Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) today announced the introduction of bicameral legislation to redesignate the National Historic Site known as “Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial” to its original name “Arlington House.” The bill was cosponsored by Virginia Representatives Bobby Scott, Gerry Connolly, Abigail Spanberger, Jennifer Wexton, and Jennifer McClellan, and by D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. Their legislation, reintroduced in the week of Juneteenth, was originally inspired by the request of descendants of people who were enslaved at Arlington House.
“Today our country and our Commonwealth continue to grapple with the history of racism and slavery. Symbols have power, and as we engage in a long-overdue reexamination of public symbols, we must show that we do not condone the enslavement of human beings or armed rebellion against the United States government,” said Beyer. “Robert E. Lee himself opposed erecting Confederate monuments, and Arlington House has a larger history which deserves memorialization and reflection. It is therefore fitting and just that Congress redesignate Arlington House to more fully reflect the history of the house, which is what our legislation would accomplish.”
“Who we choose to honor on our public buildings is a reflection of our nation’s values. If we continue to honor Confederate leaders who fought to preserve slavery, then we send a mixed message about our commitment to equality. That’s why I’m joining Congressman Beyer in leading this bill to remove Robert E. Lee’s name from Arlington House,” said Kaine.
Beyer previously met with descendants of both Lee and of people enslaved at Arlington House who support renaming the landmark. Letters and quotes of support for the renaming effort from Arlington House descendants are available here, with a statement from the Arlington Historical Society here, and a letter from the National Parks Conservation Association urging passage of the legislation here.
The mansion, which sits on federal land within Arlington National Cemetery and is administered by the National Park Service, overlooks the Potomac River and the nation’s capital. The house was built by Martha Custis Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, as the nation’s first memorial to George Washington, and named “Arlington House.” Later, Custis’ daughter married Robert E. Lee and lived in the home until the Civil War, during which the site was chosen to serve as a national military cemetery in part to prevent Lee from returning. Amid the rise of Lost Cause mythology, Congress passed legislation in 1955 designating the house the “Custis-Lee Mansion” to memorialize Lee, and subsequently amended the official title to “Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial.”
Beyer and Kaine’s legislation would repeal statutes that memorialized Lee and add a formal historic site designation to the name, making it “the Arlington House National Historic Site.”
Text of the bill is available here.