July 14, 2022 (Washington, D.C.) – Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA) and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) today introduced bicameral legislation to remove the designation of Arlington House as a memorial to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The House version of the bill was cosponsored by Virginia Representatives Gerry Connolly and Jennifer Wexton, and by D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. The legislation, previously introduced in the House by Beyer, was partially inspired by the request of descendants of people 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,” said Beyer. “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.”
“If we are serious about ending racial disparities, we need to stop honoring those who fought to protect slavery,” Kaine said. “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.”
After the historic site reopened to the public last June, Beyer met with a group of Arlington House descendant family members whose ancestors were enslaved and free. Stephen Hammond, a Syphax family descendant, a family historian and a spokesperson for the group, has worked to build support for the bill in the House and the Senate ahead of its reintroduction.
“I’m extremely proud that our collective voices have helped to get this bill reintroduced,” said Hammond. “Descendant family members are hopeful that this name, ‘Arlington House National Historic Site,’ and the conversations that follow will help broaden the narrative that has been focused primarily on one individual and will increase public awareness of the complete history of the Arlington House Plantation. There is a great deal to be learned at this historic site.”
Beyer consulted with local officials and interested parties while working on the legislation, including the Arlington Historical Society, which wrote:
“The Arlington Historical Society recognizes the historical significance of this estate and the recent efforts to share a history of the estate that encompasses all the eras [through which it has been a distinctive landmark]. We are especially interested in the residents of the Freedman’s Village as many of those residents resettled in communities throughout our county and became some of our early leaders. We support any future efforts to share a more complete and inclusive history of the estate.” The AHS’ full statement may be viewed at arlingtonhistoricalsociety.org/2020/12/arlington-house-statement-from-ahs.
The mansion, which sits on federal land within Arlington National Cemetery and is administered by the National Park Service, overlooks the Potomac River and the nation’s capital. The house was built by Martha Custis Washington’s son, George Washington Parke Custis, as the nation’s first memorial to George Washington. Later, his daughter married Robert E. Lee and lived in the home until the Civil War, during which the site was chosen to serve as a national military cemetery in part to prevent Lee from returning. Congress passed legislation in 1955 designating the house the “Custis-Lee Mansion” to memorialize Lee, and subsequently amended the official title to “Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial.”
Beyer and Kaine’s updated legislation would identify and repeal statutes that memorialized Lee and add a formal historic site designation to the name, making it “the Arlington House National Historic Site.”
Text of the bill is available at beyer.house.gov/uploadedfiles/arlington_house_final_text.pdf.