The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Arlington House, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s former home, won’t be a symbol of the county for long

The Arlington House in 2014.
The Arlington House in 2014. (Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post)

Arlington House, the historic mansion once inhabited by Robert E. Lee that overlooks the Potomac River’s Memorial Bridge into Washington, long a symbol of the county that surrounds it, won’t be as prominent there next year.

Arlington, the county, is changing its logo and seal to remove the six-columned house from its official documents and equipment sometime next year, primarily because it was built by enslaved people and later owned by Lee, who led the Confederate Army during the Civil War.

The Arlington County Board this week approved a process that will solicit community input and should result in a new design for board approval by June.

Also this week, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) proposed a bill that would strip Lee’s name from the National Park Service landmark — although that bill will need to be reintroduced in the next congressional session in January.

While Confederate statues, place names and monuments had long been part of the South, the tolerance for those relics eroded after a summer of protests over racial injustice fueled by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody, and following the 2015 massacre of worshipers at a Black church in Charleston, S.C.

County Board members have urged quick action to redesign and replace the county’s logo, which adorns uniforms, vehicles, business cards and websites. They told the county manager Tuesday to accelerate the process by at least a month.

“This logo is offensive, so we are really in a hurry to retire this and make it disappear from our official documents,” said board member Takis P. Karantonis (D).

The Arlington NAACP in late July called the county’s use of the drawing “divisive and racist,” because enslaved people were forced to build the Greek revival-style Custis-Lee home. It is “a symbol of a slave labor camp. A symbol of the southern plantation economy designed to ensure White privilege and Black subjugation,” the group said in a public letter.

Since 1972, the site, part of the National Park Service, has been officially known as “Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial.” Beyer’s bill would remove Lee’s name, making the landmark officially known only as “Arlington House.”

“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,” Beyer said in a statement. “I absolutely support that process, including actions that make it clear we do not revere Confederate leaders or condone the enslavement of human beings.”

Beyer’s bill is co-sponsored by two other Northern Virginia members of Congress, Democratic Reps. Gerald E. Connolly and Jennifer Wexton, as well as D.C.’s congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D).

Beyer introduced the bill at the request of descendants of enslaved people held there.

The house was built about 1802 by Martha Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, who maintained the mansion as a shrine to her husband, George Washington.

Custis’s daughter later married Robert E. Lee; they were wed at the home, and Lee managed the property before the Civil War.

When the war began, Lee’s family fled and Union troops seized the property, using it as a burial site to make sure the Lees would not return to it. From those graves, the idea for Arlington National Cemetery was created.

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‘Appomattox’ statue comes down in Alexandria

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