Change the Name?!

A Lee Highway Sign
Audio of “Change the Name” blog post

Arlington Moves Forward to Change the Name of Lee Highway

In July the Arlington County Board gave its “blessing,” to the Lee Highway Alliance to establish a working group to develop a list of potential names for the Board to consider to rename the highway. As a community activist in Arlington for almost 30 years, and a member of the Lee Highway Alliance, I have been asked, and I’ve agreed to participate in the working group.

Waiting to start the interview.

Today I was one of the participants in the production of a video discussing the history and impact of Lee Highway to people who live or have lived near Lee Highway. It was an opportunity to share the perspective of this highway that was called “Falls Church Road,” before the racist leaders in control of state government transportation departments decided to rename the road. Like many other roads, as well as buildings, monuments, and bridges Lee Highway was named in honor of the loser president of The Confederate States of America (CSA). In case you’re unaware, the CSA was a collection of 11 states that seceded from the United States in 1860 following the election of President Abraham Lincoln. Then they lost the Civil War.

Interestingly enough, these Confederate names were adopted many years after the end of the Civil War. Why? Well, History.com names it clearly, “white backlash.” From the website, “Why do schools have these names in the first place? Some received their Confederate names between 1900 and the 1920s, when Jim Crow laws segregated the south and Confederate monument construction in the country peaked. Others came much later. Of the 100 schools that retain Confederate names, at least 32 were built or dedicated between 1950 and 1970 amid white backlash to Brown v. Board of Education and the civil rights movement.”

I have had a few folks give me suggestions for new names. But I am going into the process with an open mind. As open as a 61 year old Black woman can have about a road that has been a part of my life forever. First memories of good stuff at Langston Elementary School and Fire Station 8. Not so pleasant memories being followed by Miss Dottie at Robertson’s 5 and 10 Store every Saturday when I went to purchase a bat and ball, a set of jacks, or a deck of Old Maid Playing Cards. But there were far more good experiences than bad. Going to High’s to get ice cream. To Mrs. Adele’s to get my hair pressed for Sunday service.

But what about Lee Highway now? What do you think about the renaming? What name do you think the Working Group should consider proposing to the County Board?

Coming in September: UNTOLD: Stories of Black Arlington

On Arlington Independent Media – Verizon, Comcast, and Streaming on the web.
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Lee Highway Extended to Falls Church 95 Years Ago

New Year’s Day 1924 Brought Big News

Lee Highway is Extended from Halls Hill to Falls Church

I interviewed my dad in 2012 about life on Halls Hill as he remembered it as a young child. One of the things he explained was a big deal was the extension of Lee Highway from Halls Hill to Falls Church. Although he was only around 5 years old, looking back he remembered that for the first time people could drive cars to what was then a pretty rural area.

Prior to the highway extension most people traveled by horse to Falls Church, the Chesterbrook area of McLean, and the what is now the Tyson’s Corner area. When 40 residents of Falls Church endorsed the $40,000 bank loans (from two Georgetown banks) for the state to extend the road, it was proof of how important increasing access to the community was for it’s future growth and relative importance in the area. Arlington paid the interest on the loan.

Lee Highway had been extended from Cherrydale to Halls Hill many years before, making the allowing the neighborhood to thrive from a population growth and for entrepreneurs operating businesses on the Highway. The road was eighteen feet wide with one lane in either direction. It was extended 1.5 miles from Halls Hill to Falls Church. The work was completed on December 23, 1923 but the road was not opened for use until January 14, 1924.

It was during this period that Halls Hill and the route to the community via Lee HIghway became important for the safety of African Americans. Sometimes when traveling from DC to Halls Hill, African Americans were concerned because of the thriving Klu Klux Klan organization in Cherrydale. Many people experienced whites chasing them via car through the Cherrydale area, with taunts and threats of violence for passing through their community, especially after dark. But once the chase reached Culpeper Street, (the only way in or out of Halls Hill at the time) and Fire Station 8, they were safe.