Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


The national re-consideration of Confederate symbolism was bound to hit Arlington, our crossroads of North and South that Robert E. Lee himself called home.

Proposals to remove the general’s name from Washington-Lee High School appeared in local opinion pages. ARLnow columnist Peter Rousselot called for renaming the school and Lee Highway because “as long as we have to subliminally pay our dues to General Lee every time we go to work or go shopping, we will fail to understand slavery for the prolonged act of violence that it was.”

Sun-Gazette letter-writer Chuck Kleymeyer complained that “Lee’s sanitized image and name remain a symbol for students and citizens to see, and possibly internalize, on a daily basis.” (He suggested Washington-Lincoln.) “The Confederacy, and all it stood for, has no place in a modern, progressive and diverse community such as Arlington,” wrote Bill Vincent.

To gauge sentiment, I arranged with W-L Alumni Association President Mila Albertson (Class of ’66), to solicit views from any graduate or parent with email.

Of nearly 60, often-passionate, replies from around the county, all but three rejected a renaming.

Former student body president Howard Paul (’47) said, “I feel strongly the school still represents the finest example of what it means to live in this nation of diverse and freedom-loving people.”

“Lee… is a not a powerful symbol of racism,” wrote Steve Plott (’66). “It is true he chose to support Virginia in secession from the Union and led the Army of Northern Virginia against Union forces… But he was and is NOT a rally symbol for those who hate minorities.” Added classmate Jeff Collins, “Lee may have been on the losing side in the Civil War, but that does not diminish his honorable service and statesmanship.”

Lisa Bell (’72), said, “This recent push to purge all things Southern from daily life strikes me as Orwellian. And I suspect that those who shriek the loudest about diversity and inclusivity are… not tolerant” of opposing views.”

Unofficial W-L Historian John Peck (’96) gave two reasons for preserving the existing name: “The enduring legacy of a nearly 100-year- old school–generations of Arlingtonians from all backgrounds have walked its halls, and the school is in many ways the story of Arlington–and the country,” he wrote. Secondly, “Was it not Lee who advised, “Fold it up and put it away” regarding the Confederate flag?”

Scott Elkins (’58) is “sick of revisionists trampling on my heritage…That guilt-ridden lefties can rewrite my legacy makes me puke!”

Ann Covey (’66) issued a threat. “If this campaign continues I assure you that a war will be waged from which there cannot be a victory. I am appalled that this is even under discussion.”

Those sympathetic to renaming were earnest. “In my mind, offense can only be determined by the offended, not others who suggest how the offended should feel,” wrote alumnae Barbara Eldridge. Jim Lynch (’59) suggested keeping the name but honoring instead two Lees who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Some applied humor. Former W-L parent Alan Ehrenhalt suggested declaring that W-L honors Denzel Washington and Spike Lee.W-L Alum Jack Weeks proposed renaming Yorktown High with something not “an embarrassment to the British.”

School board member James Lander sent me an authoritative message: “Currently the board is not entertaining the idea of renaming Washington-Lee High School.”

* * *

The “Monster House” on Sycamore and North 27th streets will soon be for sale. The once-controversial blue structure that towers over neighboring bungalows (its three main interior rooms are larger than many Arlington homes) has been beautifully redone by a Falls Church-based artist and architect.

A dozen years ago, the cavernous enclosure built by Professor Paul Kingery (who later declared bankruptcy and moved) angered neighbors and zoning officials, some of whom thought he was planning a dorm for troubled youth. He left piles of stone and lumber in the yard, which the current owner (who asked to remain anonymous) integrated into a tasteful rock garden.

Having toured it, I can vouch that the re-divided rooms, marble walls and carpeting make for an elegant office and exhibition hall for his art collection and woodwork. The owner acknowledges that 10,000 square feet is too much for a single person; he will have to find a special buyer.