It appears more a speed bump than a roadblock, but the effort to rename Lee Highway in Arlington will be taking a one-month detour.
Arlington County Board members on June 12 pulled back from a plan to move forward with the renaming, citing lingering questions about costs and community outreach.
But it remains likely that, at the board’s July meeting, the 5.2-mile east-west roadway will be renamed in honor of John M. Langston, a Reconstruction-era Republican member of Congress, federal official and leader in the education field.
Arlington officials earlier this year were given the power by the General Assembly, in a vote that broke down largely along partisan lines, to remove the name of Robert E. Lee from the county’s stretch of Route 29.
The local portion of Route 29, running from Rosslyn west to East Falls Church, is just a sliver of the 1,036-mile roadway that runs from the Baltimore area south to Pensacola, Fla., passing through the District of Columbia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama along the way.
Along the route it has many names (and, in some areas, no name but its route designation). For now, it will remain “Lee Highway” in Fairfax County.
Born free on a Louisa County plantation, Langston (1829-97) had a remarkably varied career for the times in which he lived. An educator and abolitionist, he served as U.S. minister to Haiti in the administration of President Rutherford Hayes.
In 1888, Langston ran for Congress as a Republican in Virginia’s 4th District. The race against a white Democrat was contentious and the result was contested; it was not until 18 months into the 24-month term that Langston actually took his seat. In 1890, he was defeated for re-election as Democrats began to retake control of Virginia governance and reimpose rigid segregation policies.
(Langston was to be the last non-white elected to Congress from southern states until 1972 and the lone one to represent Virginia until the election of Bobby Scott in 1992.)
Langston also served as the first president of what is now Virginia State University, and was first dean of the Howard University law school.
Although a resident of the District of Columbia during most of his years living in the local area, Langston is commemorated in Arlington both with the Langston-Brown Community Center and the John M. Langston Citizens Association, which encompasses the area of Halls Hill and High View Park. (In 1894, Langston penned an autobiography, which can be found online at https://bit.ly/3vl5tUE.)
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