Arlington leaders are looking to change the county’s 37-year-old seal and logo, which depicts an illustration of the Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial located at the Arlington National Cemetery.
The board officials held a meeting in September and directed the county manager to assess by December how much it will cost to replace the logo and seal, what will be the process to select a new one and how long will it take before the county adopts a new one.
Christian Dorsey, an elected board member since 2015, said every board member expressed the need to remove the logo.
Because the logo is prominent throughout the county on so many things, Dorsey said, “We want to make an informed and well thought out decision as we move forward with a logo replacement.”
He also pointed out the importance for the county to have “participatory involvement” which would include community input during the logo selection process.
Dorsey said the logo change alone “will not dismantle systemic racism” but that it was an important step in removing a piece of symbolism.
“We are looking for equity in government decision-making through a dialogue that brings community voices and policy making to the table,“ Dorsey said.
The Arlington House mansion was built in 1803 by George Washington Parks Custis, George Washington’s adopted grandson, as a living memorial to his grandfather. It was named after Custis’s southern Virginia slave plantation, the Arlington Plantation.
Prior to the Civil War, Confederate General Robert E. Lee married Mary Anna Custis, a distant relative to George and Martha Washington. The couple lived in the house until the South conceded during the Civil War, after which the Lee family fled to Richmond, Virginia, and the property was turned over to the federal government.
The Arlington chapter of the NAACP sees the image as a slave plantation built by slave labor, created to glorify the socioeconomic status of the slave master. Chapter President Julius Spain, Sr. said the symbol is racist as it divides the community rather than uniting it.
In July the chapter filed a formal request to the Arlington County Board of Supervisors demanding the image be removed. The letter expressed how the seal needs to be “retired” and “a new era of inclusiveness and equity ushered in immediately.”
Lifetime Arlington resident Craig Syphax, an African American descendent of George Washington, said there is a lot of historical value in the Arlington House. He agrees with removing Robert E. Lee’s name from the title of the memorial, but he is indifferent about seeing the county logo change. He said he will continue to pay allegiance to the county flag no matter what is on the logo.
Syphax is a graduate of Washington Lee High School which was recently renamed to Washington Liberty High School. He is also a trustee at the Arlington House Foundation, a non-profit overseeing a $12 million dollar building renovation of the museum, due to be completed in spring of 2021.
Once the renovation is completed, visitors will see the mansion as it was originally built in 1860, including the quarters where enslaved people lived.
U.S. Representative Don Beyer, D-Va., recently proposed legislation to remove General Lee’s name from the title of the building.
“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.
Beyer said he also wants the name removed because descendents of slaves still live in Arlington today.
Other changes in the Arlington area include changing the name of Lee Highway, also known as Route 29, which extends throughout the state, Henry Clay Park located in the city of Arlington and the South Abingdon Street bridge over I-395, called Fairlington Bridge.