Born to a formerly enslaved woman and a white plantation owner in Louisa, VA, John M. Langston was an American abolitionist, attorney, educator, activist, diplomat and politician. In 1855, Langston became one of the first Black people elected to public office when he was voted clerk in Brownhelm, Ohio. He spent a great deal of time helping enslaved people escape using the Underground Railroad and helped John Brown plan his raid on Harper's Ferry. Langston also worked to recruit Black soldiers for the Civil War. He advocated for Black voting rights and became the leader of the National Equal Rights League in 1864 where he organized suffrage campaigns in various states. In the 1860s and 1870s, Langston served as Dean, Vice President, and acting President at Howard University, where he established the law department, and worked as a member of the DC Board of Health and as resident minister to Haiti. In 1890, Langston became the first Black person elected to the Untied States House of Representatives from the state of Virginia. As Congressman, Langston served on the Committee on Election and was a vocal advocate against Black voter suppression.
Langston's ties to Arlington County date back to 1867 when he became the Inspector General of the Freedman’s Bureau - the managing agency over Freedman’s Village. The Village, which was established in 1863, was the contraband camp for formerly enslaved people in what is now known as Arlington County.
After the Brown v. Board of Education ruling came out in 1954, Virginia passed a series of "Massive Resistance" laws, making it very challenging to integrate schools in the state. The NAACP, however, filed multiple lawsuits - including in Arlington County - on the behalf of Black students and families. Finally, in 1958, a judge ruled in favor of the NAACP and the Arlington families, allowing four students - Michael Jones, Gloria Thompson, Ronald Deskins, and Lance Newman - to enroll in Lee Highway's Stratford Junior High, now known as Dorothy Hamm Middle School. These four students came from the John M. Langston Elementary School, a segregated school located along Lee Highway. Jones, Thompson, Deskins, and Newman became the first four students to integrate schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia, forever altering the course of history in the state.
The Langston School, named for John M. Langston, opened in 1925 with the goal to provide quality education for Black children who were often left behind and neglected by the state of Virginia.
Why Langston Boulevard?
The goal of the renaming was to both create a welcoming Main Street congruent with Plan Lee Highway by removing the word "Highway" and to begin to reconcile the painful racial history many in our community have experience by removing the name "Lee."
The name "Langston" has had an incredible impact on the lives of so many Black Arlingtonians who grew up along and nearby the Lee Highway corridor. The name tells the story of the dark racial history of our County, State, and Country as well as our bright future. It tells the story of how our communities have evolved and grown over the years.
The word "Boulevard" describes a thriving, lively road that welcomes visitors and is surrounded by vibrant stores and restaurants - this is the vision for the future of Lee Highway.
LEE HIGHWAY ALLIANCE 4532 Lee Highway, Suite 519 Arlington, VA 22207 (703) 261-4744