Home Legislation would end Arlington House’s designation as ‘Robert E. Lee Memorial’

Legislation would end Arlington House’s designation as ‘Robert E. Lee Memorial’

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Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial is a mansion on federal land within Arlington National Cemetery and administered by the National Park Service. Built by Martha Custis Washington’s son, George Washington Parke Custis, the house became the first memorial to George Washington. Custis’s daughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, married Lee in 1831, and preferred residing in Arlington House over living wherever her husband was stationed. Six of the couple’s seven children were born in the house.

In 1955, Congress passed legislation designating the house the Custis-Lee Manson, and later amended the title to Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial.

Last Thursday, Rep. Don Beyer and Sen. Tim Kaine introduced bicameral legislation to remove the designation of Arlington House as a memorial to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. According to a press release, the legislation, was partially inspired at the request of descendants of individuals who were enslaved at Arlington House.

“As our country and our Commonwealth grapple with the history of racism and slavery and engage in a long-overdue reexamination of public symbols, we have an opportunity to make it clear that we do not revere Confederate leaders or condone the enslavement of human beings,” Beyer said in the press release. “Congress should never approve or celebrate violent insurrection against the United States government. Robert E. Lee himself opposed erecting Confederate monuments, and the site was chosen to punish his rebellion 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.”

The updated legislation by Beyer and Kaine would identify and repeal statutes that memorialize Lee and make the house’s title the Arlington House National Historic Site.

“If we are serious about ending racial disparities, we need to stop honoring those who fought to protect slavery,” Kaine said in the press release. “I’m proud to be part of the effort to rename Arlington House, and am going to keep fighting for the kinds of reforms we need to create a society that delivers liberty and justice for all.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.