Congressional Democrats announced legislation Tuesday to strip Robert E. Lee’s name from Arlington House — once his own home, and now the centerpiece of the hallowed military cemetery that occupies his former plantation.
Northern Virginia’s three Democratic House members, as well as Washington’s non-voting delegate, are sponsoring the bill, saying they’re doing it at the request of descendants of people who were enslaved there.
The lawmakers said it was part of a national reckoning over Lee, and the announcement comes just a day before a Virginia panel is due to recommend a replacement for the Lee statue that is one of Virginia’s contributions to the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall collection.
Rep. Don Beyer, the Democrat whose district includes Arlington, said he has buy-in from the Arlington Historical Society, too.
“Robert E. Lee himself opposed erecting Confederate monuments, and the site was chosen to punish his insurrection against the lawful government of the United States,” Mr. Beyer said.
He said having the mansion named after Lee distracts from the “larger history” of the place.
The home is administered by the National Park Service.
It was built by George Washington Parke Custis, son of Martha Custis Washington, wife of the first president. Lee would marry Martha Washington’s granddaughter and thus took ownership of the home.
During the Civil War the Union seized the property and Montgomery C. Meigs, the Union’s quartermaster general, declared it should become a cemetery for Union soldiers, preventing Lee from resuming control once the war concluded with the Confederacy’s defeat.
The plantation was known as Arlington, and it gave its name to the surrounding county.
Mr. Beyer says Congress in the 1950s officially dubbed the mansion after Lee in order to honor him, but the congressman says it’s now time to erase that and return the home to its original name of Arlington House.
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