Southbound drivers get a glimpse of a new state highway sign near Everett Mall on Tuesday that designates the William P. Stewart Memorial Highway. Last year, Highway 99 was renamed to recognize Stewart, an African-American Civil War veteran who settled in Snohomish County after serving with the Union Army. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Southbound drivers get a glimpse of a new state highway sign near Everett Mall on Tuesday that designates the William P. Stewart Memorial Highway. Last year, Highway 99 was renamed to recognize Stewart, an African-American Civil War veteran who settled in Snohomish County after serving with the Union Army. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

New Everett highway sign honors black Civil War soldier

Far from Virginia, where strife begotten of a white supremacist rally exploded in deadly violence, traffic buzzed past a highway sign Tuesday near the Everett Mall.

Drivers seeing the new “William P. Stewart Memorial Highway” sign may not know why it’s there. It honors an African-American Civil War veteran who settled in Snohomish County after serving in the Union Army.

Everett’s Marilyn Quincy and Georgina “Genie” Paul know. Stewart, who died in 1907, was their great-grandfather. The women, along with their sister Mary Barrett, worked with Hans Dunshee to push a measure requesting that State Route 99 be named the William P. Stewart Memorial Highway.

A former state representative from Snohomish who also served on the County Council, Dunshee shared a powerful message after the Legislature voted unanimously last year to pass the measure. “Racism is not dead. It isn’t ended,” he told The Daily Herald. Dunshee’s effort to rename the road began in 2002 when he saw a monument in Blaine dedicating Highway 99 to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Dunshee’s words — racism is not dead — were prophetic.

Racism was on disgusting display in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Friday night and Saturday. White nationalists evoked Ku Klux Klan terror as they marched with torches at the University of Virginia. Displaying swastikas and Confederate flags, far-right demonstrators clashed with counterprotesters Saturday. A woman was killed when a car slammed into a group opposing the “Unite the Right” rally.

President Donald Trump on Tuesday repeated his assertion that there’s “blame on both sides,” a stance that brought a firestorm of criticism Saturday when Trump failed to specifically condemn neo-Nazis and white supremacists. Extreme-right groups were in Charlottesville to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general, from a park.

“With the current climate, it just came to a head,” said Quincy, 73, who believes Trump’s campaign and election emboldened those with racist views. “For some reason, people felt they could come out. It wouldn’t be so politically incorrect for them to be able to march.

“You hear them say, ‘We’re going to take back.’ Take us back where — to slavery?” Quincy said.

Last weekend’s images of racist symbols and violence were reminders, Quincy said, that hate is not a thing of the past. “This shows there is still bias,” she said.

White supremacists and others have battled against the removal of Confederate monuments, although before he died Gen. Lee swore allegiance to the Union and opposed such remembrances of the Confederacy.

Paul is gratified that here, the highway sign tells a lesser-known chapter of Civil War history, about her ancestor’s service to his country.

“It was an honor to have that sign up in recognition of William P. Stewart, our family member,” said Paul, 70. “With everything going on in the country, it’s a significant sign of representation and remembrance of all people of color in our area, and in the country. Especially with the conditions happening now, it’s pretty pertinent.”

Paul hopes the sign helps the community learn more about “where we come from, and the things people had to endure.”

Janice Greene, president of the Snohomish County branch of the NAACP, issued a statement Monday decrying what the nation witnessed from Virginia. The organization has scheduled a rally against hate for 11 a.m. Sunday on the Snohomish County Campus in Everett.

“I, like many of you, was appalled to watch the neo-Nazi march/rally in Virginia, the hatred and violence, and the unchecked entitlement to put something so awful out front for the world to see,” Greene wrote. She said the philosophy shared by white supremacists and the alt-right movement has been “bolstered by the non-actions and implicit support of this administration and others in positions of power.”

Greene noted that “we as a community need to resist” what she said is a multifaceted problem, “a rise in racist, misogynistic, homophobic and xenophobic behavior.” She called on people to “do our civic duty to vote, to speak up, and to value and support each other.”

In the bleak picture of racial divide painted in Virginia, Quincy sees a sliver of hope.

“Maybe this is the boiling point, that it’s not in the darkness,” Quincy said. “We have to get together somehow. You can’t shove it under the carpet. When you put it in the light, maybe it will begin to heal. We just have to heal as a nation.”

And perhaps that highway sign will bring teachable moments.

“So many people drive by it,” Paul said. “It’s there. Now they’ll actually look.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Rally against hate

The NAACP Snohomish County Branch has scheduled a rally against hate for 11 a.m. Sunday at the Snohomish County Campus atrium, outside the county administration buildings and courthouse, 3000 Rockefeller Ave., Everett.

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