- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Federal and local leaders yesterday urged the House to kill proposed legislation that would expand Arlington National Cemetery behind the Arlington House site.

Members of the Arlington County Board, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and U.S. Rep. James P. Moran Jr. said expansion of the military cemetery would threaten the historic and environmental areas around the landmark house, also known as the Custis-Lee Mansion.

The expansion would destroy portions of the land that were part of Freedmen's Village, the first community of freed slaves in 1863, they said. The plan also could remove or damage 200-year-old trees that date to when the Custis family lived at Arlington House.

The proposal is part of the defense authorization bill passed by the House Armed Services Committee last month.

"Taking away the land from us destroys our heritage, our pride and our culture," said Talmadge Williams, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's Arlington chapter. "Our story then will never be told."

At the very least, county and federal leaders want Congress to hold a public hearing on the matter.

Bill Johnson, legislative director for U.S. Rep. James V. Hansen, Utah Republican and a key player in the bill, said yesterday that chances of stopping the measure are slim. Mr. Johnson said the land is federal property and the county has no say in what should be done with it.

"I don't know if we can say they have no chance in stopping this measure," Mr. Johnson said. "They have every right to challenge this, but I think the House is pretty committed to this issue."

The issue has gotten the attention of Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, who will meet with the parties involved to "strike a balance that would protect the different interests," his staff members said last night.

According to the bill, 15 acres of land east of the Netherlands Carillon and the Iwo Jima U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial would be opened for burials. A plot of land located 50 feet from Sherman Drive, where the Arlington House stands, and Ord & Weitzel Drive, would also be opened for burials.

Under the proposal, the plots would be transferred from the National Park Service to the Department of Defense.

The House is expected to take up the proposal this week.

At a news conference yesterday, county board members announced they would form coalitions to educate Congress about the property's historical aspects. According to preliminary investigative surveys, the area near Arlington House was used for stone tool-making by the freed slaves who lived there. Also, the site holds the remnants of an icehouse, horse stables and grave sites of freed slaves and American Indians.

Mr. Williams said he would have liked to open a walking trail for visitors who could see how freed slaves lived in the late 1800s.

Mr. Moran, Virginia Democrat, said yesterday he hoped Congress would have informed the county of its intention to expand the cemetery, even though only federal property is involved.

"At the very least, Arlington County deserved a phone call about this," Mr. Moran said. "It's more of this attitude that some Congress members don't think state localities matter. This is callous disregard to local government."

Mrs. Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting congressional representative, agreed. "The Armed Services Committee rolled over Arlington and it rolled over black history," she said. "All the county wanted was consultation."

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Manage Newsletters

Copyright © 2020 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide