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The Jefferson Davis Highway: Contesting the Confederacy in the Pacific Northwest

  • EUAN HAGUE (a1) and EDWARD H. SEBESTA (a2)

The Jefferson Davis Highway (JDH) is a controversial Confederate memorial. Since 1913 the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) have placed markers along roadsides across America to commemorate the Confederate President. The women's organization claims that the JDH stretches over four thousand miles from Alexandria, Virginia to the Pacific coast and the Canadian border. In 2002, conflict ensued in the Pacific northwestern state of Washington when a local politician initiated a campaign to remove a granite JDH marker from a state park where it had been erected by the UDC sixty years previously. This led to dispute over whether Jefferson Davis should, or should not, be honoured by a commemorative marker on Washington's border with Canada. Drawing on contemporary secondary sources to interrogate these contests over the meaning of Jefferson Davis and the Confederate legacy, we argue that behind the veneer of heritage and genealogical celebration forwarded by groups such as the UDC there is a neo-Confederate nationalism that works to maintain white supremacy as a dominant interpretation of US history.

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1 Woodbury, Charlotte O., “The Jefferson Davis Highway,” UDC Bulletin, 1 (May 1938), n.p.

2 United Daughters of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis Highway (Richmond, VA: United Daughters of the Confederacy, 1960).

3 Howard Lawrence Preston, in Dirt Roads to Dixie: Accessibility and Modernization in the South, 1885–1935 (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1991), identifies two Jefferson Davis highways, one from Washington, DC to San Francisco (at 61), the other from Winnipeg to New Orleans (at 130). See also J. R. Akerman, “Maps of the National Highways Association from a Recent Gift,” Mapline: A Quarterly Newsletter, Hermon Dunlap Smith Center for the History of Cartography, The Newberry Library, Chicago, 72–73 (1994), 1–9.

4 Throughout the 2002 controversy, Dunshee referred to himself as “white.” For discussions of the contextual social construction of white racial identities in the United States see, amongst others, Noel Ignatiev, How the Irish Became White (New York and London: Routledge, 1995); Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color: European Immigrants and the Alchemy of Race (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998); and David R. Roediger, Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, revised edn (London and New York: Verso, 1999).

5 Quoted in Autumn Koepp, “Rebel Voices on Road: Proposed Road-Name Change Sparks Anger,” Seattle Times (online edition), 4 Feb. 2002 (corrected 5 Feb. 2002), accessed 19 Feb. 2003.

6 Charlotte O. Woodbury, “Jefferson Davis Highway,” Minutes of the Forty-Seventh Annual Convention, United Daughters of the Confederacy (1940), 180–83; Wilkins, M. A., “Dedication of Jefferson Davis Highway Marker at Blaine, Washington,” UDC Bulletin 4 (June 1941), 45.

7 Sally Leigh McWhite, “Echoes of the Lost Cause: Civil War Reverberations in Mississippi, 1865–2001,” unpublished PhD dissertation, University of Mississippi, 2002, 308.

8 For an overview of the concept of cultural landscapes, see Don Mitchell, Cultural Geography: A Critical Introduction (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000).

9 Richard H. Schein, “Normative Dimensions of Landscape,” in C. Wilson and P. Groth, eds., Everyday America: Cultural Landscape Studies after J. B. Jackson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 200.

10 Gary Younge, No Place Like Home: A Black Briton's Journey through the American South (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002), 67.

11 Owen J. Dwyer and Derek L. Alderman, Civil Rights Memorials and the Geography of Memory (Chicago: The Center for American Places at Columbia College, 2008), viii.

12 Kenneth E. Foote, Shadowed Ground: America's Landscapes of Violence and Tragedy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1997).

13 Winberry, J. J., “‘Lest We Forget’: The Confederate Monument and the Southern Townscape,” Southeastern Geographer, 23 (1983) 107–21; Radford, J. P., Identity and Tradition in the Post-Civil War South, Journal of Historical Geography, 18 (1992) 91103.

14 James W. Loewen, Lies across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong (New York: Touchstone, 2000), 103.

15 McWhite, 290.

16 Ibid., 296, 309.

17 Fine, G. A., “John Brown's Body: Elites, Heroic Embodiment, and the Legitimation of Political Violence,” Social Problems, 46 (1999) 225–49; Alderman, Derek H., “Street Names as Memorial Arenas: The Reputational Politics of Commemorating Martin Luther King Jr. in a Georgia County,” Historical Geography, 30 (2002) 99120.

18 For the development of neo-Confederate nationalist ideology see Hague, Euan, “Texts as Flags: The League of the South and the Development of a Nationalist Intelligentsia in the United States 1975–2001,” Hagar: International Social Science Review, 3 (2002), 299339, and Euan Hague, Heidi Beirich and Edward H. Sebesta, eds., Neo-Confederacy: A Critical Introduction (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2008). See also James W. Loewen and Edward H. Sebesta, eds., The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” about the “Lost Cause” (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2010).

19 Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (New York: Viking, 2006), 134.

20 Jason Sokol, There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil Rights, 1945–1975 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), 271–82.

21 Euan Hague, Benito Giordano and Sebesta, Edward H., “Whiteness, Multiculturalism and Nationalist Appropriation of Celtic Culture: The Case of the League of the South and the Lega Nord,” Cultural Geographies, 12, 2 (2005), 151–73, 158.

22 Tony Horwitz, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War, (New York: Vintage, 1998), 69.

23 Webster, Gerald R. and Leib, Jonathan I., “Whose South Is It Anyway? Race and the Confederate Battle Flag in South Carolina,” Political Geography, 20, 3 (2001), 271–99; Webster, Gerald R. and Leib, Jonathan I., “Political Culture, Religion and the Confederate Battle Flag Debate in Alabama,” Journal of Cultural Geography, 20, 1 (2002), 1–26; Jonathan I. Leib and Gerald R. Webster, “The Confederate Flag Debate in the American South: Theoretical and Conceptual Perspectives,” in A. Willingham, ed., Beyond the Color Line? Race, Representation, and Community in the New Century (New York: Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, 2002), 221–42; and Leib, Jonathan I., “Heritage versus Hate: A Geographical Analysis of Georgia's Confederate Battle Flag Debate,” Southeastern Geographer, 35, 1 (1995), 37–57.

24 Tara McPherson, “I'll Take My Stand in Dixienet – White Guys, the South and Cyberspace,” in Beth E. Kolko, Lisa Nakamura and Gilbert B. Rodman, eds., Race in Cyberspace (New York and London: Routledge, 2000), 117–31.

25 Roberts, Diane, “A League of Their Own,” Southern Exposure, 25, 1–2 (1997), 1823, 19; Jon Bohland, “A Lost Cause Found: Vestiges of Old South Memory in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia,” unpublished PhD dissertation, Virginia Polytechnic University, 2006.

26 Leib, Jonathan I., “Separate Times, Share Spaces: Arthur Ashe, Monument Avenue and the Politics of Richmond, Virginia's Symbolic Landscape,” Cultural Geographies, 9, 3 (2002), 286–312; idem, “Lee, Robert E., ‘Race,’ Representation and Redevelopment along Richmond, Virginia's Canal Walk,” Southeastern Geographer, 44, 2 (2004), 236–62; and idem, “The Witting Autobiography of Richmond, Virginia: Arthur Ashe, the Civil War, and Monument Avenue's Racialized Landscape,” in Richard H. Schein, ed., Landscape and Race in the United States (New York and London: Routledge, 2006), 187–211.

27 Gerald R. Webster and Jonathan I. Leib, “Fighting for the Lost Cause: The Confederate Battle Flag and Neo-Confederacy,” in Hague, Beirich and Sebesta, 169–201.

28 W. Fitzhugh Brundage, The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2005).

29 Peter Applebome, Dixie Rising: How the South Is Shaping American Values, Politics, and Culture (New York: Times Books, 1996); David Goldfield, Still Fighting the Civil War: The American South and the Southern History (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2002).

30 “Jefferson Davis Highway,” UDC Magazine, 57 (Sept. 1994), 5455; Richard F. Weingroff, “Jefferson Davis Memorial Highway,” US Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, online at, accessed 18 Aug. 2008.

31 Gulley, H. E., “Women and the Lost Cause: Preserving a Confederate Identity in the American Deep South,” Journal of Historical Geography, 19 (1993), 125–41, 131; Gaines M. Foster, Ghosts of the Confederacy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987). There is some disagreement as to when the UDC was founded. Gulley dates the organization to 1894, Foster to 1895. The official UDC website states that the first meeting of the organization was in 1894 and that the name “United Daughters of the Confederacy” was decided upon at a second meeting in 1895. UDC meeting minutes show that the first UDC convention was held on 10 September 1894, at which a constitution was agreed upon.

32 Karen L. Cox, Dixie's Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003), 27.

33 The pro-Confederate “Lost Cause” interpretation of the Civil War was developed by E. A. Pollard – see The Lost Cause: A New Southern History of the War of the Confederates (New York: E. B. Treat & Co., 1866); and idem, The Lost Cause Regained (New York: G. W. Carleton, 1868). For examinations of the Lost Cause see Rollin G. Osterweis, Romanticism and Nationalism in the Old South (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1949); idem, The Myth of the Lost Cause, 1865–1900 (Hamden: Archon Books, 1973); and Gary W. Gallagher and Allan T. Nolan, eds., The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000). For UDC efforts to control the content of school textbooks see James M. McPherson, “Long-Legged Yankee Lies: The Southern Textbook Crusade,” in Alice Fahs and Joan Waugh, eds., The Memory of the Civil War in American Culture (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 64–78.

34 Charlotte O. Woodbury, “Jefferson Davis Highway Report,” Minutes of the Fiftieth Annual Convention, United Daughters of the Confederacy, 1943, 185–88; United Daughters of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis Highway. Today a section of road in Alexandria (Virginia) retains the name “Jefferson Davis Highway” – see Hague, Euan, “More Imagined than Real: The Jefferson Davis Highway,” Journal of the Society for Commercial Archaeology, 28 (2010) 1419.

35 A. W. Littlefield, “A Highway Memorial,” Minutes of the Thirty-Second Annual Convention, United Daughters of the Confederacy, 1925, 194. Littlefield is identified in UDC minutes as a “Massachusetts Confederate.”

36 Mayfield's name is spelled ‘Earl’ in some documents. He was a member of the Ku Klux Klan and drew on Klan support to win his single US Senate term 1923–29 – see Kenneth T. Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City, 1915–1930 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967); and Michael Phillips, White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841–2001 (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006).

37 Letter dated 31 July 1925 addressed to Hon. Earl B. Mayfield, Member of Congress, Austin, Texas, initialled “ewj-mlw,” the former referring to E. W. James, Secretary of the Joint Board on Interstate Highways.

38 Highway 99 was the main West Coast route through Washington between Canada and Oregon until the construction of Interstate 5. In Washington, some sections of Highway 99 were widened to become today's I-5. For an overview of Highway 99 in this area see Jill Livingston, That Ribbon of Highway III: Highway 99 through the Pacific Northwest (Klamath River: Living Gold Press, 2003).

39 United Daughters of the Confederacy, The Jefferson Davis Highway Marker,” UDC Bulletin 2 (Sept. 1939), 3.

40 Quoted in Foster Church, “Race Talk Surfaces with Stone Markers,” The Oregonian, 12 April 2002, B01.

41 Charlotte O. Woodbury, “Jefferson Davis Highway,” Minutes of the Forty-Seventh Annual Convention, United Daughters of the Confederacy (1940), 180–83.

42 History Committee, The History of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, 2 vols., (History Committee, 1956); rept. Orlando: United Daughters of the Confederacy, 1993), 283. It should be noted, however, that no JDH markers were located in Oregon due to local and legislative resistance. Despite this, the UDC implied, mapped and claimed a continuous West Coast route when the reality was quite different.

43 The following guests were at the unveiling of the Blaine marker on 24 May 1941: Howard Roup (state senator, Washington); A. Wells Graym (minister of lands, representing the premier of British Columbia); the mayors of Victoria, Vancouver and Westminster (Canada) and of Bellingham and Blaine (USA); Washington State Lieutenant Governor Victor A. Myers; and representatives of Washington's State Park Board and Highway Department – see, inter alia, Wilkins, M. A., “Dedication of Jefferson Davis Highway Marker at Blaine, Washington,” UDC Bulletin, 4 (June 1941), 45, Charlotte O. Woodbury, M. A. Wilkins, R. S. Wasem, G. A. Matthews and K. C. Souther, “Report on Jefferson Davis Highway,” Minutes of the Forty-Eighth Annual Convention, United Daughters of the Confederacy (1941), 169–74; Washington House Bill Report, HJM 4024: Requesting that State Route 99 be named the William P. Stewart Memorial Highway, passed by the House 15 Feb. 2002, online at, accessed 20 Feb. 2003; Associated Press, “Controversy Prompts Shift but Not Removal of Confederate Memorial,” 15 March 2002, accessed 18 July 2005; Frank Thompson, “Viewpoint,” Northern Light – Community Newspaper for Blaine, Birch Bat and Semiahmoo, 14–20 Feb. 2002, online at, accessed 18 Aug. 2008.

44 Quoted in Associated Press, “Discovery of Jefferson Davis Highway Outrages Lawmaker,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 24 Jan. 2002, on-line at, accessed 18 Aug. 2008.

45 For a sampling of these threats see Seattle Times, “Digest: Threats Increase in Highway 99 Debate,” 6 Feb. 2002, online at, accessed 6 Feb. 2002; “Aw Shucks – Southern News and Links,” online at, accessed 31 Jan. 2002; discussion of “‘Southerners indignant at plan to rename Washington state's Jefferson Davis Highway’ by Susanna Ray” (2002), at “Free Republic,” online at, accessed 31 Jan. 2002, and, accessed 4 Feb. 2002; “Dixie Daily News,” online at, accessed 31 Jan. 2002.

46 Quoted in Chesanow, David, “Jefferson Davis Marker to Be Relocated to More Visible Site,” International Examiner, 29, 6 (20 March–2 April 2002), 4; see also Associated Press, “Plan to Remove Davis Marker Angers Scores of Southerners,” The Olympian, online edn, 1 Feb. 2002, online at, accessed 20 Feb. 2003; Sam Howe Verhovek, “Road Named for Jefferson Davis Stirs Spirited Debate,” New York Times, 14 Feb. 2002, 20; Susanna Ray, “Jefferson Davis Highway Here? Legislator Outraged,” Herald of Everett, 24 Jan. 2002, online at, accessed 18 Aug. 2008; and Susanna Ray “Southerners Indignant at Plan to Rename Washington State's Jefferson Davis Highway,” Herald of Everett, online edition, 31 Jan. 2002, online at, accessed 31 Jan. 2002.

47 Foster Church, “Monument to Get a New Home,” The Oregonian, 14 May 2002, B01; Rebecca Cook, “Senate Committee Kills Plan to Rename Jefferson Davis Highway,” Associated Press Wire Service, 5 March 2002; Associated Press, “Jefferson Davis Marker in Clark County Moving to Less-Traveled Spot,” 15 May 2002, accessed 18 Feb. 2003. These sources are unclear as to when the Vancouver marker was removed – some say 1997, others identify 1998.

48 Quoted in Jeffery Mize, “Jefferson Davis' Legacy Continues to Provoke Battle,” The Columbian, 6 Feb. 2002, C1. See also Gregg Herrington, “Political Notebook: Marker Removal was Public Business,” The Columbian, 27 Jan. 2002, C1; idem, “Removed Davis Sign Stirs Regret, Ire” The Columbian, 31 Jan. 2002, C1; idem, “Legislature OKs Renaming State Highway After Black Soldier,” The Columbian, 16 Feb. 2002, A1.

49 Susanna Ray, “Davis Flap Triggers Security Steps for Dunshee,” Herald of Everett, 5 Feb. 2002, online at, accessed 18 Aug. 2008.

50 Quoted in Chesanow.

51 Ibid.

52 House Transportation Committee, “Naming SR 99 The William P. Stewart Highway,” 4 Feb. 2002, from TVW, Washington Public Affairs Network, 1063 South Capitol Way, Suite 16, Olympia, Washington.

53 Ibid. In fact, Davis was not a general.

54 Quoted in Aydrea Walden, “Jefferson Davis Roadblock Pushed,” Seattle Times, 13 March 2002, B2.

55 Rebecca Cook, “House Approves Name Change for Jefferson Davis Highway,” The Olympian, 16 Feb. 2002, online at, accessed 20 Feb. 2003. See also Herrington, “Legislature: House OKs.”

56 Quoted in Susanna Ray, “North–South Highway War over for Now,” Herald of Everett, 5 March 2002, online at, accessed 18 Aug. 2008; see also Rebecca Cook, “Davis Highway to Keep Name as Proposal Dies in Senate,” Seattle Times, 5 March 2002, B2.

57 Susanna Ray, “Davis Marker Heads for Storage,” Herald of Everett, 28 March 2002, online at, accessed 18 Aug. 2008; Chesanow.

58 Jeffrey Mize, “Jefferson Davis Monument: Marker Finds Home at Museum,” The Columbian, 14 May 2002, A1.

59 Associated Press, “Jefferson Davis Marker in Clark County.”

60 Quoted in Church, “Monument to Get a New Home.”

61 Vancouver City Council Meeting Minutes, 13 May 2002, online at, accessed 5 Sept. 2002; “Lane Camp's ‘Western Office’ Works to Save Jefferson Davis Highway markers,” Lane's DispatchNewsletter of Col. John Randolph Lane Camp 1570, ed. C. Pate (Siler City: Sons of Confederate Veterans, 2002).

62 Clark County Historic Register, “Jefferson Davis Highway Monument,” online at, accessed 18 July 2005.

63 Leib, “The Witting Autobiography,” 199.

64 Quoted in Chesanow.

65 Quoted in Associated Press, “Controversy Prompts Shift.”

66 Associated Press, “Jefferson Davis Marker in Clark County.”

67 Jeffrey Mize, “Controversial Marker to Get a New Home along I-5,” The Columbian, 18 Oct. 2007, A1.

68 “Blaine Jefferson Davis Highway Marker,” The Bayonet, 3, 10 (2008), 1. Newsletter of Sons of Confederate Veterans Colonel Isaac Williams Smith Camp #458, Portland, Oregon, online at, accessed 27 Jan. 2011.

69 Quoted in Koepp, “Rebel Voices on Road.”

70 Ibid.

71 Ibid.

72 McWhite, “Echoes of the Lost Cause,” 309.

73 Jefferson Davis, “Slavery in the Territories,” Appendix to the Congressional Globe, 13–14 Feb. 1850, 31st Congress, 1st Session, 154.

74 Quoted in Verhovek, “Road Named for Jefferson Davis.”

75 Quoted in Janet Williams, “Civil War Marker Sparks New Conflict,” BBC News website, 6 May, online at, accessed 17 August 2008.

76 This interpretation was repeated by the Washington State Historical Society in Meador, Karen, “An Unlikely Champion: Jefferson Davis and the Pacific Northwest,” Columbia, 18, 4 (2004–5), 1221.

77 Autumn Koepp, “No Fans of Davis in State House,” Seattle Times, 16 Feb. 2002, B2. Technically, Washington was a territory, not a US state, before the Civil War. Washington gained statehood on 11 November 1889, just twenty-five days before the death of Jefferson Davis on 6 December.

78 See Leib, “Robert E. Lee, ‘Race,’ Representation”; and idem, “The Witting Autobiography.”

79 Quoted in Howard Buck, “Jefferson Davis Marker Stirs Passions in Capital,” The Columbian, 5 Feb. 2002, C1.

80 Quoted in Verhovek.

81 Paraphrased in Williams.

82 Letter to Dunshee, quoted in Rebecca Cook, “Jefferson Davis Highway Becomes ‘Live Snake’ for Unsuspecting Lawmaker,” Associated Press Wire Service, 8 Feb. 2002, original emphasis.

83 Michael Hill quoted in Roberts, A League of Their Own, 20. See also Hague, Beirich and Sebesta, Neo-Confederacy; Hague “Texts as Flags”; McPherson, “I'll Take My Stand in Dixienet”; Sebesta, Edward H., “The Confederate Memorial Tartan: Officially Approved by the Scottish Tartan Authority,” Scottish Affairs, 31 (2000), 5584; Benito Giordano, Euan Hague and Sebesta, Edward H., “Asserting Celtic Roots: The Use of Celtic Culture in the Nationalist Campaigns of the Lega Nord and the League of the South,” Canadian Review of Studies in Nationalism, 31, 1–2 (2004), 2336, Gerald R. Webster, “If First You Don't Secede, Try, Try Again: Secession, Hate and the League of the South,” in Colin Flint, ed., Spaces of Hate: Geographies of Discrimination and Intolerance in the U.S.A. (New York: Routledge, 2004), 137–64.

84 “The Jefferson Davis Highway,” online at, accessed 20 Feb. 2003.

85 Quoted in Koepp, “No Fans of Davis.”

86 Quoted in Associated Press, “Jefferson Davis Marker in Clark County.” Lipton thereafter voted against the compromise solution that relocated the marker plinth to county museum grounds and turned its ownership over to the UDC.

87 “Tear Down That Sign: Jeff Davis Was Not Us,” Seattle Times, 18 March 2002, B4. Other newspapers opposed Dunshee's proposals. The Bellingham Herald, for example, suggested, “Dunshee is making an issue where none exists. It's not like this is the Deep South and there's a highway dedicated to Ku Klux Klan founder Nathan Bedford Forrest” – see also Cook, “Jefferson Davis Highway Becomes ‘Live Snake’.”

88 Seattle Times, “Letters to the Editor,” 20 March 2002, B7. Many neo-Confederates oppose the federal designation of a holiday honouring civil rights leader Martin Luther King – see Hague, Beirich and Sebesta, Neo-Confederacy.

89 Quoted in Koepp, “Rebel Voices on Road.” Some correspondents pointed out the irony of a struggle over the name of Jefferson Davis when George Washington, for whom the state is named, was a southern slaveholder who never set foot in the Pacific northwest and rebelled against the government of the day, causing states to secede (e.g. Seattle Times, “Letters to The editor,” 23 March 2002, B5).

90 James W. Loewen, Lies across America, 16.

91 Michael Billig, Banal Nationalism (London: Sage, 1995), 39.

92 Quoted in Koepp, “Rebel Voices on Road.”

93 Dwyer, Owen J., “Interpreting the Civil Rights Movement: Place, Memory and Conflict,” Professional Geographer, 52 (2000) 660–71.

94 Jim Cullen, The Civil War in Popular Culture: A Reusable Past (Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1995), 13.

We would like to thank Carrie Breitbach for reading and commenting on earlier drafts of this paper and Abby Burrows, Jill Livingston and Mark Bozanich for providing additional information about the Jefferson Davis Highway in Washington.

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