(Updated at 4 p.m.) Arlington County should change its logo and seal, the local branch of the NAACP says.
The civil rights group says the logo’s use of Arlington House — the former home of and a memorial to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee — is “divisive and racist.”
Enslaved people were forced to build the Greek revival style mansion, which overlooks the Potomac and was the centerpiece of a plantation that utilized slave labor. Until it was seized during the Civil War, Arlington House had primarily been the home of descendents of George Washington. The house is now a National Memorial and part of Arlington National Cemetery.
Arlington House, the NAACP said in a letter to the editor this afternoon, is “a symbol of a slave labor camp.” The “racist plantation symbol” should be removed, as it “divides, rather than unites us,” the branch said.
The call to change the logo — which adorns the county flag, website, parks and other county-owned property — comes amid a national reckoning about race, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd and subsequent national protests.
Prior to the protests, the Confederate-inspired names of Jefferson Davis Highway and Washington-Lee High School were changed in Arlington. The county is also in the early stages of renaming Lee Highway.
In 2018, the County Board responded to a resident’s request for the logo to be redesigned by saying that the Board “will certainly give the matter more thought as budget and staff resources become available in future years.”
Reached for comment today, Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said that the county has received numerous requests recently to change everything from the logo to the names of buildings, bridges and streets.
As for changing the logo, the county is “happy to consider it,” Garvey said, but only after a community engagement process — “a good solid conversation with everyone in Arlington.”
“When you take something away, you have to put something in its place,” Garvey said.
The letter to the editor was written by NAACP Arlington Branch President Julius Spain, Sr., as well as branch member Carolynn Kane and former Arlington School Board member Dr. Emma Violand-Sánchez. The full letter is below.
Arlington County’s most prominent symbol is its logo and seal. A symbol that is everywhere … on government correspondence, uniforms, buildings, vehicles, websites. A symbol of a slave labor camp. A symbol of the southern plantation economy designed to ensure White privilege and Black subjugation. A place that the National Park Service named, “Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial.” This is the symbol placed in the center of our flag. A divisive and racist branding of our diverse, usually progressive community. It is a symbol that divides, rather than unites us. Yet, despite community members bringing this problem to their attention, it appears that the County Board is uninterested in changing its logo. Instead the County proudly states in its manual that this symbol reflects its “values … identity … traditions;” and tells residents that there are “good sides” to this racist plantation symbol.
We ask, how can the County have courageous conversations on race, tackle the inequities in Arlington, heal the deep historical wounds here or enact its platform to address racial inequities when it will not confront and change its own symbol? If it refuses to acknowledge its own blindness to the logo’s meaning, it cannot. The County Board must end its embrace of this symbol of Black bondage, oppression and pain. The County’s Robert E. Lee Memorial logo, flag and seal needs to be “retired” and a new era of inclusiveness and equity ushered in immediately. We call on the County Board and County Manager to stop delaying, put this item on the Board’s Agenda, and vote. Now.