Arlington County officials unanimously voted 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.
The renaming of Lee Highway comes after the Lee Highway Alliance underwent an effort to choose a name that better reflects Arlington County’s values, promotes equity and is more welcoming to all people, according to the group.
Wilma Jones Kilgo, a member of the alliance, spoke in favor of renaming the road, pointing out that Lee owned slaves and was a member of the Confederate.
“So we think it’s only fair that a man who was an abolitionist who fought for equality be recognized with this honor,” Kilgo said.
Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey also spoke in favor of the renaming.
“By all accounts and by any measure, John Mercer Langston is beyond worthy of having the honorific of a public place in Arlington — a street — named after him,” Dorsey said.
Despite the overall support the renaming received, there was some opposition.
Arlington County resident Bernard Berne said that Robert E. Lee’s history was being tarnished and he called the renaming racist.
“This is a very important man that’s being completely denigrated by this,” he said.
Berne said that Lee spoke out against slavery after the war and that renaming the highway would backfire.
“His whole history is being distorted, Lee was against slavery,” Berne said.
Dorsey made sure to address why the highway was named Lee Highway to begin with, saying he doesn’t care if people want to debate whether Lee was a good man or not.
“It doesn’t really matter. The fact of the matter is 1922, when the road was named Lee Highway, as Ms. Jones-Kilgo mentioned, it wasn’t done with any notion as to whether Robert E. Lee was good or not. It was because this would really stick a craw in those folks who were on the side of not succeeding from the union, preserving it together and ending slavery,” Dorsey said.
Costs for new signage are estimated to be $300,000 and is subject to final design and determination by Virginia Department of Transportation.