By Elizabeth Moscoso
Alexandria, VA – Should Van Dorn Street in Alexandria be changed to Keckley Street? That’s what a new petition is asking – to rename the street, which is currently named after Confederate General Earl Van Dorn. Keckley Street would be in honor of Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, a former slave who became a successful seamstress, confidant to former First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln and rose to the needs of her community as a civil activist.
“Brigadier General Van Dorn does not represent the values of many of the residents in Alexandria, VA and we believe this major artery should be renamed to better reflect the diverse population it serves,” the petition states.
The petition asks Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson to take action on the name change.
The movement to change the name of the street began on July 28, and has since garnered more than 150 signatures. The group in charge of the petition is listed as the GISH Chaos Crew.
If changed, Van Dorn Street would be the second local roadway in recent history to experience a change. Jefferson Davis Highway, for instance, was named after the president of the Confederacy, and was simply renamed Route 1 on Jan. 1.
Keckley was born into slavery in Virginia in 1818. Her mother taught her how to sew, and her owners collected her earnings from her work as a seamstress.
“With my needle I kept bread in the mouths of seventeen persons for two years and five months,” Keckley wrote in her autobiography, Behind The Scenes.
Against the odds, Keckley bought her freedom in 1855, and six years later reached an unbelievably historic position – as the dressmaker for the First Lady of the United States. The following year, in 1862, she and 40 other members of the 15th St. Presbyterian Church founded the Ladies’ Contraband Relief Association.
As a traveling companion for Mrs. Lincoln, Keckley seized an opportunity to organize mass meetings in Boston and New York City to support the association, which provided food, shelter, and clothing to tens of thousands of men and women who made their way out of slavery by seeking freedom in Alexandria and Washington D.C.