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Nearly 200 Years Later, Henry Clay Faces Another Duel Over Arlington Park Name

As renovations are underway for Henry Clay Park, some local residents are hoping for one more additional change: getting rid of the name honoring slave-owning former Secretary of State Henry Clay.

Clay, who represented Kentucky in Congress before and after serving as Secretary of State under President John Quincy Adams, fought a duel in Arlington: at Pimmit Run in 1826. Neither participant was wounded and no Broadway musicals were written in Clay’s honor. Though he owned slaves and had a negative view on a multiracial society, Clay was opposed to slavery and freed those he enslaved upon his death.

The Lyon Park Civic Association is now hoping to change the name to one honoring Zitkala-Ša, a Native American writer and political activist who lived in the neighborhood from 1925-1938, the Falls-Church News Press first reported.

“The Lyon Park Civic Association has requested that the park be renamed the Zitkala-Ša (Red Bird) Park,” confirmed Susan Kalish, spokesperson for Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation. “They presented their request at the July 28 Park and Recreation Commission meeting.”

Kalish said after receiving the request, the proposal will be reviewed by the Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board and the Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee.

“The Park and Recreation Commission will consider the renaming request again after they receive comments from these citizen advisory groups and adjacent civic associations,” Kalish said. “Once the commission approves the name, the County Board will make the final decision on the proposed park name.”

Henry Clay isn’t the only slaveowner in Arlington whose name could be removed from public property. Arlington County is also currently considering renaming Lee Highway, named for Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Whatever its name will be, Kalish said renovations to the park at the corner of 7th and N. Highland streets are still on track to be completed by the end of the year.

“While the pandemic caused delays in procurement and site furnishing manufacturing,” Kalish said, “it all came together and the community will see a new basketball court, playground, open field and picnic shelter with updated site circulation, site furnishing, fencing, drainage and landscaping.”

Image via Arlington County

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