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Virginia county votes to rename Lee Highway for abolitionist

The county board voted unanimously to rename the highway after John Langston.

ARLINGTON, Va. — Officials in a northern Virginia county near the nation’s capital voted Saturday to rename a major highway that currently shares a name with Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in honor of an abolitionist and elected official.

The Arlington County Board voted unanimously at its Saturday meeting to rename Lee Highway for abolitionist John Langston, according to a news release from the county. Langston was the first Black person to be elected to Congress from Virginia.

While the legal name is now complete, the county will not adopt the name change until early 2022 to give residents and businesses appropriate time to appropriately update their addresses, as stated in a press release

The change comes more than eight years after grassroots coalition officially met to discuss changing the highway's name so that it could better reflect northern Virginia's values, according to the Lee Highway Alliance

The highway, which also carries the U.S. 29 designation, was named Lee Highway in the 1920s. The new name would be Langston Boulevard. Arlington County estimates the name change will cost $300,000.

The name change would only cover the parts of Lee Highway that run through Arlington County, where Lee lived for many years. Neighboring Fairfax County is considering a new name for the highway as well.

Arlington County has already recently renamed Jefferson Davis Highway, which was named for the former Confederate president.

The council will also consider a new name for Route 309, also known as Old Lee Highway, sometime after September 2021, as stated in the board's press release. 

Statewide, activists have pushed for several other roads, schools and public landmarks to adopt new names. In Richmond last year, a four-block segment known as Confederate Avenue was changed to Laburnum Park Boulevard following the nation-wide racial reckoning stemmed from the murder of George Floyd. 

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