For months, the businessmen, community activists, and other local boosters who make up the non-profit Lee Highway Alliance in Arlington County, Virginia, have been working to rename the county’s stretch of U.S. Highway 29, and thereby to repudiate the man whose name it bears. They want a name that “better reflects Arlington County’s values” than that of Robert E. Lee. Until the last couple of years, their task would have been delicate—in fact, preposterous. Not only was Lee the commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, the greatest military strategist of the Civil War, the moral leader of the rebel Confederacy, and a paragon of certain gentlemanly virtues that people across the defeated South claimed (and claim) for their own—he is also history’s best-known Arlingtonian. Lee spent much of his adult life at Arlington House, built by Martha Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, whose daughter Lee married. The county is named after Arlington House, not the other way around.

But Arlington, which sits directly across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., has been changing. Between the censuses of 1930 and 1950, it was transformed from hamlet to suburb, its population quintupling to 135,000. The New Deal, partly responsible for the change, did nothing to stint the local admiration for Lee, whom Franklin Delano Roosevelt called “one of

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