Three days after members of the Arlington County Board expressed support for changing the county’s logo, officials outlined a process for changing it, the county seal and, potentially, names of some local roads and places.
The logo change comes after a push from the Arlington branch of the NAACP, which earlier this summer called the illustration of Arlington House a “racist plantation symbol” that “divides, rather than unites us.”
At the Board’s Tuesday evening meeting, County Manager Mark Schwartz presented a plan to review county symbols and names over the next few months.
The review will include “gathering perspectives on race and equity in Arlington,” and examining county symbols, street names and facility names that may be associated with systemic racism or oppression. The review will “build on this fall’s community process to update the County’s Historic Preservation Master Plan,” according to a county press release.
Schwartz said he will present in December a summary of community feedback, as well as recommendations to the Board for next steps.
In introducing the topic, County Board Chair Libby Garvey said that equity and the county budget are “the two most important things we’re tackling as a Board.” She, along with the four other members of the Board, reiterated their support for changing the county logo.
While newly-elected Board member Takis Karantonis said he agreed with local NAACP leader Julius Spain, Sr.’s call to retire Arlington House as the county’s logo as soon as possible, he acknowledged that the overall process of choosing a new logo and replacing the old logo on most county equipment and properties would “probably take several years.”
Board member Katie Cristol said the logo and some names currently in use locally “have come to feel so out of step with our current values in Arlington County,” while Board member Matt de Ferranti said he wanted to ensure the process of evaluating and changing them was thoughtful and inclusive.
Christian Dorsey, the lone Black member of the Board, said his support for changing the logo came down to the 1972 renaming of Arlington House by Congress as “Arlington House: the Robert E. Lee Memorial,” in honor of the Confederate general and one-time occupant of the historic home on the grounds of what became Arlington National Cemetery.
While some may believe Arlington House to be a symbol of slavery, Dorsey said, others see it as a symbol of the repudiation of the Confederacy, given that it was seized during the Civil War in order to serve as a final resting place for Union war dead. The 1972 renaming, however, “takes all nuance out of the equation.”
“Should a national memorial to Robert E. Lee be the official symbol of Arlington County?” Dorsey asked. “For me it’s a clear no. Period, full stop.”
Dorsey said that the logo change and renaming process will need to find a way to try to unite people who are “in different places along the journey,” but names that honor people who “actively promoted systemic oppression” have to go.
The county should also consider naming some things that are currently unnamed in order “to elevate the contributions of women, people of color, indigenous peoples, that have been suppressed in the telling of our country’s and our community’s history,” according to Dorsey. At the same time, he said, the county should “make sure that fiscal and human resources are not diverted from doing the work to address systemic racism” by the logo change and renaming processes.
(The county, through a local nonprofit, is currently in the process of renaming Lee Highway.)
More on the logo change and renaming process, from a county press release, below.
Arlington County is taking the first steps toward changing the County logo and seal through a community-wide process that will also consider changing the names of places and facilities belonging to the County. The process will begin this fall with educational presentations, recommended reading, and community discussions around Arlington’s history.
The renaming process will be one aspect of the County’s work to advance racial equity, that seeks, among other things, to normalize community conversations around issues of race and equity in Arlington, in partnership with Challenging Racism. It will also build on this fall’s community process to update the County’s Historic Preservation Master Plan. The renaming process would get underway in early 2021.
The effort comes as the County intensifies its broader commitment to prioritize and advance racial equity.
“As Arlington and our entire nation engage in a racial reckoning, we have heard from many in our community who are asking that we change images and names associated with historical figures, images and symbols whose principal legacies are the exact opposite of Arlington’s values of inclusivity and equity,” Arlington County Board Chair Libby Garvey said. “The Board agrees that this is the right time to begin a community review of these names and symbols. This process will take time and will require many thoughtful and honest conversations about our identity as a community and our aspirations for the future.”
About Arlington’s logo, seal, and flag
Arlington County’s logo, seal, and flag all feature the image of Arlington House, officially known as “Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial,” where Confederate General Robert E. Lee lived, and where his family owned slaves, before the Civil War. The house stands atop a bluff overlooking the Potomac River and is closely identified with Arlington National Cemetery.
Descendants of people who were enslaved at the Custis-Lee property have lobbied for a name change, a cause that has been endorsed by Rep. Don Beyer (D-8th District), whose district includes Arlington House. Beyer is pursuing legislation to remove Lee’s name for the property’s official designation.
The move to rename Arlington streets, bridges, and County-owned properties that honor the Confederacy or in other ways contradict the County’s values of inclusivity and equity comes after the County won the right from the state in 2019 to rename Jefferson Davis Highway, named for the racist, slave-owning president of the Confederacy, “Richmond Highway” within Arlington’s borders, and as the County has endorsed a community effort by the Lee Highway Alliance, a civic alliance dedicated to long-range visioning and planning along Lee Highway in Arlington, to rename the roadway within Arlington’s borders.