Rep. Don Beyer today introduced federal legislation to remove the designation of Arlington House as a memorial to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The legislation, which was partially inspired by the request of descendants of people who were enslaved at Arlington House, was cosponsored by Virginia Representatives Gerry Connolly and Jennifer Wexton, and by D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.
“We are presently engaged in a long-overdue reckoning with the history of racism and slavery in America and in our own community, which has appropriately included a reexamination of public symbols. I absolutely support that process, including actions that make it clear we do not revere Confederate leaders or condone the enslavement of human beings,” said Beyer. “Robert E. Lee himself opposed erecting Confederate monuments, and the site was chosen to punish his insurrection against the lawful government of the United States. Arlington House has a larger history which deserves memorialization and reflection, and it is therefore fitting and just that Congress remove the designation of Arlington House as a Memorial to Robert E. Lee.”
Beyer consulted with local officials and interested parties while working on the legislation, including the Arlington Historical Society, which wrote:
“The Arlington Historical Society recognizes the historical significance of this estate and the recent efforts to share a history of the estate that encompasses all the eras [through which it has been a distinctive landmark]. We are especially interested in the residents of the Freedman’s Village as many of those residents resettled in communities throughout our county and became some of our early leaders. We support any future efforts to share a more complete and inclusive history of the estate.”
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 son, George Washington Parke Custis, as the nation’s first memorial to George Washington. Later, his 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. 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’s legislation would remove the latter part of that designation and return the house to its original name “Arlington House.” He introduced the bill a week after both chambers of Congress voted with overwhelming support for the National Defense Authorization Act, which included measures renaming military bases previously named after Confederate Generals.