After four spirited and thoughtful public meetings held between September and December, LHA’s Working Group On Renaming Lee Highway is closing in on its top choice for a new name.
At its December 2nd meeting, the Working Group identified 10 names still in the running: Dogwood, Ella Baker, Edward Morton, Green Way, James E. Browne, John Glenn, John M. Langston, Justice, Main Street, and Mildred & Richard Loving.
The Working Group will make its final choice at its December 9th meeting. The meeting will be held via Zoom from 6:30-8:30pm and will be open to the public. The first choice and four alternatives will then move to the Arlington County Board, which will decide which name to send to the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) or the Virginia General Assembly for implementation.
When discussing the top 10 names, Wilma Jones, president of the John M. Langston Citizens Association and a Working Group member, explained, “having three names in the top 10 [Langston, Browne, and Morton] that are important to the community I live in [Hall’s Hill] makes me proud.”
Lynn Coates, a member of the Working Group, noted the significance of these names to the community, saying “I feel resonance with them.” She mentioned Ella Baker and “the importance of the vote, and the work she did.” Baker was a Black civil rights and human rights activist who promoted grassroots organizing.
In explaining his preference for the name Mildred and Richard Loving,Benjamin Keeney, the vice president of the North Highlands Citizens Association and a Working Group member, explained that he and his wife “could not be legally married (in Virginia) if not for the Lovings." The Lovings were an interracial couple in Virginia whose 1967 Supreme Court case changed the law to allow interracial marriage.
Working Group member Sandi Chesrown noted that the name Main Street was strongly supported in the community polling and it “aligns with Plan Lee Highway and the recommendations of the Branding and Business Advisory Groups. It is timeless, easy to spell and remember, and provides a sense of place and prosperity.”
Ginger Brown, LHA’s Executive Director, supported the name John M. Langston and noted, “It ticks all the boxes” of a name with strong local connection and national contribution, is easy to remember and communicate, and can help brand the corridor. Langston served as Inspector General of Freedman’s Village and was the first Black person elected to Congress from Virginia.
“Enduring” names were mentioned by some. Mike Hogan, a resident along the corridor, said he “grew up near Democracy Boulevard [in Montgomery County. MD], and sees the same enduring quality in the name ‘Justice.’”
Branding was an important consideration for the group as well. “The new name for Lee Highway will be the new name not just for a major road, but for a major road that is home to many businesses” said Working Group member Maia Potok-Holmes. “We must consider marketing and branding when making our final decision - for the survival of our businesses and for how we want our community to be perceived.”
The Working Group’s efforts to engage with the Arlington community elicited 186 name suggestions over the past four months. That list was narrowed based on:
Arlington County Board member Katie Cristol praised the Working Group for “the extensive outreach [they] have done.” About 65 volunteers helped LHA implement the project.
The Working Group made a special effort to reach out to Lee Highway businesses to hear their perspectives. Annie Moyer, co-owner of Sun & Moon Yoga Studio and a member of the Working Group, noted, “As a small-business owner on Lee Highway, I see [this renaming work] as a great testament to operating with clarity, compassion and kindness.”
The push to improve Lee Highway began in 2013, when several neighborhoods along the corridor agreed to partner with Arlington County on revisioning and replanning. LHA began discussing changing the entire name—both Lee and Highway—in 2017 to be in accord with their guiding principles. “Neither ‘Lee’ nor ‘Highway’ reflects what we see as the future for this corridor,” said Brown.