Arlington County Board votes unanimously to rename Lee Highway


During Saturday’s board meeting, the Arlington County Board voted unanimously to rename Lee Highway to Langston Boulevard, named after abolitionist John Mercer Langston.

Arlington County officials voted unanimously on Saturday to rename Lee Highway to Langston Boulevard, named after abolitionist John Mercer Langston.

Langston was also the first dean of law at Howard University. The highway is currently named after Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

After renaming Lee Highway, the Lee Highway Alliance attempted to choose a name that better reflects Arlington County’s values, promotes equity and is more welcoming to the group.

Wilma Jones Kilgo, a member of the Coalition, spoke in favor of renaming the street, pointing out that Lee had slaves and was a member of the Union.

“So we think it’s only fair that a man who was an abolitionist who fought for equality would be recognized with this honor,” Kilgo said.

Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey also spoke in favor of the name change.

“By all accounts and by any measure, John Mercer Langston does not deserve the respect of a public place in Arlington – a street – named after him,” Dorsey said.

Despite the overall support for the nomenclature, there was some opposition.

Arlington County resident Bernard Byrne said the history of Robert E. Lee was being tarnished and called the name changer a racist.

“This is a very important person who is being completely discredited by this,” he said.

Byrne said that Lee raised his voice against slavery after the war and that renaming the highway would backfire.

“His entire history being distorted, Lee was against slavery,” Byrne said.

Dorsey made sure to explain why the highway was named Lee Highway, saying he didn’t care whether people wanted to debate whether Lee was a good man or not.

“It doesn’t really matter. The case dates back to 1922, when the road was named Lee Highway, as noted by Ms. Jones-Kilgo, it was not done with any assumption that Robert E. Lee was good. Were or not. It was because it would really be a creep in those who were in favor of not succeeding from the Union, preserving it together and ending slavery,” Dorsey said.

The cost of new signage is estimated to be $300,000 and is subject to final design and determination by the Virginia Department of Transportation.

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