The marker honors the first and only president of the Confederate States of America. Hans Dunshee, a 39th Legislative District Democrat and a septic systems designer who is found of quoting "The Gettysburg Address," first noticed the northern marker on his way home through the Blaine border crossing from a kayaking trip to Canada in August.

He was immediately outraged.

"In this state, we cannot have a monument to a guy who led the insurgency to perpetuate slavery and killed half a million Americans," Dunshee said.

He drafted a measure Wednesday to change the highway’s name to honor instead a man who came from one of the first black families to settle in Snohomish.

And if that bill passes, he said the state Parks Department has agreed to tear down the monument, which stands about 10 feet from the road in Blaine.

Dunshee said he’s even willing to drive up to the Canadian border and rip out the monument himself, if that and the likely ensuing jail time are what it takes to expunge what he considers an unjust memorial for this state. He’s so fired up about it, his wife has agreed to accompany him.

"I mean, we’re not South Carolina with the flag of the Confederacy embedded in our state flag," Dunshee said. "Slavery was the greatest injustice of our history. It’s not something we should glorify."

A similar fight began a year ago in Mobile, Ala., when landscapers found a Jefferson Davis Highway marker that had been covered in weeds, and an Alabama state representative pushed for its removal.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy established the Jefferson Davis Highway in 1913 and began erecting stone markers along a chain of highways that stretches from Washington, D.C., all the way across the country, with the blessing of state officials.

Dunshee said his research shows that state Sen. Howard Roup, a Democrat from the 10th Legislative District, sponsored the bill that gave the name to Highway 99 here in Washington in 1939.

When I-5 was built in the 1960s, it took over the path of Highway 99 in some places, including the part that ends at the Canadian border. (Old Highway 99 still runs through Everett, on Evergreen Way.)

Jefferson Davis Highway is still the common name for a chain of roads in some places where it is hardly given a second thought. In fact, the Boeing Co. leases office space on Jefferson Davis Highway in Crystal City, Va., just outside Washington, D.C.

News reports from the 1990s indicate a reviving interest in the highway.

But Dunshee not only wants to demolish the marker here, he wants to get rid of the highway name, too.

He recalled an article he read in The Herald in 1998 about William Stewart, a black man "who fought for freedom" as a Union soldier in the Civil War before moving to Snohomish in the 1880s. He went on to establish a prominent family in the county.

So Dunshee drafted a measure to ask the state Transportation Commission to rename Highway 99 the "William P. Stewart Memorial Highway."

Dunshee said the Transportation Commission has always honored the Legislature’s directives in highway naming, so all he has to do is convince his fellow lawmakers. So far, the response has been supportive, he said. Rep. Ruth Fisher, D-Tacoma, chairwoman of the House Transportation Committee, agreed to give the measure a hearing — a significant first step toward passage, he said.

"The reaction is, ‘You’re kidding. That shouldn’t be there,’" Dunshee said.

In his research, Dunshee discovered that there’s a similar monument in a city park in Vancouver, Wash.

"Hopefully, the city of Vancouver would take the same actions" and remove it, he said. "It ought to be an embarrassment to them to have it there, too."

"It’s wrong, and we have to remove that designation and take out these monuments," Dunshee said. "We have to make a statement in the state of Washington that it’s unacceptable to honor the president of the Confederacy."

You can call Herald Writer Susanna Ray at 360-586-3803

or send e-mail to ray@heraldnet.com.

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