What can a political sociology class do? Perhaps change a highway name

Many highways and roads in the United States have local honorary names and one political sociology class wants to change who a nearby road honors:

University of Mary Washington students are all familiar with Jefferson Davis Highway, the road that leads to campus, Mary Washington Hospital and even Carl’s. Students walk over it to get to Giant, Eagle Landing and Home Team Grill but many students do not know the origin of its name. Students in the Political Sociology Class want to change that…

“The ultimate goal of our class project is to get the City Council of Fredericksburg’s approval to rename the Jefferson Davis Highway in the Fredericksburg area,” Greene said. “We are doing this project to show the public that we care about what our community represents, Jefferson Davis was a Confederate leader who owned approximately 100 slaves, why should we honor a leader who stood for inequality and the superiority of one race over another?”

Jefferson Davis was the owner of at least 113 slaves in his lifetime and was the president of the Confederate States of America from 1861 to 1865, and an embodiment of the values of the planter class. The United Daughters of the Confederacy decided to honor his memory by naming the highway after him…

For students who wish to get involved, Greene suggests showing support by “attending City Council meetings with our class, spreading the word amongst the campus and Fredericksburg community to help promote our mission by word of mouth and our Facebook page, and signing a petition that we plan to create in the near future. The more support we have from UMW, the more likely we are to make a change.”

I bet an analysis of all the honorary names in the United States would turn up a lot of figures who could be controversial. Take Chicago as an example: this helpful website helps makes sense of all of the honorary streets in the city. Given that roads and highways are built with taxpayer money, it makes some sense to have honorary figures who can appeal to everyone.

I like this class idea as a tangible goal for a political sociology course. Undergraduate students often ask how they can make an actual difference and this seems like an attainable goal. Along the way, the students will get opportunities to interact with local officials, the public, and other students and learn how to make such appeals.

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