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.
(Updated at 12:55 p.m.) The renaming of Lee Highway is continuing apace.
The Lee Highway Alliance (LHA), which is spearheading a renaming process for the east-west commuter artery also known as Route 29, today announced the 25 members of a Working Group charged with coming up with new names.
Among the members are Arlington NAACP President Julius Spain, Sr.; Lebanese Taverna co-owner Grace Abi-Najm Shea; and Matt Weinstein, a land use attorney and former legal counsel for Arlington Democrats, who will chair the group.
In a press release, below, the Alliance says the Working Group will start holding virtual meetings, which will be open to public viewing, in mid-September.
“Our vision for the future is a welcoming and equitable Main Street, and neither ‘Lee’ nor ‘Highway’ is representative of that vision,” said Ginger Brown, Executive Director of the LHA, which was working on envisioning ways to modernize the car-oriented corridor when it was also tasked with the renaming.
A new video released by the LHA yesterday makes the case for why Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s name should be removed from Route 29 in Arlington.
“I think that there comes a time in history when you need to change in order to move ahead,” the video says.
“It wasn’t named Lee Highway in 1865 or 1866 when the Civil War ended, it was named Lee Highway in the 1920s and 30s,” says Wilma Jones Killgo, who has served as president of the John M. Langston Citizens Association, which represents the historically Black neighborhood of Halls Hill, along Route 29.
“When Black people started getting educated and creating businesses and creating their own wealth,” she continues, “it was all a series of intimidations.”
The new name chosen for Route 29 should be “welcoming to all people and businesses,” should “work for all four Northern Virginia jurisdictions that include Lee Highway, and should promote “economic vitality” via effective branding, the Alliance’s website says.
The Working Group has four meetings scheduled, starting on Sept. 16 and running through Jan. 13. The full LHA press release about the group’s formation is below.
Ginger Brown, Executive Director of the Lee Highway Alliance, today announced a Working Group that will lead the effort to recommend new names for Lee Highway to the Arlington County Board. The 25 members of the Working Group reflect a variety of backgrounds and skills, from business ownership to civic involvement.
LHA has been in conversation with the County Board for nearly three years about renaming the 4.6 miles of Lee Highway to better reflect a welcoming, vibrant, and future forward identity. “We are beginning the conversation on replacing both of the words present on Lee Highway” says Brown. “Our vision for the future is a welcoming and equitable Main Street, and neither ‘Lee’ nor ‘Highway’ is representative of that vision.”
In mid-September, the group will begin its community engagement work to solicit ideas for new words for Lee Highway. The group’s virtual meetings, which are also slated to begin mid-September, will be open to the public for viewing.
Matt Weinstein (Chair), Grace Abi-Najm Shea, Bill Braswell, Ginger Brown, Mike Cantwell, Sandi Chesrown, Lynn Coates, Elaine Furlow, Saundra Green, Lauren Harris, Mike Hogan, Paul Holland, Wilma Jones, Jeff Joseph, Minneh Kane, Anika Kwinana, Ben Keeney, Diane Kelly, Annie Moyer, Maia Potok-Holmes, Richard Price, Andy Rude, Julius D. Spain, Sr., Jim Todd, and Tom Wolfe.
Several members of the Working Group were drawn from LHA’s Community Advisory Committee, an existing body that helps LHA communicate with stakeholders, garnering feedback, channeling ideas, and encouraging new ways to reach the residents and business/property owners.
The Working Group will also receive input from Advisory Groups made up of subject-matter experts.
The groups include a Branding Advisory Group, Business and Property Owners Advisory Group, Institutional Advisory Group, Transportation Advisory Group, and LHA’s own Communications Committee.
Photo (top) via Google Maps
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Historic Review Board Likes Shirlington Plan — “The Arlington County government’s historic-preservation advisory body seems generally satisfied that retention of historic features will be seen as an important component of the redevelopment of the Village at Shirlington. In particular, the low-slung storefronts along Campbell Avenue are expected to be protected from the wrecking ball, even as taller and more dense development likely will be allowed immediately behind them.” [InsideNova]
New BBQ Restaurant Opens Patio — “Smokecraft Modern Barbecue is excited to debut its much-anticipated patio, now open daily for outdoor dining and drinking. Arlington residents and visitors can now enjoy Smokecraft’s award-winning barbecue outside on a socially distant patio, consisting of 38 seats.” [Press Release]
TTT in Clarendon to Host Virtual DJ — Updated at 9:30 a.m. — “Beginning Friday, September 4… TTT (Tacos, Tortas & Tequila) known for its casual Mexican-influenced fare is adding an exciting bit of fun on Friday and Saturday nights and Sunday afternoons with virtual DJs. Guests dining on the first floor and on the third floor TTT Rooftop, which seats 82 and offers wonderful views on the city, will enjoy watching and listening to live streaming DJ performances via large screen projection.” [Press Release]
Family Pushing for Arlington House Change — “Descendants of Charles Syphax have been courting lawmakers for the past few months to make the change, said Syphax family historian Steve Hammond, who lives in Sterling, Va. The family’s effort is motivated as much by a desire to accurately honor the full history of the property and the enslaved people who lived there as it is by any antipathy toward Lee.” [Washington Post]
Nearby: Back to School in Falls Church — Students have started the fall semester, virtually, in Falls Church. A TV news segment shows teachers conducting their virtual classes from their actual, physical classrooms. [NBC 4]
Since 1972, Arlington House — the recognizable Greek revival mansion atop the hill in Arlington National Cemetery — has been officially called “Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial.”
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is now planning to propose legislation that would remove the Confederate general’s name.
Beyer said today, as first reported by the Associated Press, that it’s time to drop Lee from the official name of the house, from which Arlington County gets its name, logo and seal. The general lived in the house, but its history goes beyond his time there, both before — it was built by George Washington’s adopted son around the turn of the 19th century — and after — when it was seized during the Civil War.
“The choice of Lee’s home for the site of a national military cemetery was intended to be a punitive measure against Lee, who himself said after the Civil War that he opposed erecting Confederate monuments,” Beyer said in a statement sent to ARLnow. “Given these considerations and requests from members of the community, including descendants of enslaved people in the area, I am working on legislation to remove the reference to Robert E. Lee from the official name of Arlington House.”
“Part of the reckoning with the history of racism and slavery in America and in our own community has been a reexamination of public symbols,” Beyer continued. “I absolutely support that process, including the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from the U.S. Capitol and taking other actions that make it clear we do not revere Confederate leaders or approve of the cause for which they fought.”
Beyer’s push to remove the name comes as Arlington County is in the midst of a series of proposed renamings, some brought about by the national racial reckoning that followed George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police.
A name change process has been launched for Lee Highway (Route 29), and new names have been proposed for Henry Clay Park and the S. Abingdon Street bridge over I-395 in Fairlington. Previously, Washington-Lee High School was renamed Washington-Liberty and Jefferson Davis Highway (Route 1) was renamed Richmond Highway.
The Arlington branch of the NAACP, meanwhile, called last month for Arlington’s logo and seal to be redesigned in order to remove Arlington House from each, calling it “divisive and racist” and “a symbol of a slave labor camp.”